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8 Reasons It’s Time to Upgrade Your Bridgeport Milling Machine

If you’re old enough to remember a time when none of the names of the machines in your shop had “CNC” before them, you are likely familiar with the Bridgeport vertical milling machine. In its heyday, the versatile knee mill was in a class by itself, allowing the machinist to do milling, drilling, and various other operations in a vise or clamped to the table using the t-slots. Most of the Bridgeport mills had power feed in the X-axis for various milling operations.

The original Bridgeport Series I model had a movable ram to increase the work area and a table designed to take on a larger workpiece. You could swivel the turret to reposition it to different angles so the part could remain firmly clamped when milling angles. The Bridgeport milling machine was an innovative and surprisingly rigid machine for its time.

In 2002, Hardinge, a well-known lathe manufacturer, purchased Bridgeport and continued making the Bridgeport Series I milling machine. Over the years, low-cost copies of the Bridgeport were introduced, many coming from overseas. However, most of them arrived on the scene without the rigidity and precision of the original.

Even if you have one of the original Bridgeport mills, it’s essential to understand that advances in technology make it possible to own a vertical CNC milling machine with the same quality and better features. These CNCs can boost productivity, enhance quality, and ensure repeatability, all at an affordable price. So, here are eight signs that you should upgrade your aging Bridgeport and reap the benefits of a quality CNC machine tool.

1. You’re paying premium prices to outsource work you can’t do on your Bridgeport mill

Why keep paying all that money to farm out work to a competitor when you could be producing those parts on your own CNC milling machine at a fraction of the cost? Whenever you subcontract work, you lose control over delivery and quality to some extent.

You also sacrifice the flexibility to make engineering changes as easily and inexpensively as you would in-house. And then there’s the matter of logistics: it can be costly to transport those products to and from the other shop. If all of that doesn’t convince you, think about the public relations disaster you might face if another shop messes up critical parts for one of your key customers.

2. You’re finding it harder to meet your delivery dates with a manual milling machine

The first thing people notice about CNC milling machines is how much faster they travel than the Bridgeport manual machines and how much deeper the cuts they can take. Also, the typical Bridgeport is more labor-intensive, meaning it’s more expensive to operate and will be more prone to the mistakes that can scrap parts and put you behind on your delivery schedule.

3. You want to grow your machine shop by taking on more complex work

Chances are you know your stuff; terms like collets, ram travel, spindle tapers, and quill diameter are all familiar from your extensive work on Bridgeports. But now you’re ready to take that knowledge and apply it to a new machine and supercharge your output. That’s where a CNC machine can come into play.

High-quality 3-axis CNC Bridgeport-type knee mills using machining software are steps above the manual vertical milling machine using an Acu-Rite digital readout (DRO) displaying only X-axis and Y-axis positioning.

The CNC knee mill can be programmed for face milling, angle cuts, form milling, profile milling, and many other operations, opening the door for machining complex shapes that are impossible on the Bridgeport mill.

4. You notice inconsistent quality when machining multiple parts on the Bridgeport

With CNC machining, machinists employ computer-aided manufacturing software (CAM) that enables the CNC machine tool to shape your workpiece to precise specifications. The software determines speeds, feeds, and depth of cut, along with the tool path, avoiding manual intervention by a machine operator.

Once a tool path has been designated and the milling machine is programmed, it runs as many parts as you need, all with the same level of precision and repeatability, making the process efficient and scalable.

5. You would like to start quoting competitively on production milling work

The versatile CNC knee mill is ideal for repair, prototyping, and production. And if you are looking to increase your workload and profits, the high-production capabilities of a CNC knee mill will help you get more parts out the door in the shortest amount of time.

In the days before CNC milling machines, production parts required expensive jigs and fixtures. Today, they need user-friendly software and someone to change parts!

6. You’re changing spindle speeds on your J Head Bridgeport mill with a step pulley

Although a step pulley design is cheaper and easier to repair for the hobbyist, it is time-consuming in a professional environment where time is money. The vari-speed head is faster and more convenient to change speeds, but it makes little sense to convert an old Bridgeport to a variable speed head. It’s better to upgrade to a CNC machine where the computer controls the vari-speed activity, and the machine provides multiple advantages for the company.

7. Engraving is currently a secondary operation for your shop

Many machine shops still use manual engraving machines to identify their machined parts. This method works, but it becomes a secondary operation, meaning extra setups and an increased possibility of human error.

CNC mill engraving utilizes the manufacturing software to create a computer-based tool path to produce a precise engraving without the extra setup and with less chance of mistakes as on the manual tool. Add a 4th-axis rotary table, and you can engrave round parts.

