There are many ways to justify the purchase of a CNC router if you consider things solely from a testosterone-centered perspective. First of all, it is the ultimate in “cool tools,” sure to get a Tim Allen grunt from any tool aficionado with an eye toward high-tech. From the moment it is powered up, the observer’s pulse quickens at the sound of whirring fans and motors coming to life as the CNC sets itself to await instructions from the operator. He stands in awe as the machine receives preprogrammed cutting instructions and begins moving heavy metal gantries, plowing into large or small pieces of material, accurately changing them into shapes in a fraction of the time it would have taken someone to do it in a more traditional way ... and with a higher degree of accuracy. It’s a wonder guys don’t beat their chests and howl to the mythical gods of tool technology while it is in operation. If they didn’t cost so blessed much, there would be one crammed into every weekend hobby shop across this great land. Therein lies the constraint.
Of course, no matter how cool the tool, any successful business owner understands that it is necessary to take a practical approach when considering any major purchase. Once the urge to be impulsive has subsided, it is time to look at the facts to determine if the return will be worth the investment.
In recent years the cost of such equipment has come down to the point where you don’t have to be a large multimillion dollar corporation to be able to obtain one. In addition, PC technology has advanced the ease of use and programmability to the point where small privately held companies may find the price a little easier to swallow. Coupled with aggressive financing and leasing availability, it becomes downright easy to have one of these beasts sitting on your production floor.
Before you rush out to your corner CNC store, you must evaluate whether or not a CNC router will help the company advance.
Here are some important questions to consider:
“Is a CNC router a good fit for our production process?”
Consider whether the purchase would increase productivity or weigh the company down by not fitting into your production process. A CNC router will only pay for itself if it is kept running throughout mosts days. If you don’t find a way to use it as an integral part of the production process, then your purchase has been converted from a potential asset to an expensive liability that could financially cripple your company.
“Can we actually afford it?”
That is not the same thing as being able to obtain the financing — that’s easy. I would caution any potential buyer to calculate the hidden costs associated with the proper use of a CNC router to determine a clear idea of the total price. Then calculate your willingness to add to any existing debt and weigh it against the potential for increasing sales in your market and profit for your company. Also, make sure to consider the paid positions the machinery will replace when calculating the economic benefits it will bring.
“Do we have room for it?”
Depending on the size and configuration, a CNC router can take from 500 – 750 sq. ft. (or more) of valuable production floor space, including the machine, peripheral equipment and a perimeter safety zone. Also, you will need a dedicated computer and workstation to operate and program it, preferably with a line-of-site to the router itself but also enclosed within a controlled environment. An additional computer (or more) is preferred to act as a backup as well as to allow CAD and CAM processes to be done simultaneously to maintain your work flow.
“Do we have adequate dust collection for a CNC router?”
This is crucial. These machines create a lot of dust and shavings very quickly. To maintain vacuum integrity (the ability of the machine to hold material stationery during milling operations), as well as to keep the bearings and motors running efficiently, you are going to need adequate dust collection. If you do not currently have it you may wish to consider having a system built in with your CNC purchase or lease package. Consult with the manufacturer for their recommendations.
“Do we have the power to run it?”
At a minimum, you will need 220-volt single-phase power, but for better performance, reliability and longer machine life at least 220-volt three-phase power will be required. When and if you decide on a make and model, the machine manufacturer will supply you with power and all other associated requirements.