Choosing a precise benchtop mill


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    Default Choosing a precise benchtop mill

    Hi everyone,
    I apologize in advance for the long post.
    I'm a mechanical engineer and I'm in the market for a small bench top CNC mill so I can produce prototypes of an invention I've come up with. Due to my relative lack of CNC experience, I'm hoping the forum could help me choose the best mill for my needs. Here are my desires/requirements in a nutshell:

    - I'll be machining aluminum and engineering plastics and possibly some PCB routing. The largest parts will be roughly 150mm x 65mm x 35mm. Features range from large 20mm deep pockets in the aluminum to sub-millimeter features and possibly some micro drilling. The small features lead me to believe I need a high speed spindle, but I worry about my ability to mill the pockets with such a spindle.

    - I have tolerance requirements that seem to be significantly tighter than most bench top machines are capable of. My current design calls for dimensions of +/- 0.01mm with a surface flatness/perpendicularity of +/- 0.005mm. I came up with these requirements based on some engineering analysis, but ultimately I think it will take some trial and error to know what my real tolerance requirements are. So ideally a machine that could handle this tolerance or a bit better.

    - I'd like a machine that can reasonably fit in an apartment or a bedroom, so I'm looking for 110V power and a manageable size/weight. I'd like to spend less than $15k. I would prefer a used machine.

    Here are the machines I've considered:
    EMCO Concept 55 Mill: accuracy/repeatability doesn't quite meet my needs, size/weight at the upper limit of portability, slow spindle speed. However, I like the "mini-VMC" features of the machine like an ATC and a full enclosure.

    Sherline/TAIG: Love the price and portability, but I don't see how these will meet my tolerance requirements.

    Minitech: Seems to have the best accuracy/repeatability of the bench top machines, but I don't know if it will fit my budget. Also uncertain about the proper spindle choice (NSK?). Seems hard to find a used machine.

    Tormach: Like the features of the machine, but it's probably too big and heavy for me, and I don't think it can meet my tolerance requirements.

    MDA Precision/Wabeco: Not entirely clear if it can meet my accuracy requirements, and it's pushing the limits of portability and budget.

    Haas Office Mill: Ok, this is obviously way beyond what I'm talking about, but it is the machine I dream of. I'm sure it could do everything I need, but the price, size, and power requirements would be tough to manage. It's also a bit overkill for just some R&D on small parts. However, the ultimate goal would be to produce the product commercially, and the Haas would probably be most up to that task.

    So far it seems like minitech is the best bet, but the price is just so hard to stomach. Are there any other machines I should consider? Are my requirements unrealistic? I've considered outsourcing to a prototyping shop, but the number of design iterations I'm anticipating will make that a fairly expensive proposition (I've gotten some quotes). Also, I've been wanting to own a CNC mill (and learn to use it) for almost 10 years now. I feel like an engineer without a machine tool is like a musician without an instrument.

    Thanks for any help you can provide!

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    IMO maintaining that kind of accuracy takes a lot of knowledge and tweaking even with a very good machine.

    I'd honestly recommend you outsource the job. It will take a lot of time to learn how to use a mill even if you manage to get everything you need under 15K (unlikely once you add on tooling, and measuring equipment capable of ensuring you are within tolerance).



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    I mean this with respect and I'm not making a pass at you:
    Do the tolerances really have to be that tight?

    A lot of people subscribe to the "if you're going to make something, you might as well make it perfect" mindset, but there's also the "good enough is good enough" mindset. I don't know your design or its true tolerance requirements, but if +/- .01mm isn't actually needed then this purchase and learning process will be a lot easier on you.



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    Hey guys,
    I totally understand that my requirements are ridiculously tight. The parts I create will be moving/sliding against each other, and performance of the design is dependent on minimizing gaps between the parts. So I've analyzed the performance impact of the gaps and came up with this tolerance requirement. I've considered designing the parts to break-in/wear-in to minimize the gaps, but my wear analysis suggests an unacceptably long break-in period.
    Anyways, I could go on and on about the details, but the requirements represent the best estimate I can come up with before actually making a prototype.

    Are my requirements unrealistic for even a full-size VMC, or is this mostly going to just be an issue for a small bench top machine? I've looked at the accuracy/repeatability specs on a number of larger machines, and I'm led to believe that it would be producible on a larger machine without too much trouble. I imagine some of the complicating factors (thermal expansion, etc) will be the same, however. My employer likes to keep us engineers far away from the manufacturing side of things, so my understanding of the issues involved in precision machining is probably a bit lacking.



