Shop Development

Hey guys, our team just “unearthed” $10,000 of money that we were supposed to get incrementally for three years now, and so we’ve been trying to figure out what to use the money for. We are thinking, tools (all we have is a desktop drill press and circular saw) particularly a lathe/CNC. Which one would you recommend and from where?

What do you guys think is the best thing to buy with these funds?


Lucky you!

Another rookie team asked a similar question and got some pretty good responses.

As far as the first part of your question, are you asking about brands and sources of CNC mills and lathes and is that what your team is dead-set on getting? If not then not knowing where you are in terms of current tools and supplies take a look at the thread and see if it helps some before you make a final decision.

There are a couple threads about recommended tools. Look there for some more info. My recommendation is a bandsaw, either vertical or drop. After that many people recommend a lathe, then a mill. 3D printers are nice for small custom non-load bearing parts, and prototypes.

I would highly recommend a CNC router table, they are a phenomenal prototyping tool for plywood and sheet aluminum as well as slow machining of stock aluminum if you get the right one.

What machine would you recommend for this? Has good products and are just about the only manufacturer I have seen advertise their machine being able to machine bulk aluminum. There are many companies and kits out there to look at.

ShopBot can cut aluminum. Don’t know if they advertise the fact, but tech support will tell you as much. Our students have been programming most of our robot parts on one for the last three years or so. They have a variety of sizes/capabilities.

Diversion 165 TIG welder can do a lot for you, if you have someone who knows how to use one, and somewhere to plug it in.

You can get a lot out of $10,000. A bandsaw would be my first choice, followed by hand drills if you don’t have them. Vertical bandsaws are the way to go IMO, as they are very versatile.
Drill doctors or new drill bits if your bits are old.
Make sure you have the power requirements for any CNC or big machine. A manual mill can get you far too. You can push a 1HP or 1.5HP machine on a 110v outlet if the motor is built for that. However, I have a 2HP mill in my garage that trips the 15 amp breaker when I try to turn it on at 2200rpm.
Depending on your location, you can pick up a used Bridgeport manual mill for between $500-2000. Equip it with a DRO and a toolbox of tools and you get an extremely useful tool.
On tooling for any machine, you have to plan out what to get before you buy the machine. Tooling costs can easily exceed that of the machine, especially if it’s used. Good calipers, 45*/30* triangles, end mills, a vise, etc. can run well above $1000.
If you find yourself in need of aluminum stock every year pick up some of that too.

So first you might not want to jump straight to a CNC considering that the are Expensive to get a full sized one, i would start out with manual BridgePort Mill and a SouthBend Lathe of some kind, Your students will learn a lot more from these machines then CNC, they will also get the skills necessary to accomplish many different tasks as well as knowledge on how to problem solve, with manual machines one has to think the whole process first before the actually start and that is what helps them in the long run, after those two i would suggest a 3D Printer, Disk sander (bench top), Metal bandsaw, Metal chop saw,
Calipers, Beverly shear and Beverly holepunch

This is no joke. I spent my morning today assessing the condition of machine shop. Among the equipment was a Mazatrol turning center. This machine had listed a current draw of 35 amps on a 480v 3 phase circuit. Make sure you know your power requirements and other services and compare them to what you have in your shop.

How much money do you have to support the team over the next five years?

Do you need to spend the $10,000 immediately?

What are your expenses? What is your projected sponsorship? How many sponsors do you have?

Also do not forget compressed air. Many CNCs need compressed air. Some even require an air dryer.

This one actually required an offboard hydraulic pump as well.

That’s somewhat antiquated and borderline bad advise. I understand the point you were attempting to make, but it comes across in an unfavorable way.

Many (if not most) schools require a classical progression of skills, from manual machining, up to CNC, and many older experienced machinists argue that any education that differs from this path is wrong and will never make a successful machinist.

However, we’re beginning to see a shift in which manual machines are becoming increasingly irrelevant as most industrial processes are now automated, and to see something like a manual mill used in a production environment today is a rare sight, an a profit-losing one at that. I’ve even visited small job shops and R&D labs with plenty of CNCs, but not a single manual machine. Since we started on CNC, the only thing we use the manual mill for by choice is for awkward objects that just won’t fit decently into the CNC.

I am a firm believer that it is certainly possible to teach students CNC milling before manual milling, with successful results, if approached in the right manner with the right instructor. Similarly, I learned and now teach TIG welding before stick, MIG, or gas. Go ask any trade school what they think of that. They’ll tell you I’m nuts, but my welds and my student’s welds speak for themselves.

That said, a decent manual mill is not a bad thing to have sitting around for educational purposes at the least. And a manual lathe is an absolute necessity, and in many cases preferred over a CNC for many types of work we do for FIRST robots and class projects.

On bandsaws, we recently acquired a Grizzly G9743 7x12 Horizontal and a Grizzly G0555X 14" vertical. The monster 1" blade on the 7x12 horizontal should be way better than the skimpy 3/8" blade on our old 5x6 horizontal. While I haven’t yet had a chance to cut anything on them yet, they look like decent quality machines at first look after unboxing and assembling. On verticals, I’m in love with our 1960’s vintage 18" Delta-Rockwell. You don’t get that kind of quality in too many saws today. At home I have a ~2011 vintage 14" Delta. It’s closest sibling today would be the 14" Porter Cable that Lowes sells or the 14" that Harbor Freight sells, both of which look better in a couple ways. The 14" Delta is a fine machine that had quite a following for many years, but even still, bigger and better saws are out there.

And as a final note on saws, we have a 14" Rage Evolution metal cutting saw. For the ~$250 it costs, it’s a great tool to have around. It’ll cut aluminum just fine, but it’s not as precise as a higher speed Dewalt 12" compound miter saw with an 80T carbide tipped blade. On the Rage, the blade will cut through just about anything with little danger, risk, heat, or debris, but the teeth do clog with aluminum if a lubricant is not used. That said, it’s an absolutely amazing and perfect tool for cutting steel tubing and unistrut.

For what we do in FRC, it is totally possible to teach students starting on CNC. Everything we do is aluminum, easy to fixture, and uses pretty basic milling operations with end mills that range from .125" to .5" diameter and the occasional fly cutter for face milling.

However, I don’t agree with what you’re saying about manual mills only being used in profit-losing situations. There are still plenty of machine shops effectively using manual mills to make parts.

If you don’t already, I would highly recommend switching to insert face mills over end mills and flycutters when you can. You get absolutely stunning finishes while running the things at 2000 or 3000rpm. I run a 2" face mill at 2000rpm on a manual mill and it has greatly sped up how fast I do my work, because I don’t have to take a finishing cut and I can chug through metal really fast.

Regardless of whether you get a manual mill or CNC, buy an insert face mill along with the regular stuff.

Fly cutters will get you a better surface finish if you go quickly and have your head very square. See 4:25 in this video for a pretty cool demonstration of a good fly cutter:

I use face mills when using big rigid machines, but I’ve actually found that a sharp flycutter in aluminum can do a good job too.