5 things I wish I knew before purchasing my first CNC
“What are the most important things you wish you knew before purchasing your first CNC?”For the people working with CNC machines day-to-day; You never forget your first, nor, the process of choosing and installing it. It’s an exercise in patience, fast-paced learning and sometimes saying to yourself, “I wish I knew this 6 months ago..”
Don’t be too hard on yourself, “Those who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Nonetheless, a question I always like to ask the manufacturers I visit is, “What are the most important things you wish you knew before purchasing your first CNC?
Here are the top 5 responses:
1. Get the right software for you! Software can be more important than the machine.
The software is the brains of the machine. Sometime referred to as “digital tooling” the software creates a link between the hardware you are using and what you are trying to produce. Software includes CAD and CAM programs, code editors, part optimising programs, and feed speed, chatter and spindle load calculators. Without trying to set off the stomach of a nauseous technophobe, all of this “digital tooling” should be given as much thought and consideration as the physical hardware of the machine.
2. Don’t buy too much machine!
You don’t want your machine overloaded and working all the time, but an idle machine is still costing you money. Consider the bottlenecks within your operation before and after the machine is installed. E.g. The biggest and fastest CNC won’t speed up your output if you have the smallest and slowest edge bander. Always consider the bigger picture and what other investments are required to realise the potential of this one!
3. Think about what you currently produce, but more importantly what you would like to produce if you had the equipment.
CNC machines are some of the most versatile machines on the planet. They can machine many different materials and create complex parts. What will you use yours for? Often the solution can come from a tooling integration. Many operators would be surprised to find out the true capability of their machine with a few different tools. Consider what is done in-house, outsourced and if there any special processes required.
4. Plan how you will service and maintain the machine!
Aim to keep your machine clean and well-greased and understand the limits of the motors and bearings. Ask the machine supplier what needs to be done to minimise the risk of breakdown.
5. Get advice on the initial tooling you need from a reputable supplier. Get your tooling specialist to explain the best machining processes, feeds & speeds and other parameters for the tools.
Relating to point 1 and 3, the tooling selection will affect what you produce and how you produce it on your CNC machine. Tooling is material and application-specific. Standardise and consolidate where possible to minimise operational cost and machine time. Tooling is an ongoing investment in the quality of the products you manufacture!