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    I very much doubt $15K will be anywhere near to enough to buy a machine capable of such tight tolerance. Big, very expensive VMCs cannot do it. And, any such machine would HAVE to be kept in a tightly temperature-controlled environment to hold such tight tolerance, as thermal expansion of the machine itself exceeds your tolerance. It would also likely hold that tolerance over only a VERY small range of travel, like an inch or two, and that would require screw-mapping, so there's the whole issue of calibration to deal with. And, whoever is operating the machine would have to be a highly experienced, and talented, master machinist - not something you're going to learn to do in a few weeks.

    As an engineer, I've always felt that, except in extremely rare cases, designs that REQUIRE such tight tolerances are poor designs. You should be able to design so that you get the performance you want without having to have parts made to ridiculous tolerances. If you need tight clearances, then provide adjustability, or use scraping or lapping to take off the last few tenths, rather than trying to do it all in the machining.

    Regards,
    Ray L.



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    most tight tolerance parts and brought close to size then ground to final.
    Very tight tolerances even in the hands of a highly skilled machinist are hard to hold. break a tool and you get to start all over. Variances in tool grinding will take you out of tolerance.

    Also remember this, a machine is just a tool. The knowledge to utilize the tool is what is important. Even with cheap tools a skilled person can get great results. its all about knowing the limitations of the tool and working around them.

    Another thing to remember is 90% of the machines this size are constructed of aluminum. With having to hold high and tight tolerances even the temperature must be controlled. I am not talking about ambient temps. I am talking about the thermal expansion of the frame of the machine. the long a machine runs, the warmer it gets due to heat transfer from the motors to the frame.

    I have worked with a client that required high precision. We ended up using liquid "HEATING" to maintain machine temps higher then that which it would see from normal run time usage.



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    Yes without knowing anymore about what your really trying to achive I expect that there will need to be second operations performed to achive this. The machine will not need to come anywhere close this good, and the second operation will do the fitting ( hand scraping, grinding,ect,ect).


    The .01mm can be achived through a good grinding setup, .005mm might take something a little better. It all depends on exactly what the parts are. It may be even easier through some type of ajustment, but I would expect the parts still needing hand scraped or ground to achive the flatness.

    Your boss also needs to learn how comunication and cooperation can really enhance the working flow. This right here is a very good example of what has lead to crappy products, and even companies going down because of the products. We have a lot with in our reach now which has not been there before, best use it, and get someone within the company to help with what is needed here, or bring someone in that can help. A product with this level of performance surely can bring a price which will allow extra guidance. All though your guys on the other side may know the anwser all ready and when they see the part description back up and ask for a redesign, or simple changes.

    Dont get me worng, I admire your willingness to research and try and find anwsers on the quick and easy. But without knowing more about the product its hard to even give guidance on building such a part, and I probably couldnt if it envolved more than such easy operations as hand scraping or grinding.


    If more could be given about the part there is a section on down in the forum where there are those that can give good guidance on such needs. Finding out what it takes to build the part would be good in giving guidlines on what type/types machines, or if a machine is even needed. Heck it may even be possible to cast the part and use the simple second operations I meantioned to finish it, who knows without more info.

    One thing is for sure, your not going to get a machine to spit out parts at this level for the funds meantioned. And even if one is bought at the high price commanded it will take much more than the price of the machine to achive it. Heck it will cost more than this to even have the machines/tools to measure the part for this level of accuracy (in house).

    But dont give up, I have seen auto machinist hit .01mm with a hone in a small corner shop. And there have even been guys that have aligned such quality parts at home, or hand scraped to this level of fit.. So the key is knowing what is being built, or atleast, a very good description of the machanics for someone to go by. And then posting in the section for getting such info. I believe its "General Material Machining Solutions" or " General Metal Working Discussion" or maybe "General Buisness Pactices and Pricing"( might be best one).


    There may be another section if you look, but again finding what it takes to build such parts would be a good start. Or you may find a way to add ajustment to achive the level needed. Good Luck.

    Jess

    GOD Bless, and prayers for all.


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    Default Tolerance

    You need a grinder to hold those tolerances. Way beyond a mill for .0002" flatness and .0004" size. You can get a grinder for cheap and still have money for a little mill.

    Use a little cheap mill for roughing, then follow up with another process (grinding), or redesign the product for bigger tolerances. I know easier said than done. lol

    I agree about an engineer needing a machine tool.

    Don

    Still working in the "D".


