There are a lot of new and used CNC machines on the market, but some of them are no bargains. While it might not take much to fix up an old wreck that’s been milling for the last three decades, that “great deal” on the showroom floor could end up forcing you to do more repairs than milling. And that brand-spanking new machine? It’s a hefty investment, so you have to be careful with that option, too.
Generally, you should approach buying a used CNC mill with the same caution you’d have when buying a used car—kick the tires, take it for a spin and look under the hood. The same goes for a new one. If the sales rep tells you that it was gently used every Sunday by a little old lady from Pasadena, put a hand on your wallet and back away slowly. Before you lay out the cash, check out these tips for getting an affordable CNC mill that won’t let you down.
What size CNC machine will you need?
The answer to this question will depend on a couple of factors. First, you need to determine the amount of floor space you can allocate for the new machine and its gear. Next you need to determine the size of the components you’ll be producing, and how to store the raw materials. You may also need to make room for a vented hood, particulate mitigation and even a water-cooling system.
What materials are you machining?
If you’re machining mostly simple parts, you can get by with an older rebuilt or gently-used CNC machine. If your parts are more complex, however, or you need more axes to produce your parts, then you would probably be better off with a newer, more versatile machine.
What are your maintenance costs?
If you’re currently paying for frequent maintenance and repairs on the machine you have now, you may want to consider buying a newer machine. Just like a car, a CNC mill requires maintenance, but at some point it can become more cost-effective to invest in a new machine rather than try to keep an old machine on life support.
Is the manufacturer still in business?
Are replacement parts still readily available for your old CNC mill? If not, buying a newer but lightly-used machine could be your best bet. Custom-machining replacement parts for a discontinued model from a company that is no longer in business could end up costing you as much as the brand new machine you thought you couldn’t afford.
What are your productivity needs?
If business is booming and you want to use a CNC machine to speed up production, you would do well to look at new models. Newer machines are generally more capable than older models, so if time is of the essence, you will do better with a more up-to-date station.
Before you commit to a purchase, you might want to ask the seller if you can “test drive” the machine. If you’re not very experienced with CNC machines, bring an experienced CNC machinist with you to evaluate the machine’s performance and condition. Ending up with a lemon on the shop floor could cost you time, money and even customers. It’s worth taking your time to find the right machine that will save you cash and aggravation down the road.