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2016 Is the Year of Buying CNC Tools Instead of Building Them (hackaday.com) 91

szczys writes: We have reached a turning point in personal CNC Tools like mills and laser cutters. Up until now, your options were to drop some serious cash (businesses) or spend time to build them yourself (individuals) at moderate expense. But over the last year the number of companies making CNC tools and the software available for them has matured. Anyone looking for an entry level machine in the coming year will find that purchasing equipment has a better time/price value than building yourself. The best part is, these entry level tools have the precision you need if you still want to build your own high-end or extreme-spec machines.
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2016 Is the Year of Buying CNC Tools Instead of Building Them

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  • by PNutts ( 199112 )

    CNC: Computer Numerically Controlled

  • Not sure when indivuals built CNBC machine. Unlike 3D printers, the milling machine actual can cause. Lot of damage if they break. I also know they have been inexpensive suite case units for at least a decade., say for $2k. They require some skill, so not as popular as the 3D printer.
    • by willy_me ( 212994 ) on Thursday December 31, 2015 @10:46PM (#51219777)
      When milling wood or modelling board (plastic composite with the approximate density of wood), CNC machines do not require much power. Potential damage is greatly limited over industrial machines that can mill steel. Home builds are practical and people have been doing it since before 3D printers were popular. A typical use-case for a low powered machine is to mill moulds. These would be used for plastic moulding but you could go another step and cast metals as well. Quality wise, there is really no comparison to most 3D printers. Try browsing the Guerrilla guide to CNC machining, mold making, and resin casting [coredump.cx] to see what can be done. It is very impressive.
      • Wow, 3D printers get all the attention, but cheap CNC machines are probably a bigger deal.
        • I've been saying this for about 10 years now and have collected a few machines. Just last week I was looking at buying a g0704 due to its large user base. Manual machine is ~1.2k$ new and a conversion (diy) is probably another thousand.
        • Wow, 3D printers get all the attention, but cheap CNC machines are probably a bigger deal.

          Um, did we just read the same article? Don't get me wrong, the small CNCs are great and are substantially better than many 3D printers for precision, did you see the amount of work and cost involved in actually getting something out compared to 3Dprinters?

          They are substantially harder to use (require precise datuming for every tool change, careful tracking of tools, much more careful cleaning, substantial fiddling with

        • I've never understood the fascination with 3d printers. Seems like an awfully expensive way to make cheap looking Christmas cracker toys.

  • Time Warp (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jtara ( 133429 ) on Thursday December 31, 2015 @10:32PM (#51219739)

    Where have you been for the past 40 years or so?

    OK, let me actually read the article, and see WTF they are talking about vs. the almost certainly misleading post title... I suppose they mean, like "personal CNC"...

    Oh, I see. We're talking about "desktop CNC printers" and "hobbyist CNC Mills".

    Is it really that hard to come up with a title that expresses that, or at least include it in the body of the post? No? Too much to ask?

    The reason I ask is that you've been able to buy CNC tools easily for the past 30-40 years or so, if my memory isn't failing yet. Because I remotely remember writing Z-80 code for the first microprocessor-based CNC controller a long, long time ago! (They were all minicomputer-based before that, and mainframe going even further back. BTW, Allen-Bradley bought the company that I wrote that code for...)

    So, yea, the only people buying CNC machines back then were GM, Ford, Chrysler, Boeing, their suppliers, etc. etc. etc.

    The truth is, this could have happened in the 80s, if only there had been Harbor Freight! Z-80's were certainly affordable to hobbyists. What didn't exist - I don't think - was decent, affordable, small mills. No reason it couldn't have happened were there a demand.

    So, the excitement over 3D printing is past, and now people are realizing that there are CNC mills too?

    Did we have to wait for affordable, powerful processors? Funny, that 4mHz Z-80 could run a 5-axis mill, with the position loop(s) running in the Z-80 (not in the specialized hardware used today.)

    I wrote the code for those position loops. And counted every machine cycle by hand!

    So, yawn. Big breakthrough.

    • What didn't exist - I don't think - was decent, affordable, small mills.

      That, and the widespread knowledge of how to run the axes safely (accel/decel curves and whatnot) without tearing things up. I was in a similar situation as you, but with laser marking/engraving machines. The desktop laser machines of today, while useful and wonderful to be able to have on your desktop, still don't really compare even to the industrial machines of 20 years ago. Moving the beam with a cheap pair of steppers is quit
    • And counted every machine cycle by hand!

      Uphill, both ways, in the snow!

      [Sorry, no mod points, so replied instead]

    • by AJWM ( 19027 )

      Yeah, Sherline [sherline.com], for one, has been making desktop CNC mills and lathes for years, and they even sell them together with a computer. Prices in the $2k to $3k range.