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    You could do it on a high end machine, stress relieve the material, and have temperature control. We have a few machines that are very small that would hold that no problem, but your looking at 200K for a machine with a work envelope of 5.9"X5.9".



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    For flat tolerances, get yourself a nice flat piece of granite, and wrap it with some fine wet silicon carbide sandpaper... Then it's nothing but elbow grease and time...



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    You say you want to produce prototypes.
    This implies there will not be many. Based on this assumption, I say you can do it, by conventional machining (no grinding) with a good quality repeatable machine tool. You'll just have to 'sneak up' on the dimensions. This is why you need repeatability even more than accuracy. It's difficult to say for sure because we have no idea what your parts look like, but cutting it undersize, measuring, and cutting again until the part is within spec is a perfectly acceptable method for making prototypes.
    If you want to do this as a production process, that's different. My company does this on parts requiring ±0.01mm tolerances and the machines are customised VMCs costing hundreds of thousands each. They all have on-machine probing and parts are also inspected off-line using CMMs. But for prototypes, I've made the same parts to the same tolerances on a £10k CNC converted Wabeco.

    LongRat
    www.fulloption.co.uk


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    You also need to consider cost of CAD/CAM in case your home setup doesnt have it yet. Depending on what you choose easily a few thousand there or more or less.

    What is your absolute maximum budget for this project?

    With a sherline or a taig, I think one can get +/- 0.03mm without too much problem given the cartesian axis are calibrated to good accuracy and have good repeatability. The +/-0.03mm here comes from the spindle runoff actually. These machines have some backlash on the axis's that cannot be eliminated with these machines short of putting ballscrews for which you simply cant retrofit off the shelf or even if so it wont be done cheaply, but software backlash compensation works miracles for their case. BTW, the minitech is essentially kinda 'sherline with ballscrews', but many many times the price.

    The thing with machining precision is that it is very much a function of the skill of the operator as much as the capabilities of the machine. There are lots of skills, machining strategies and techniques and other factors to consider, that a good machinist can use to improve machining precision. As for focusing entirely on the machine capabilities, other than high positioning accuracy and resolution, you also have to consider spindle runoff which for most spindles normally in the +/-0.02mm range. That is before you put your tool in. With the tool holder and the tool, tool length, the actual runoff at the cutting edge can easily be more than this. Like everyone says, a quality micromachining CNC mill runs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Also don't think you can plug a tool in and let it go. You absolutely have to measure to make sure the tool is spinning to achieve the rated or acceptable runoff. ALso, not all cutting tools are made the same. They may not have perfectly axially centered cutting edges which can add to the error if you just take for granted what the manufacturer says. If you say you want precision machining results, now you really have to measure everything and every single step.

    Other factors to consider is whether the general tolerance needs to be this high, and the size feature you intend to create. This dictates what size tools you need. With a smaller tool, there is longer runtime, and this affects device choice. If you need 50um cut-in features, you will need <50um end mill which is expensive, but moreimportantly if its everywhere the runtime takes forever. Also since you are into precision machining, you need a precision technique of measuring actual cutting tool diameter both statically and dynamically (which includes effect of runoff). You may need those expensive laser tool diameter gauges such as those offered by renishaw. A cheap alternative is to mill a hole in the intended material and then precision measure the hole diameter.

    If you intend to make a large flat surface by means of rotational milling, I dont think that you can easily achieve 5um surface roughness deviation easily, since the classic machining path marks have this level of surface roughness in general, and I know of little mills or their operators capable of leaving machine mark free surfaces using a mill. YOu definately need to grind those surfaces to precision. However depending on the geometry, maybe you cant even have access in there to grind them using conventional means.

    Maybe you should look into other ways of manufacturing. You dont have to do this with a CNC rotary mill. Maybe explore EDM, or even lithography techniques that are conventionally used for high precision and small minimum size feature parts. Developing rapidly is sterolithography techniques using lasers to control sintering and these parts have some amazing precision too, but again by the technology they are often pretty poor on surface roughness and perhaps suffer from issues of porosity which may be of detriment to your prototype.

    Ultimately I'd agree with others. You may want to redesign so that you can achieve your end goal given your financial resources to make it happen. You also may want to consult professionals in manufacturing to show them your actual design (under heavy NDA of course but also with a hefty payment for their consultation I'd imagine), e.g. manufacturing/industrial engineers (i know youre a mech but they are different), machinists, etc - so they can come up with a more concrete plan for you.



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    Quote Originally Posted by misgis View Post
    BTW, the minitech is essentially kinda 'sherline with ballscrews', but many many times the price.
    While the rest of the post had some great information, this statement is not very well thought out at all and I would like to know how you came across this line of thought.

