What does a CNC Machine Cost?
The cost of a CNC Machine depends on size, power, precision, and quality. Before you can compare pricing for CNC Machines it is important to understand what comprises a CNC system, how components are offered, what are necessary components, and what are optional.
As you review different systems, knowing more about what is being offered for the price shown, and if you’ll need to purchase additional necessary components to have a usable system will make for a better experience and get you carving faster.
What you are paying for
Base CNC Machine ComponentsFor any CNC system to be usable there is a minimally viable setup comprised of core components.
RailsRails are the channels along which the carver travels on the x and y-axis. Generally, there are two types of rails.
Linear drive mechanismLinear drive mechanisms are used to control the travel along the channels.
Frame Aluminum ExtrusionsThe frame of most CNC machines is made from an aluminum extrusion. The amount this contributes to the cost of a machine is largely proportional to the size of the machine and the rigidity; for higher-end production quality machines, the frames will be more substantive.
Waste BoardThe waste board provides a surface that serves two purposes: 1) it allows for easier clamping or holding of the material to be carved. 2) It is an “expendable” surface that may get cut if the carve goes deeper than the material thickness...it's meant to be scarred a bit.
Stepper MotorsStepper motors allow for small increment movements along the X, Y, and Z-axis. Measured in degrees, the smaller the stepper motor’s degree of movement, the more precise the carves can be. Stepper motors may come with fitted pulleys. If not, you’ll need the pulleys as well.
ControllerAt the heart of the CNC system, the controller takes inputs of both power from your electrical source and motor commands from the computer and routes them to the appropriate components.
Power SupplyThe power supply distributes power to the components of the CNC system,
Stepper drivers (micro-stepping)The drivers in the controller do as you might imagine, they control the movement of the various stepper motors in your CNC system.
SpindleSpindles are the motors that drive the carving bit. Depending on the CNC system, the spindle may be integrated into the machine, or a router may be mounted onto the X-axis.
HardwareEvery CNC machine parts list includes an extensive set of brackets & screws.
ClampsCarving material with a CNC router requires that the material be held fast in place. The more powerful the spindle, the stronger the clamping system needs to be.
CNC Software (CAD/CAM)
The hardware sits idle without proper direction from the software. The CNC software translates designs into motion directions for the motors. Some CNC software takes input from design software and others allow you to also design directly within the CNC software.
Components beyond the CNC Machine to make a usable system.
Homing switchBringing the carving bit to the same, predictable location when a carve is completed allows for easier carving of templates, integrated parts, and other projects that may involve more than one carve that have to be aligned.
Z-ProbeThe Z-Probe provides the CNC software and accurate measure of the starting height of the material to be carved relative to the carving bit.
Tool kit specific for CNC machineWhile you can purchase the tools to assemble a CNC machine separately, it is easier to have all the tools provided in a single kit.
Caliper (digital)Starting off with an exact measurement of the material thickness is critical to accurate carving along the Z-Axis. The caliper, combined with the Z-Probe make it easier, indeed possible, for the CNC machine to carve precise depths.
Dust ControlCarving creates dust, and dust can be more than a nuisance. Using dust control along with your shops’ vacuum system helps keep the area clear, and you breathing better.
Router bitsRouter bits are certainly required to use a CNC machine. However, the bits you use depend on the types of carving you want to do. So, they are generally not included in the base cost of a machine. But, you do need them.
Material for carvingWhether you are carving wood, plastic, metal, or any other material, you will need to obtain material for your projects.
How Are CNC Machines PricedThe pricing of the CNC Machines will be based on the quality of the components (which is obvious), and on the inclusion of components, which maybe be readily apparent when comparing prices.
When quoting a price, some manufacturers will set the price absent required components, and provide the buyer the option to add one or more variations of the component.
Another pricing method is to include all the required elements of the cnc machine as well as "extras" that make CNC carving easier. For instance, the Fully Loaded X-Carve includes things like the dust controler and CNC software. Bits remain additional as the bit set you want will depend on the type of carving you will do.
The first step in comparing the price of different machines is to determine the included components. The best way is to take the list of components for the offers that have a complete setup for the CNC machine offered. Then, for those that set a base price for an incomplete system, add and price out the required components. With the full list, you can compare the final cost.
With the final list for each manufacturer complete, the next step is to compare the specifications and quality of the items and their corresponding prices.
Choosing the right CNC Machine for the price & your projects
Knowing which CNC machine to purchase based on the price alone is difficult. A good approach is to see examples of projects the machine has been used to create. Manufacturers that have developed strong communities will have a lot of examples. Look through the communities and learn what real users have been able to create.
Based on the alignment of the projects in the communities with those you wish to do, you can refine the list of CNC Machines in your consideration set. This will provide a range of costs for the level of CNC Machine you need.
Keep in mind that the price of the CNC machine will also depend on the level of pre-shipping assembly and the assembly required of the user.