8. You want to get parts off the milling machine faster

Even if you are a jobbing shop and have no interest in pursuing production work, you still want to get your parts through the milling machine as quickly as possible. However, hand-cranking a Bridgeport Series I standard milling machine is not the answer. It generally results in worker fatigue instead of increased productivity. 

Machinists doing monotonous work throughout their shift are prone to making mistakes or, worse yet, getting hurt. And scrapping parts or having work-related injuries is not the way to get work through the milling machine rapidly. Fortunately, you can speed up production and free up employees to concentrate on other projects. Here’s how!

If your Bridgeport is over the hill, this machine tool could add new life to your shop

supra cnc vertical mill
Supra CNC Vertical Milling Machine

The SUPRA CNC vertical knee mill from CNC Masters will make any shop more productive. This versatile machine is ideal for hobbyists, machine shops of all sizes, product development, high productions work, engraving, and teaching tools in vocational-technical schools and science labs.

Look at a few of the specifications for the CNC SUPRA 10×54 Vertical Knee Mill:

  • Table travel (Longitudinal X-axis): 35.5”
  • Saddle travel (Y-axis): 15.5”
  • Knee travel (Z-axis): 18”
  • Table size: 10” x 54”

The Supra is a rugged machine tool made in the U.S.A. and backed by a one-year warranty with unlimited tech support. Check out the rest of the specs and all of the features here, then call us at 626-962-9300 or email us at sales@cncmasters.com. Better yet, contact us for an appointment and visit our facility in Irwindale, CA.

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MX Software – Easy to Use, Easy to Learn – Included with your machine purchase
The MX software is designed to work seamlessly with your CNC Masters machine. It is made to work with Windows PC – desktop, laptop, or an all in one – on standard USB. Use it on Windows 8 or 10 64-bit operating systems.
No internal conversion printer/serial port to USB software or additional conversion hardware is used with the MX.

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2. Clutter Free Interface
The MX is engineered for the CNC MASTERS machine so you do not have to fiddle with a detailed complicated configuration that can be overwhelming. Just load in the MX and start machining!2. Clutter Free Interface
The MX is engineered for the CNC MASTERS machine so you do not have to fiddle with a detailed complicated configuration that can be overwhelming. Just load in the MX and start machining!

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3. Features Tour and Tutorials Included
The Features Tour will give you a quick run-down on all the features the MX can do for you. The Tutorials are easy to follow even for the first time CNC machinist.
Feel free to download the MX on any of your computers. We recommend downloading the MX along with your CAD and CAM software there at the comfort of your office computer to generate your tool path programs. You don’t need to be hooked up to the machine either to test your program in simulation mode.

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4. Navigate and Edit Your Program through the MX interface with Ease
With a few clicks of the mouse or using touch screen technology, you can easily navigate through the MX interface importing saved programs into the Editor from the File drop down menu. Using standard windows features to edit your program you can then lock the Editor Screen to avoid accidental editing, and if you need to insert a line in the middle of a program, just click on [ReNum] to re-number your tool path list.
You can create a program or import CAM generated G-code tool paths into the Editor
The X Y and Z W arrow jog buttons are displayed from the point of view of the cutter to avoid confusion when the table and saddle are moving. You can also adjust your spindle speed and coolant control while jogging each axis.

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5. Feed Hold – Pause in the Middle of your Program
Feed Hold lets you pause in the middle of a program. From there you can step through your program one line at time while opting to shut the spindle off and then resume your program.
You can also write PAUSE in the middle of your program and jog each axis independently while your program is in pause mode.

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6. Hot Keys
Hot Keys is an alternative method to easily control your machine using your hard or touch screen keyboard. One can press P to pause a program, press S to turn Spindle On, G to run a program, Space Bar to Stop, J to record your individual movements one line at a time to create a program in teach mode.

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7. Pick Menu – for conversational mode programming
Write FANUC style G-codes directly into the Editor or select commands off the [Pick] menu and write your tool path program in conversational mode such as what is written in the Editor box. You can even mix between conversation commands and G-codes in the same program.

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8. Pick Menu List of Options
Use commands such as MOVE, SPINDLE ON/OFF, COOLANT ON/OFF, PAUSE, DELAY, GO HOME…. to write your tool path programs in conversational mode.

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9. Draw the Tool Path to verify it before pressing Go
Hit Draw to view your tool path program drawing, check out its run time, or even simulate the tool path in 3D mode. This can be helpful to quickly verify your program before running it. You can also slow down or speed up the drawing or simulation process.
You can also hit Go within the Draw Window itself to verify the cutter’s position on the machine. The current tool path will be highlighted and simultaneously draw out the next path so you can verify what the cutter will be doing next on the program.

