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How to Buy a Low-Cost CNC

Low-Cost CNC’s, primarily the CNC horizontal lathes and vertical machining centers, offer manufacturers increasingly superior technology at no extra cost. The basic functions of machine tools in the 70’s and 80’s no longer fit the mold because they lacked the technological features needed and had slower production speeds. CNC technology has emerged on the scene at such a rapid rate that low-end producers could afford a machine equipped with the latest features.

Low-Tech vs High-Tech

Technology breakthroughs have come from the CNC section of the machine tool. It has in turn created easier operation, higher accuracy and increased uptime capability while at the same time delivering a quality product. Today’s manufacturer knows in this energetic economy, the market for computer-aided design in CNC machines is in high demand. With the sophisticated high-tech CNC market becoming even more expensive and technical, the larger market of simple and unsophisticated applications with users utilizing this new equipment continues to grow instead of having the necessary skilled labor to set up and operate conventional machines with their conventional applications. The emergence of American made CNC machine tools, appearing as low-cost and high quality, radically expanded the market. The price difference between the Japanese machine and the American machine was substantial enough, without sacrificing quality. Another factor was not only brought about by technological advancements and demands in manufacturing, but the rise in the Japanese yen against the American dollar. This continued to produce highly complex and expensive CNC hybrids that were difficult and time-consuming to work with. The American machine companies became successful because of sound engineering, clever marketing, and are presently in the process of taking back the entire CNC “stand alone” CNC machine tool market from the Japanese. What has happened is that these American machines are inexpensive, they are mass produced by the thousands in different sizes and applications catering to your particular needs and market. Manufacturing costs are kept at a low and competitive level. Basically, they depict a break in both domestic and foreign design tradition where as model capacity increases, the size and horsepower of the spindle, axis servos, and the related cutting power applications system do not change and can be extended to much smaller machines. This results in interchangeability, enabling yourself to have great savings with purchasing items in large quantities and limited sizes.

New applications

The recent focus of many low-cost CNC’s have been on higher speeds and lighter cutting. There has been increased demand of aluminum and titanium because of weight, tolerance and strength advantages. The recent trend has more shops working with these lightweight metals that are difficult to machine. Rapid traverse speeds and pallet transfer speeds have almost become maxed-out, so faster cutting speeds gives the best opportunity for gains in cycle time reduction. These machines also include lathes with milling capability and mills with turning capabilities. So whether you cut cast iron or various other metals such as aluminum or other exotic materials, there will be a low cost machine that is going to be able to handle your work.


Multiple axis turning centers, secondary milling operations, auto loaders, and integrated post process gauging are all part of a seemingly endless list of capabilities some of these machines can do. For example, if you operate your CNC machine for an extended period on a daily basis, it warrants the need for an automatic coolant system that impedes destructive heat buildup which preserves the positioning accuracy through its operations. Another function that is commonly growing in low-cost machining centers is rigid tapping. It supplies the operator with a servo controlled tapping cycle without the need for floating tap holders and it guarantees accurate control of depth and pitch when threading at high spindle speeds. With all the confusion existing in understanding the “commodity” vs “traditional” machine tools for what they are, it leads one to believe that the present resistance to “used” or complex “hybrid” CNC’s equipped with various expensive options will eventually become more common as their benefits become better understood. As low-cost CNC’s become more efficient in the manufacturing process, they will become easier to use.

This is one article in a series of    How to Buy Metalworking Equipment.   Each article showcases and explains a particular type of metalworking machine. They were originally published in the Metalworking Machinery Mailer published by the Tade Publishing Group. Html listing of Available CNC Mills & Machining Centers and CNC Lathes & Turning Centers.

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