    Think more like a sherline`s much larger cousin on steroids and all the motion bits of a much larger VMC but in a small footprint. I can probably fit my sherline manual mill in my minitech GX working envelope.



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    FWIW, you won't find anything else that will give you the best accuracy for the money than a Sherline. It would be a good way to learn machining and try different things to see where you can increase the tolerances or tweak the design to not need them so tight without spending a fortune.

    If you do decide on going with the Sherline I do have a pretty much brand new CNC one that I will be selling soon since I am converting my Bridgeport now and I really don't do a lot of very small precise work. My email is brian@eamanufacturing.com.



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    Quote Originally Posted by Fixittt View Post
    While the rest of the post had some great information, this statement is not very well thought out at all and I would like to know how you came across this line of thought.

    Think more like a sherline`s much larger cousin on steroids and all the motion bits of a much larger VMC but in a small footprint. I can probably fit my sherline manual mill in my minitech GX working envelope.
    It kinda is. Minitech themselves dont manufacture the spindle. They simple build a 3 axis rig and use higher quality linear motion components like ball screws and linear rails/bearings. They even offer the sherline spindle as an addon. Their 4th and 5th axis options are even based on using a sherline rotary table.

    So say you use a sherline spindle on a minitech. Whats the difference then performance wise compared to a default sherline? Better positioning accuracy and repeatability, higher rapids and better longevity due to use of higher shaft diameter ballscrews perhaps. The work envelope is basically around the same. Both open format mills with no enclosures. Both vertical 3 axis machining.

    This is not a bad thing. Not that Im putting down minitech since some people may genuinely want the bells and whistles above and beyond what sherline or taig offers stock, such as ballscrews or a granite base for higher rigidity etc.

    So I think it is kinda justified in saying minitech = glorified version of sherline with ballscrews and that costs more. Of course it performs better too, but to me they are like an expensive sherline with ballscrews since everything is similar, work envelope, 3 axis verticle maching, can even be the same spindle. Sure you can add an NSK spindle, but you can do that with a sherline too by adding a fixture and mounting on the Z in place of the sherline spindle.



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    roland has a line of desktop CNC mills too that you can look into. Not too bad but most of them cant do heavy metal work. Aluminum should be ok though. Plus you will be taking shallow passes anyway.

    you say youre a mechanical engineer, so I assume the invention is mechanical based (not a rule just assumption)? I dont know why it needs to have such high tolerances for practical purposes? Are they for rotational components between shaft and hole as well as linear motion? Is it for part fit repeatability?

    If its for motional components, and especially if you are working with aluminum, those tolerances cant be kept over long term use since surfaces of aluminum degrade with use fairly easily due to the softness and the lack of resilience. Aluminum-aluminum has some of the highest friction coefficients around also. But then you'd obviously be using aluminum-plastic (say teflon) for motional components as is normally done. But this still suffers long term degradation of performance as wear takes the toll of the surface. I think thats why most manufacturers put on the practical man's hat and build it to acceptable tolerances and wear in the desired interface by lapping the ways.

    Even if you could get your components to the 0.005mm flatness, just by using it the first time with moderate friction or loading may change this right away. Extended exposure of the aluminum alloy to air increases the native oxide layer that naturally also changes this.

    Last edited by autobot; 04-17-2012 at 11:58 AM.


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    Im not trying to argue.... or start anything, but I do disagree to a point.
    Mainly because I have both. While my sherline is a manual and not cnc, its small, dovtail and not very rigid. Flex in it is well...... (depending on what you do and how you do it) Horrid.
    I have 4 minitech machines, 3 of which are what I refer to as rescues. Managed to get the frames and redo them.
    The olde minitech minimill 1 is the closest thing to a sherline. About the same size and everything else.
    I have an old minimill 2 from the mid to late 90`s and its a tank in comparison with thomson shaft ways with bushing.
    My other mill2 is the mid 2000 version and its in my opinion not as sturdy and the older mill2 but with ballscrews its very precise and has a nsk 2530 spindle. It produces beautiful surfaces on wax, plastic, acrylic and some aluminum work. Stuck with 1/8th tooling the weakest link is the tooling. I use this for jewelry waxes mostly.

    The GX mill is a beast compared to the mill2`s. THK ballscrews, THK rails and trucks for the ways. Ground granite base and column. I cannot measure any flex in the machine like I can with the other 3. The GX has a NSK E3000 spindle.