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10. Run each tool path independently to study its movement
1. Run the machine on Trace mode. You can run each tool path independently, one line at a time to study the tool path movement on the machine to verify the position of the application and if any fixture/vise is in the way of the cutter’s path.

2. You can also verify your program by clicking on the Trace and Draw buttons together. This will allow you to view each tool path independently one line at a time in the Draw Window.

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11. Counters display in Inches or Millimeters – Continuous Feed
1. When running a program, the counters will display a “real-time” readout while the machine is in CNC operation without counting ahead of the movement.
2. The current tool path is highlighted while the machine is in operation without causing slight interruptions/pauses as the software feeds the tool path to the machine. The MX internally interprets a program ten lines ahead to allow for “continuous machining” avoiding slight interruptions as the machine waits for its next tool path command.
3. “Run Time” tells you how long it takes to run your tool path program.

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12. Use the “Go From Line” command to start in the middle of your program
If you ever need to begin your program from somewhere in the middle of it, use [Go From Line] which you can find under Tools. The Help guide will walk you through how to position the cutter without losing its position on the machine.

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13. Exact Motion Distance without over-stepping on an axis while jogging
Use “Relative ON” to enter a specific coordinate to jog any of your axes to an exact location without having to write a program. It’s like using “power feed” but easier. You can jog an exact distance on any of the axes without needing to keep the key pressed down and mistakenly over-step the movement releasing your finger too slowly off the jog button.
Let’s say you need to drill a hole exactly 0.525” using the Z. So you enter 0.525 in the Z box. Next, adjust the JOG FEED RATE slider for the desired feed rate. Then “click once” on the +Z or -Z button to activate the travel. In this case you click once the -Z button first to drill the hole exactly 0.525”. Then click once on the +Z button to drive the axis back up 0.525”.

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14. Teach Mode – Jog Input
You can create a tool path program by storing each point-to-point movement by simply jogging an axis one at a time. Click on either of the Jog Input buttons to store each movement on the Editor Screen. You can then add Spindle ON, feed commands, and press GO to run the new program as needed. This is a great feature to help you learn to create a program by the movements you make on the machine without necessarily writing out an entire program first.

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15. Override on the fly to adjust the Jog Feed to Rapid or the Spindle Speed during the middle of a program
1. Jog Feed and Rapid with Override: You can adjust feeds using the slider from slow minimum 0.1″ per minute to a rapid of 100″ per minute of travel. You can even micro-step your jog as low as 0.01”/min. The [-][+] buttons allow you to fine tune feeds in 5% increments while the program is in motion.
2. Spindle Speed with Override: You can adjust speeds using the slider from a slow minimum RPM to the max RPM according to the machine setup. The [-][+] buttons allow you to fine tune feeds in 5% increments while the program is in motion.

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16. Adjust Counters using Pre-Set if you cannot begin the program from 0.00
In a situation where you cannot begin your cutter at it’s 0.00 location, you can “Pre-Set” directly into the counters by typing in your beginning coordinate. You can press Go from here to run your program. You can also “zero all” or “zero” your counters independently. With one click of the [Return to 0.0] button, all axes will travel back to its respective 0.0 on the machine.

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17. Set and Save your 0.00 position for future runs
Set and save your 0.00 position on the machine. These coordinates will be recorded as the first line of the program in the Editor Screen. Should you desire to return to this program at a later date, you only have to click on the Set Zero Return button. This will command the machine to automatically jog each axis to its saved “set” 0.00 position according to the recorded coordinates at the first line of the program.

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18. Create a “Home” position to clear your application and run multiple times
Let’s say you need to machine one application times 100 pieces. This usually requires a jig to retain that physical 0.00 position. But in this case, you want the program to end with a clearance of the axes to easily switch out the next piece of stock and start again. With Save Home, you have the ability to save this offset (home) position while still retaining your Set Zero position where the machine will mill your part out. Pressing [Save Home] will record this new position under the Set Zero line in your program.
Pressing [Go Home] will jog your axes back to your “saved home” position where you originally pressed the Save Home command. You can also input GO_HOME from the Pick Menu as its own tool path in your program. At the completion of your program the axes will end at your Home position. Replace your part, then press [Return to 0.0] button to allow the axes to return to its zero position, and press Go to start your next run.

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19. Disable the axis motors to manually hand crank each axis into place
Easily de-energize the axis motors by clicking [Disable Motors] to crank each axis by hand, and then press [Reset Control] to re-energize the axis motors.

