CNC Mill

Team 5107 just finished their rookie year and is looking to expand. We are getting ready to move from the garage to an actual work space. We have quickly realized that CNC machining would greatly help us and it is put just below a work area on the priority list. We were wondering machines that other teams own and examples of the work they produce. Thanks for the help

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good example from 359

Oh god I wish but very much out of our budget

I was very impressed by Wave Robotics because their CNC was well done. If you have questions they recently built their own CNC machine; they are very proud of their system and have been happy to answer questions that I had about their system.

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Be actively hunting for sponsors and business partners. Both of our CNC mills were very generous donations to the team from companies (Thank you Fike Corp. and Sioux Chief!) who have helped us in other ways. Search around for companies upgrading their tooling, some may be willing to donate old equipment that may not be up to par with the precision they need, but perfect for FRC use. Some of these mills cost more to dispose of than they’re worth and giving one to a team is sometimes the best interest of a company for tax write offs and publicity. If you can find a company willing to do just that, you should hold an event dedicating the machine to the company and have employees invited. You may even be gifted with a machining mentor and future support.

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4’x4’ CNC Router is the best intro machine you could have as a FIRST team. It lets you route plywood prototypes with great precision and speed and depending on how beefy it is can even handle bulk Aluminum machining. I have a 4x8 at my work and we machine sheet metal(like having a cheap laser cutter), full 3D machining of vacuum forms, plastic parts, molds for casting plastic. 10k from china, quality is so-so. There is a lot out there.

inb4 cory

Given your request for examples, I may be jumping the gun—but do you know what you’d like to produce with it? If we have some idea of the kinds of parts you’re aiming for, we’ll be able to steer you more effectively.

For example, a gantry mill or CNC router are good for sheet goods and large parts with low overall accuracy, but fairly high precision (in a relative sense). By contrast, knee mills with CNC conversions are good for quickly adapting formerly-manual processes to CNC. Dedicated CNC mills and vertical machining centres are great for prototyping (on the small ones) and production (on the big ones), but are substantially more expensive than other options.

What does your budget look like, and what kind of constraints are imposed by the facility in which it will be located (space, power, noise, heat, drainage, security, etc.)?

Do you already have a lathe? I would say that having one is more important then a manual mill, which is more important to have then a CNC. That would be the order I’d purchase things in. I don’t know much about specifics to buy, but I know other people on here will have better answers.

Our team recently required a Haas CNC Mill, an while it’s taking us a while to work the machine to it’s full potential, it looks to help us greatly in the future. Now, If 45k is out of your budget and you want to start small, I recently found a 3D printer called the FABotum. It has a built in Mill, along with a laser scanner for projects and an engraver (icing on the cake). Anyway, I believe it would be a great way to start your CNC team and move from there. We are looking to buy another 3D printer, and at only $1,000 this is a steal.

I’m sure there are other options out there, so look around a little bit. Definatly worth it. Hope I was of assistance!

What exactly is your budget?

Things to consider: Electrical power, TOOLING, space, training

Some things are easier (and a lot cheaper) with a local machine shop as a sponsor.

I am in the process of converting my PM-30MV-L to CNC using my own design (~$5000, tooling included). Now, if I could just find the time to complete the project…

Others have alluded to other machines. Do you have a vertical and horizontal bandsaw, a lathe, and various hand and power tools already?

OP, there are countless threads on this very topic. You will likely find great information already posted by the “go-to” experts on this forum.

Just this year we got a cnc mill that is for precision tooling but we still mainly used just the lathe, Manuel mill, and bandsaw. When we did use the cnc mill it was for pure convenience for making mounting plates for planetary gearboxes.
My suggestion would be to get a nice Manuel mill and lathe to start with. Almost all machining can be done with just those 2 machines.

if you have 5,000-10,000–buy a used knee mill retrofitted for cnc Bridgeport IF YOU CAN!
11,000-24,000= tormach or better named used cnc
if you have 25,00 - 40,000 get a Haas or

look for tool that are serviceable!!! i have seen some nice year old machine get junked due to lack firmware.