      I have no idea of the quality, since I don't (yet) own one, but they look pretty good from my research over the last couple of years.

      This is a wild guess on my part, but I think the popularity of 3D printers helped bring down the prices on reasonably sized stepper motors, as well as the cost of the electronics and software.

      • I have a sherline 2000, bought it to learn with. It's ok for small stuff but low powered (400w), so don't expect anything fast. I did my own cnc around 95. Stepper motors were cheap then, I don't think 3d printers had much of an affect on pricing; all of the motors that I have are infinite overkill for anything resembling a 3d printer.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      We are still taking thousands of Euros / dollars for these things though, so it's not that big of a deal. The cheap ones suck so much they are useless and not worth it over just using a cheap laser cutting / CNC prototyping service.

      • We are still taking thousands of Euros / dollars for these things though, so it's not that big of a deal. The cheap ones suck so much they are useless and not worth it over just using a cheap laser cutting / CNC prototyping service.

        You can get a used 2.5D vertical mill for around $1500 (often with some tooling, even) and a CNC kit for around $200-300 including controller and steppers? You can have your own pro-quality CNC mill for under two grand. You just need room for it...

    • by mlts ( 1038732 )

      Back in the early 1990s where CNC mills were not cheap, but inexpensive enough for smaller companies to spend money for, there was a time where there were many, many bicycle parts made out of CNC machined aluminum, usually anodized very funky colors as well. This lasted for a few years, but then Shimano and the other brands went to drop-forging, which allowed for more long-wearing components, especially on the drivetrain. This, plus the move to titanium and carbon fiber caused CNC machining to fade away i

      • Fade away? There is still a shitload of colourful CNC bike parts around and some companies (like Hope Tech) make most of their parts on CNC mills.

    • So, yawn. Big breakthrough.

      The breakthrough hasn't been in the processors. It's been in the ease of creating something cheap that does a good job. You wrote code for position loops? Congrats you've just ruled out 90% of the market because you wrote code yourself.

      The rise of the home manufacturer has created a great array of open source and easy to use software. The relative modularity of devices has created an ecosystem of cheap plug and play clones for this stuff.

      None of that existed even 5 years ago let alone 40.

      You can keep your l

      • by jtara ( 133429 )

        You wrote code for position loops? Congrats you've just ruled out 90% of the market because you wrote code yourself.

        To clarify: I wrote the code for a company. (Omicron Systems.) Allen-Bradly subsequently bought the company, to start their first line of microprocessor-based CNC controllers. (Before that they had used HP minis). That code is many of those 80's and 90's CNC controllers...

  • It seems like Hackaday is just throwing a bone to the places offering turnkey mini CNC machinery.

    You can still get a bigger machine cheaper by DIY-ing it, but that depends on if you have more time or money really.

    That, and the fact that with CNC {metal} machining,,,, it really isn't possible to get a fast & accurate machine by bolting together pieces of t-slot beams. (I don't think I've seen even one you-built-it CNC router that used ballscrews).
    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      Out of curiosity, does anyone ever DIY aluminum extruders? I'm curious as to how hard that is.

  • We are seeing a massive surge in progress in many computer controlled machines, so why shove it back in the privatization jail?

    • by mlts ( 1038732 )

      What my fear is, is that hobbyist CNC mills wind up like CarveWright machines. You wind up paying a few grand for the machine... but, you have to pay dearly for additional software, DRM-protected templates, special memory cards, special readers, and other proprietary crap.

      This may be a working model for IBM mainframes, but as consumers, we need to fight tooth and nail so this doesn't happen in other industries.

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Friday January 01, 2016 @05:46AM (#51220697)
    At 2-3k for a "home" milling maching, it still doesn't make sense to buy your own. Far better to design your project and have a local shop fabricate your pieces for you. Whether that is by plain-old hand crafting or CNC-ing is immaterial, so long as the pieces fit.

    The actual number of home projects that the average "maker" will complete in a year makes the cost of buying your own machinery very expensive, when you amortise the cost of the equipment (and the learning failures) across the number of successes. However, since with many "makers" the actual hobby isn't having and using the end product, it's the joy and anticipation of buying new toys and the fun of playing with them - any actual working pieces are simply a side-effect, then more toys is the way to go!

    • At 2-3k for a "home" milling maching, it still doesn't make sense to buy your own.

      That depends how much money a person has.

  • Up until now, your options were to drop some serious cash (businesses) or spend time to build them yourself (individuals) at moderate expense.

    What's with the stuff in parentheses? Why can't an individual "drop some serious cash"? And why can't a "business" build their own at moderate expense?

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