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20. Change up to 30 tools with compensation, and store your tool offsets for other programs
The MX supports…

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21. Use the optional ATC rack up to 8 tools for milling, drilling, and rigid tapping applications
The CNC Masters Automatic Tool Changer Rack and Tools (US Patent 9,827,640B2) can be added to any CNC Masters Milling Machine built with the rigid tapping encoder option. The tutorial will guide you through the set-up procedure using the ATC tools.

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22. Use the optional Rigid Tapping Wizard without the need for tapping head attachments
When you order your CNC Masters machine, have it built with the optional rigid tapping encoder. You can take any drill cycle program and replace the top line with a tapping code created by the wizard to tap your series of holes up to 1/2” in diameter.

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23. Use the optional Digital Probe to scan the profile and/or pockets of your fun/hobby type designs to write your tool path program and machine out a duplicate of your original design To “surface” scan an object, you can program the probe along the X or Y plane. The stylus will travel over the part starting on the left side front corner of the object and work its way to the end of the part on the right side. Depending on how the stylus moves, it will record linear and interpolated movements along the X, Y, and Z planes directly on the MX Editor.
To “pocket” scan an object containing a closed pocket such as circles or squares, the scan will start from the top front, work its way inside of the pocket, and scan the entire perimeter of the pocket.
Under the Setup of the MX software you will find the Probe Tab which will allow you to calibrate and program your probe. Your “Probe Step”, “Feed”, and “Data Filter” can also be changed on the fly while the probe is in the middle of scanning your object.

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24. Use work offsets G54-G59 for nesting applications
The work offsets offer you a way to program up to six different machining locations. It’s like having multiple 0.0 locations for different parts. This is very useful especially when using sub-routines/nesting applications.

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25. Create a Rectangular Pocket / Slot with our selection of Wizards to help you build a tool path program
The Cycle Wizards for the mill or lathe makes it easy to create a simple tool path without needing to use a CAD and CAM software.
On this Wizard, the Rectangular Pocket / Slots, can be used to form a deep rectangular pocket into your material or machine a slot duplicating as many passes needed to its total depth.

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26. Create a Circular Pocket Wizard
Input the total diameter, the step down, and total depth and the code will be generated.

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27. Do Thread Milling using a single point cutter Wizard

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28. Cut a gear out using the Cut Gear Wizard with the optional Fourth Axis

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29. Create a Peck Drilling Program in Circular or Rectangular Patterns
Using the Circular or Rectangular Drilling Wizards, you can program the machine to drill an un-limited series of holes along the X and Y planes. Program it to drill straight through to your total depth, use a high-speed pecking cycle, or deep hole pecking cycle. You can program the cut-in depth and return point for a controlled peck drill application to maximize chip clearance.

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30. The MX interface can easily be interchanged from Mill Mode to Lathe Mode
Use this interface for your CNC Masters Lathe. It contains all the same user-friendly features and functions that comes in Mill Mode. Simply go to the Setup page and change the interface.

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31. Use Tool Change Compensation or the optional Auto Tool Changer Turret if your application requires more than one tool in a single program
You can offset the length and angle of each tool and record it under Tools in your Setup. The program will automatically pause the lathe’s movement and spindle allowing you to change out your tool, or allowing the optional ATC Turret to quickly turn to its next tool and continue machining.
On the MX interface, you also have four Tool Position buttons. Select your desired T position, and the auto tool post will quickly turn and lock itself to that position.

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32. Use the Lathe Wizard Threading Cycle to help you program your lathe’s internal or external threads in inches or metric

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33. Use the Lathe Wizard Turning / Boring Cycle to help you program simple turning and boring cycles without having to go through a CAM or writing a long program with multiple passes

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34. Use the Lathe Wizard Peck Drilling Cycle to help you program your drill applications or for face grooving

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35. Facing / Grooving / Part Off Cycle Wizards – with Constant Surface Speed
These cycles can be used with Constant Surface Speed allowing the spindle speed to increase automatically as the diameter of the part decreases giving your application a consistent workpiece finish. With CSS built into the wizard, there is no need to break down the cycle into multiple paths and multiple spindle speed changes.

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36. This is our list of supported G and M codes which can be found under Tools > G Code/ M Code List in the MX
If you plan to use a third-party CAM software to generate your tool path program, use a generic FANUC post processor and edit it to match our list of codes. As an option, we also sell Visual mill/turn CAM software which comes with a guaranteed post processor for our machines to easily generate your tool path programs based on your CAD drawings.

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37. Our pledge to you…

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