Thank you guys for all of the responses and we have thought about building one but don’t want to spend time building a reliable machine we would rather buy a reliable machine then spend time learning how to use it. We were planning on about 10k on a mill but HAAS mills look awesome. We are starting to look pretty seriously at Thanks for all the help again.

If you have your heart set on a CNC mill, the 1100 is a fine option. I use one at work and am very happy with it. Its capable of a great deal of FRC level work and has stellar support from Tormach. The price is certainly a lot easier to cope with compared to a TM1 or equivalent VMC.

Do consider its limitations, however. While I doubt that it’s slower feeds and lower spindle power are a big deal for an FRC team it does have a relatively limited work envelope. It also doesn’t have a automatic tool changer by default (one is available and supposedly works well), and a full ‘turn key’ package can get expensive by the time you include accessories.

The 1100 is about as ‘new to CNC’ friendly as you can get but it’s still a complex machine with some learning curve to get the most out of it. A team new to CNC and still building up ‘traditional’ resources might be better served by something like a prototrak knee mill. Just a thought.

Our team just recently bought a CNC mill before this year’s season (we received it in August) and it worked great for everything we did. Our entire chassis was CNC machined (as seen in this post: Although they are harder to learn and more expensive, the CNC knee mill is really the way to go for a lot of FIRST teams. We were able to cut not only 1/8" aluminum tubing but also huge blocks of both aluminum and steel, with remarkable precision and speed. We bought our mill used from a local shop for about $4000 and we haven’t had any problems. It’s an old machine but runs great (it looks just like this: It was a great investment and has given us returns far in excess of what we paid for it.

Lathes are also nice. Given the choice, I would rather have a small 4-axis CNC rather than a much larger CNC mill. Even a cheap $1000 manual lathe will serve you very well for doing things like hex shaft e-clips and spacers.

I know the manual lathe is considered above the CNC on Chief Delphi, but depending on how your team builds, a CNC may be more useful.

For example:

This year, we used all hex shaft on our robot, no encoders, hex collars, spacers, and bearings. The robot frame is gusseted 2x1 aluminium extrusion (pop rivets, plates, holes made by cnc). Each end of the extrusion is faced by our mill so that it is square, all the holes for the pop rivets are made by CNC so that everything lines up perfectly. The gussets are made inhouse on the CNC as well. The custom gearboxes we used on the robot… You guessed it, machined by our CNC mill. We also have a hex broach, so that we can buy circular collars and make it fit onto our .5 inch hex shaft.

Now, this isn’t to say that a Lathe is totally useless, because it isn’t. As a team, we under-utilize it. However, depending on what direction your team wishes to take fabrication capabilities, will then dictate what tools you buy.

Also know that my perspective is from a team with access to a large machine shop (see below). This is simply the direction our team has decided to take our machining, a lathe may be more useful to many teams who design for a different chassis/design differently.

955 has 3 Manual Mills, 1 CNC, 3 Lathes, 2 Table Saws, 2 Chop Saws, Sheet Metal Equipment, and 2 CNC routers. + Full on Welding Equipment (Through the high school shop)

I will second this option, we have had converted Bridgeports by southwest industries since the beginning of our team. Having a cnc that programs conversationally is a huge advantage as to other options that require extra software. This has the simplest user interface I have seen and used.
We are coming to a end of constructing a new facility with many high end machines. I just ordered prototrax knee mills to square up material and run 3 axis program just as we have since 1999. My students need to turn handles prior to running a Haas.

Lucas Pacheco
Instructor/Team Manager
Manufacturing Engineer
Hawthorne High
School of Manufacturing and Engineering

I was not familiar with Prototrak until recently and now I’ve seen them mentioned a few times. Anyone care to give more details about their setup and experience with this equipment?