Purchasing a CNC Router: New Versus Used

CNC users debate the pros and cons of investing in used machines. December 10, 2007

We are in the process of buying a CNC. We currently have a Morbidelli U13 (circa 1989!). We want something that will do shelf holes, dowel holes, groove and cut angled tops and bottoms. We would also like the option of making fluted columns and arch window valances, plus anything else we currently buy out of our shop. Now the big question is, should we spend $100,000 - $140,000 on a new one, or buy a used one for $30,000? Are there used ones that are still in good shape and can do the work we want for $30,000? What should we be looking for or avoiding in a used machine?

Forum Responses
(CNC Forum)
From contributor J:
The biggest difference in a new or nearly new machine will be in the options and performance in your controller. The old cheaper machines would need a lot of updates to the software to get current, and/or a whole new controller. If the machine is well maintained mechanically, you may be able to put it right into production, but without new software and controller, it will not perform at a level equal to its price tag. Look at the true price difference between a new machine and an up to spec used machine that can perform at the same level. I purchased a new machine after looking at this decision, but as a seasoned CNC shop, will look at this formula again for adding another machine to the mix in the next few months. I will lean toward the used side with new controller this time, if we find the right buy.

From contributor M:
In my opinion, if the used budget is 30k, buy something new. I was looking at used router prices and kicking the tires on some recently. I did not find a used machine that was worth the time and investment for under 100k. Most of the machines that had over 2000 cutting hours were pretty old, beat up, or both. After buying, rigging and training, the cost was too high for an old machine.

There are good used machines out there. I have bought a few, but they are hard to find on short notice. Oh, and if your skill level with controllers and maintenance is not top notch, buy new and forget the used stuff.

From contributor B:
If you have strong technical and mechanical skills with regard to CNC routers, then used is a good option. If you are going to have to have someone else bring the used machine up to speed, then new may be the better option. Of course, as others have indicated, it has a lot to do with the particular used router you find to purchase.

I often hear people talking about bringing software and controllers up to current specs. This is a point I feel is open to discussion. If you are planning on networking a used router to an existing shop-wide network of more modern technology, then this can be an issue. If it is going to be a stand alone machine, then there is probably nothing at all wrong with the older technology. From the sounds of what you are planning to do with the machine, I think this might be the case for you. If the older software cut parts several years ago, it will still cut parts now. If the controller is still properly moving the machine and you don't need to have it match into a shop wide system, why spend time and money replacing it? The bottom line here is accurately cutting parts. For small run applications you most likely wouldn't take advantage of the higher efficiency a newer control might bring.

From contributor K:
Great points made by all. There are good used purchases to be made, however one must use some practical planning. More often than not, buying a used machine requires some degree of technical expertise or, at best, reliance on someone within your organization or external to your organization to provide that expertise.

That said, the applications the questioner listed are ideal to purchase a used machine. Standard cabinet panels, fluted columns, valances, etc. are ideal candidates for used router and point-to-points with parametric compatible controls. For the components listed above, software is often not mission critical (especially if you gain mastery over parametrics!). As components become more complex (furniture components, detailed contoured signs, etc), software plays a much more critical role. At that point I would still not rule out the right used machinery purchase, but it can get a lot trickier.

My advice is, do your homework... Gather as much information as possible, involve as many knowledgeable people within your organization, involve machine distributors, achieve a comfort level you are satisfied with for whichever purchase you make.

From contributor V:
It is quite a swing to say that you are considering buying a new machine for between $100,000 to $300,000 but would only consider used machines at $30,000. This premise sets you up for failure. When you consider the used market, the ideal machines are late model with low hours. As an example, assume you have quoted a new unit from brand X for $130,000. You could then look at used machines from comparable manufacturers that are between 1-3 years old at a discount of between 30-40%. In this scenario, if your target new price range is $130,000, you should look for something comparable in the used market for between $70,000 to $90,000, depending on the age and hours. You are then free to hire the manufacturer for setup and training. Allow for an average of $4000 for four days of setup and training. The savings of between $40,000 - $60,000 should be more than enough to offset any risk associated with potential maintenance concerns on a used machine.

From contributor B:
We bought a 10 year old point to point last year. The shop up the street offered it at a good price, so I bought it. But after adding software, upgrading software, training, machine setup, etc, it is a substantial investment. But it is an awesome way to learn the system and a lot of the investment will transfer to another machine (either new or used). I was just unwilling to buy a new or newer used machine without first learning some of the in and outs, and in hindsight I am happy with the decision. With a machine this old, you are really on your own to figure things out and there has been frustration. I am now shopping for another and if I buy used, it will be 3-4 years old at the most. I think they are hard to find, and I may not get the brand I want. I'll need my money ready and be prepared to pull the plug on a moment's notice. I would prefer new because of obvious reasons - support, current technology, getting parts, and the investment in setup time can apply to a longer time of machine use. Plus you do your own maintenance and supply clean air and you don't know if a used machine has been maintained well.