1. #1

    First off, apologies for the war and peace below and apologies if I haven't covered something important or missed anything. My head is hurting from trying to figure this out on my own. I need some help from you clever people if at all possible!

    Background -

    I run a business with the Mrs, we do a relatively large amount of timber sheet cutting for signage companies, crafters and the general public. We have a fully kitted workshop along with a spanking 4' x 3' high(ish) power CO2 laser machine which we imported from China from HSG. We also run a small Shapeoko2 type machine which I built from parts. The other sides of the business are doing well and I would like to get sorted with a more production grade type CNC for the workshop. This will be built/brought to make money with. I have asked the question a couple of times in the past regarding building etc but with the business, time can get away from you sometimes when large orders come in and we have had to put this project/purchase on the back burner on more than one occasion. You have to make it before you can spend it!

    The problem -

    My budget is variable for what we are going to buy, if needs be I could boost it up to 3k, maybe 4k at a push however for that sort of money I would need a turn key option unless Im buying it in sections to spread the cost if that makes sense. I have spent the last few months going back and forth between spending the money to import a Chinese machine, saving money and buying something small like the workbee to make do or not bothering completely. Do any of you spend so much time looking at something it starts to become a chore and not something that you enjoy? Well, thats where Im starting to get to, hence the help needed.

    I have looked at the following....

    Shapeoko3 - Not particularly impressed with this for the price if I'm honest. The specs are quite low and there is very little option to upgrade in the future.

    WorkBee - I like this look of this, for the price on Aliexpress its not half bad but trying to get any decent info regarding actual real world working is like pulling teeth. Alot of the people I find using these don't really have any experience and so the intel Im getting back is not reliable. The Z axis clearance is not very big so that is a limitation however there is room to upgrade with bigger 12mm lead screws and home cut plates to increase the Z.

    Chinese Machines - Im sort of tempted but I have seen a fair few issues being raised in terms of quality/reliability. I understand the process of purchasing and the risks with it after we brought the laser machine. I spent months researching different companies, went through all of the additional checks to get it sorted etc but it was a large risk and Im not sure if I have the time to manage it again. Not the mention the aftersales is pretty much non existent. I think the best way to look at these would be that your buying a ready made project which needs to be sorted before use. Would you agree or am I off the mark with this one?

    UK Machines - That just isn't going to happen, I don't know if you ladies and gents have the same issue but I just look at them and see a huge markup on what is effectively a rebadged machine. I would rather risk the Chinese option before doing this...I think.

    Building - I know, I know, this is always the best way to go. I think have the tech skills ( to build one (I have built woodworking machines from scratch) and would say I have a decent knowledge of what needs to be done. I understand that to suggest options for the electronics/frame/mechanicals etc you guys would need to have a machine spec in mind but I just don't have the time to do a full design. I hate to say it, but I'm that kind of guy who has an idea in his head, buys the parts I think I will need and go from there. That doesn't really help me though when I'm asking you for help and you need a design to work to lol. I had looked around for a plan for me to build from so I can take the guesswork out of it but they seem to be non existent and the ones I have found are from the US so everything is in Imperial, not great for someone in the UK.

    Machine Needs -

    Timber cutting - This is going to be the bread and butter of the machine. Cutting hardwoods, MDF, Birch Plywood and softwoods. This will tie in with our current business model so sign writing (V type carving) and cutting shapes. I do have something in the pipeline for me to use it for relief carving and something else, 2.5D (apologies as I cant share the business idea) so Im thinking 150mm on the z would be a good size to go for.

    Plastic - We can cut 25mm acrylic with the laser so other than using the router for something like HDPE or delrin for machine making I cant really see a need.

    Ally - This would be very minimal, again maybe used to make parts, plates or for sign engraving work on Anodised/Painted ally sheet.

    Size - As stated, 150mm on the Z, ideally 4' x 3' but we can stretch to 4' as there should be enough space for us to fit it in. Also 4' x 2' would be fine for the sign writing.

    Software - Im thinking of using V-Carve for our design work, I've had a play with this and Im positive I can make this work.

    Shielding - We run our laser machine alot, the CNC will be sat next to the machine. I have heard horror stories of unshielded spindles and electronics causing havoc with laser machines and other equipment. I cannot have this in the shop as it will stop production on other things. Money needs to be made.

    Price - This is variable, I fully understand that I get what I pay for. I am also fully aware that you can make compromises on the machines to get it to fit into your budget. Nobody wants to buy twice but I also don't have an unlimited budget.

