Introduction to CNC Machines and Their Costs(light metals Primo)

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CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines are automated milling machines that are able to manufacture parts with extreme precision and repeatability. They are controlled by computers programmed with CAD/CAM software that dictates the toolpath the machine will take to cut the desired part. CNC machines have revolutionized manufacturing by enabling fast, accurate production of complex parts that would be impossible to make manually. However, these advanced capabilities come at a cost - purchasing a CNC machine represents a significant investment for a shop. In this article, we will look at the costs associated with buying, operating and maintaining CNC equipment.
Factors That Determine CNC Machine Cost
There are several key factors that determine how much a new CNC machine will cost a shop:
- Machine Size - The larger the work envelope, the more expensive the machine. Larger CNCs are able to produce bigger parts.
- Number of Axes - More axes means more flexibility and complexity. 5-axis machines are more expensive than 3-axis ones.
- Precision/Accuracy - Machines with tighter tolerances and better repeatability are more costly.
- Power - More power allows faster material removal rates during milling.
- Control System - The computer and software that runs the CNC contributes significantly to the price.
- Brand Name - Well known CNC manufacturers like Haas and Mazak command higher prices.
- Options and Features - Extra capabilities like automatic tool changers, probes and rotary tables add to the bottom line.
Considering these factors, prices for new CNC machines typically range from around $50,000 up to $1,000,000 or more. However, there are smaller benchtop CNCs geared towards education and prototyping that sell for under $10,000.
Operating Costs of CNC Machines
The initial purchase price of a CNC machine is just one part of its overall cost. There are ongoing expenses related to running and maintaining the equipment on a daily basis. These include:
- Electricity - CNC machines consume significant power, especially large ones. This can amount to hundreds of dollars per month.
- Cutting Tools and Tooling - End mills, drills, inserts and other consumable tooling wears out and needs regular replacement. Tooling costs can be substantial.
- Coolant and Lubricants - Most CNCs use flooded coolant systems that require maintenance fluids. Oil is needed for lubricating moving components.
- Maintenance and Repairs - Preventative maintenance is crucial for maximizing uptime. Breakdowns will inevitably occur, requiring service fees.
- Software and CNC Programming - CAD/CAM software carries an ongoing license fee. CNC programmers must be paid to write code.
- Shop Supplies - Items like cleaning chemicals and rags are needed to maintain a clean CNC work area.
When estimating operating costs, plan on several thousand dollars annually on top of power consumption. Larger production CNCs or special cases like graphite milling may demand $10,000+ per year.
Improving CNC Operating Cost Efficiency
Here are some tips shops can follow to get the most value from their CNC machine purchases:
- Choose the Right CNC - Match the machine size and capabilities to the type of work so you aren't overbuying or underbuying. Get quotes from several manufacturers.
- Use Tool Management Software - This can optimize use of existing tooling and reduce redundant tool purchases. It also tracks tool life.
- Standardize Tooling - By minimizing your toolbox of different tooling you will get better pricing and waste less due to obsolescence.
- Schedule Preventative Maintenance - Don't just run the machine until it breaks. Stick to recommended intervals for lubrication, inspection, cleaning and part replacement.
- Train Operators - Educate machine operators on programming, setup and maintenance best practices. Proper techniques preserve equipment life and productivity.
- Leverage Fixture Workholding - Well designed fixtures repeatedly locate parts accurately while reducing setup time. This boosts manufacturing efficiency.
- Monitor Power Draw - Identify scenarios where machine tools are drawing excess electricity and adjust programming or parameters accordingly.
- Use Coolant Filtration - A coolant filtering system saves on fluid replacement costs and enables longer life. Keep tanks clean.
By optimizing processes and operating practices around their CNC equipment, shops can achieve a low cost per part while maximizing returns on their capital expenditure.
The high purchase price of CNC machines is justified by their ability to drastically reduce human labor in manufacturing while enabling mass production of complex components. However, the costs do not end once the equipment is installed. Careful attention must be paid to the ongoing operating expenses and preventative maintenance needs of CNCs in order to keep them running efficiently. While certainly representing a major investment, integrating the right CNC technology into a machine shop and leveraging it effectively can provide a significant competitive advantage. CNC Milling