    I also have the sherline spindles for 2 of them, I also have an old Atnea (SP) 40,000 rpm 6HP spindle as well all of which are quickly changeable to suite what I am doing.

    I have an old MAXNC 15 as well, this is closest to the sherline in construction. While larger, it has dovetail ways, 20tpi acme screws and very flexible.

    Most desktop cnc mills utilize the sherline rotary because for the money there is nothing else better.

    But to say that they are more or less a sherline, is kind of like saying a Ducati is more or less like a scooter. They both have black rubber tires and an engine and run on gas.



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    I agree, a healthy dose of critical discussion is beneficial for everyone especially when deciding on a mill to purchase.

    You say you have a small manual sherline. I assume it is their smallest model, the 5000 series? This one is quite a bit smaller than their other CNC series like the 5400 or their 2000 series. You put the steppers on them and now they extend out a bit more.

    But overall size means nothing to the practical man than the work envelope. Lets take sherline's largest offering, the 2000 series. XYZ limits are 8.7x7x5.4". The sherline's midrange 5400 series has XYZ travel of 8.7x5x6.3".

    Mind you those are for their standard travel stages. Sherline themselves offer upgrades to enhance the travel of each axis if you want for a couple of hundred. Alternatively, third parties like A2Z offer enhancements also and added rigidity and ACME leadscrews for each axis, that can greatly enhance the travel. For example, for ~$1000 more than the base sherline model at ~$2600, A2Z allows a sherline to have 14x11x16" work envelope.

    The mini-mill 1 from minitech, their smallest offering has 5x5x5.5" work envelope. This is already smaller work envelope than a midranged sherline CNC. Their mini-mill GX you spoke of has 12x9x9" work envelope. But then lets look at the cost. The minimill 1 costs ~$6k with a sherline spindle, and the mini-mill GX costs $17k.

    I agree the minitech mills are definately more sturdy and have higher quality linear motion components like ballscrews and linear rails. This is definately more ideal. Again it always comes to one's budget and needs. Can you get away with making a part of a certain desirable tolerance with a cheaper and lower-tier mill? Perhaps. You might have a harder time than someone with a better mill, but you can probably still do it. If you have the money then you should spend it. Its like if you want to travel to another city, you can either ride the bus (analogy is outsource your manufacturing to existing machine shops), drive your honda civic (analogy is get a sherline/taig), drive your BMW 3 series (analogy is get a mini-mill), or drive a bugatti veyron (analogy is get the top of the line mori seki machining center or a kern micromachining center).



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    you are more then correct on the money and needs.

    Kind of reminds me of another topic about making 1911 gun frame with a sherline mill. The user was asking if it can be done. Sure it can be done, but do you want to? LOLOLOL

    I have machined many things on the old maxnc. but man did it take forever!!!!!!!!

    I do understand the money/budget situation. Sometimes you have to just "make do" with what you can afford. Doesnt really mean its the right tool for the job.

    The sherline is most defiantly the best bang for a tight budget. you can get jobs done, but you sacrifice rigidity and speed. It is most definitely a light duty machine as far as desktop mills go. (granted all desktop mills are considered light duty)
    The taig is next in line, its a little more solid but with its dovetail and screw/nut design it requires more maintenance to keep it in check.
    MaxNC...... JUNK, dont even contemplate it.
    Roland.... proprietary hardware, have had the misfortune to work on some of them and for me..... i will steer clear of them.
    There was another, Model Master..... but they are gone now....
    The revo machine is more of a jewelry mill and is also proprietary
    There are other contenders that I have not had any hands on experience with so I cannot say anything about them. I mention the proprietary electronics because I feel its a downfall. If something ever happened to the company, it would render repairs on the machines next to impossible.

    The number one thing when contemplating a machine is budget. You want to get the most for your money. But it should also fit your needs. Like I said, I do alot of jewelery waxes and wax prototyping. There are alot of players in this side of the market, but 90% of them are high dollar as they are geared towards model production for profit and are limited to very soft material. If you want/need to work with harder materials then your options become more limited. The sherline and taigs fall into the hobby end of the spectrum as hobbyists have more time and are not doing production runs. Best bang for the buck. Engineering, micro fluidics, medical grade and the alike are forced to look beyond the hobby end and look at the higher end machines. This is where time, accuracy, repeatability, lower maintenance are more important then the initial cost of the machine. If you need the machine to preform withing specs the first day and years down the road without much adjustment ect then that takes you out of the hobby end as well.

    So in general its all about cost vs. value. (isnt everything?)



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