    Speeds - Time is money but I can't make money without the quality. It needs to be fast but it also needs to be reliable and something that I can trust to be accurate.

    So what do I do? Should I suck it up and wait so I can spend more money, do I need to change my brief or make compromises? I feel like I'm drowning in a sea of specs, spindles, extrusions and plates. Even after a few months of trying to figure things out I don't think I am any further ahead than what I was when I started!

    Don't hesitate to ask any questions on what I need or have written above. Any help is greatly received!

  2. #2
    I wouldn't want a bolted together extrusion machine for commercial work in hardwood, when machining mass and rigidity are your friends and extrusions come up light (no pun intended) on both.
    You think that's too expensive? You're not a Model Engineer are you? :D

  3. #3
    Thanks for the reply!

    Yeah to be honest I had been thinking the same thing. I did see a build where a guy used 50mm x 50mm x 4mm steel box section for the frame and ran everything off of that. That could always be an option.

    Ally extrusion machines seems quick and easy to get set up but the rigidity of them concern me

  4. #4
    m_c's Avatar
    Lives in East Lothian, United Kingdom. Current Activity: Viewing Forum Superstar, has done so much to help others, they deserve a medal. Has been a member for 9-10 years. Has a total post count of 2,245. Received thanks 247 times, giving thanks to others 6 times.
    Reading this, I can't help but think you should have a chat with Jazz, but he's not been on here for a good few months.

    I'll send him an email, but has anybody heard from him lately?
    Avoiding the rubbish customer service from AluminiumWarehouse since July '13.

  5. #5
    I've had the occasional chat with him in the past and seen stacks of posts from him. Doesn't look like he's been active since end of July tho!

  6. #6
    I seemed to get the impression from one of his posts a while back that he could have had a health issue, hope he is OK.

  7. #7
    Couple of years back, I was discussing this issue with a friend. I'm very much a hobby user; he runs a small sign- and notice-board business. I built my machine from 3mm box section steel, all-welded including the gantry. Mix of 50x50 and 100x50. Cutting area about 1500x750. Components and material cost probably around 2-2.5K. Took around 6 months - but I'm not a fast worker. Now built, it works very nicely.

    He wanted the machining capability as soon as possible, and bought from China (Acctek). He had done some research, spoke to them via Skype to sort out details, and very importantly found a UK shipping agent to handle all transport and customs issues, rather than pay China for carriage. That all worked out well, and he has been using the machine successfully. Their smallest machine, 900x600 (limited by available space), cost around 3K. It wasn't very well finished in terms of machining quality, paint finish, etc, but worked well after just a little bit of fettling. Little things like proximity switch target being out of adjustment - when we took the covers off to investigate, the "target" turned out to be a broken tap, screwed in the hole with a locknut. Worked fine after tweaking, but a bit rough! They do larger machines for, I believe, not that much more money.

    I'm sure you could build better for less, but if you need the capacity now, what cost do you put on your own time? That's where home and business users differ. I'm sure this is exactly the kind of debate you are having with yourself anyway but if you have a sound business plan that needs this machine, you probably need to buy now rather than build. My friend has no regrets about going down that path - even if my machine is better than his!

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by mekanik View Post
    I seemed to get the impression from one of his posts a while back that he could have had a health issue, hope he is OK.
    Dean is fine, I think he has done quite a lot or reorganisation within his main business and so not had much time to play.
    The more you know, The better you know, How little you know

  9. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to Clive S For This Useful Post:

  10. #9
    That's good news Clive! Thanks for passing that on! Fingers crossed he will be around when he gets some time.

    Neale, thanks for the reply. You're right, that is exactly where I am at at the moment. I think if I'm being honest, I probably have at least a few months before this is going to get dealt with (as much as I want it sorting soon lol).

    Realistically, the turn around time from China is usually 2-3 months anyway so it shouldn't be an issue. Very good comment regarding the freight forwarder, if anyone is reading this and thinking the same thing, make sure you find yourself a good forwarding company. I think we used JS Forwarding, can't quite remember now, anyway, they helped to get our laser machine through customs and they were excellent. It was the first time of doing this so they pretty much spoon fed us through the process and we would have been lost without them!

    I guess one of the issues with Chinese machines is the lack of support which you dont need if you build, I just need to figure out a few things before we decide on that for sure.

    I guess if I was to build I could look at doing it during our Christmas shutdown, I only get bored when I'm not at work anyway.....hmmmm....choices choices choices!

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