Shopping for CNC

A woodworker gets advice on how best to "try before you buy." September 27, 2009

I am looking to buy a CNC Router for my startup company and I think I have narrowed it down to three brands - the CR Onsud PanelMate, the Thermwood CabinetShop 41, and the Multicam 3000 series. There are a lot of good and bad points to all three from what I see. The Themwood looks heavy, has been making router a long time, and they give me E-Cabinets which looks as good as the Routercad that everyone else is offering for a cost.

Their controller looks old and cumbersome and I have not heard great things about Thermwood. The Multicam looks really good, it is the fastest that I am looking at and there are factory trained techs very close to me. But their cost is more for what they are quoting. Last is the CR Onsrud and I know the least about it. It is hard getting info from the dealer but they have a really good name and have been making routers for a long time. The Panelmate is new and all the other salesmen I talked to say it is very light weight. The price looks really good but I am not sure of the build of the machine. Please tell me what you think, I really do not have a good idea of direction.

Forum Responses
(CNC Forum)
From contributor R:
I have worked with Onsrud routers for quite a while, and am only familiar with the PanelPro model, but I am sure that the quality of the PanelMate is comparable to the PanelPro, which is super-heavy duty. What another salesman calls "light-weight" might be pretty heavy duty to someone else, depending on what you use it for. As far as speed is concerned, this is a big deal for salesmen, but in the real world, unless you are doing high-speed production, any good quality router will produce parts as fast as you can assemble them. Most routers sit idle a fair percentage of the time, even in bigger shops- they spit out a lot of parts and pieces in a short period of time, and then people are busy assembling and finishing them for a while. The cycle speeds that the salesmen think are so important are not really necessary for most of us.

Software is important, and expensive. ECabinets seems to be a good program, from what I have seen of it, but you are limited to Thermwood machines, and I have a philosophical aversion to proprietary software and machines- at some point in the future, you will need to transfer files and/or programs to other shops, machines or people, and you will be limited to the type that you have chosen. What would happen if Thermwood stopped producing that particular program or machine, or went out of business (this does happen)? Using easily-transferable and standard G-code driven machines gives you some flexibility if you change machines (or jobs). There are many happy and productive Thermwood owners, and this is just my personal opinion on this system.

I have no experience with MultiCam, but from what I have seen of them, they look like good machines. Having readily available support, when you are learning about CNC is a good thing- Maybe you should look for a used MultiCam that could be inspected by a factory rep, and pay for some support from them- they might even know where one is available.

From contributor K:
To get the best help here, tell us what exactly it is that you are looking to manufacture and what you expect to do in volume for the first few years. My first router was purchased with a leap of faith in a lot of ways, the subject is very complex and for someone not into it will be very hard to make a decision without a lot of good advice. Salesmen are definitely not the best people to go to for good advice. All three of the machines you are considering are good solid machines. You might also throw into the mix the Omnitech Selexx series.

Contributor R is right on, cycle speed is way overrated. I work at a busy 12 man commercial shop and the router is idle most of the time. Most small to medium sized shops never achieve an average of 25 hours a week actual run time. I think that the primary consideration is support. No matter which machine you get you will have questions that need answers. It is probably more important than the quality of the hardware for the first few years.

From the original questioner:
Thank you for your responses so far. I have received a few emails about the Omnitech and will look into them as well but they do not seem to have a dealer in my area. I am sorry I should have said that I want to make commercial cabinets but in the beginning I think I am willing to take any cabinet job to get started. Multicam has an office about two hours drive from me. Thermwood's plant is about eight hours from me and the CR Onsrud dealer tells me he is my support for the panelmate. Is there anyone out there that owns a PanelMate and what do you think about Dealer Support over factory trained support?

From contributor M:
We have two Thermwoods and most of what you hear negative about Thermwoods are from salesman from other CNC company’s. I wouldn't have bought the second one if I wasn't pleased with our first one. One source for machine, controller, software and tech support. Yes I use other software, Artcam Pro, in addition to Ecabinets because there is no Panacea software yet.

Contributor R's position is incorrect in my opinion. Thermwood has been around longer than most others and is STILL MADE IN AMERICA and they just added a huge amount of office and plant sq footage to their facility. Even if they did go under, if the machine does what you need now, it will still do it regardless of what happens in five years. Thermwwood has upgraded their controller, Gen II, and it has many new features but both of my controllers are using version 5.05 and if anything happens to the OS, I can rebuild it with a restore CD or make a call and have a new hard drive formatted with the original factory set up overnighted to me.

I looked at the same CNC's and many more as you probably have. I was not impressed with Multi Cam as much as I was with Onsrud CNC but not their sales people. I was impressed with Thermwood and their team after I went to their plant in Dale, Indiana. I brought my own files to see real world examples, time study, quality of cut, ease of use and much more. I had an old 1995 circa Digital Tool 905 CNC and had maxed it out production wise and needed a faster CNC with ATC (Auto Tool Changer) rather than a single 7.5hp spindle and a 1/2 HP Dayton drill motor. Its top speed was about 350 IPM transit and 300IPM for Feed. Our first Thermwood is 1500 IPM so that alone was over four times faster and we typically cut at around 750 IPM for our main product and have done some at 1100 IPM for larger straight line parts. Our other Thermwood is a Twin spindle, Twin table with an ATC and dual piggyback drill heads that blaze by at up to a 4200IPM on an X,Y transit move. We are not a cabinet shop per se but do make some once in a while, so we did not need line boring but quick positioning and being able to run the machine without stopping, pendulum processing with twin tables, was a huge benefit.

Just an FYI - I was up and cutting parts after six hours of training with the Digital tool. With the Thermwood we were making parts an hour after it was set up. I did not get to go to the actual training at Thermwood's facility for at least six months because we were so busy with our increased production but after the training it opened up even more functionality for us. So I would suggest that no matter whose you get, take the training first; on both the CNC and the software so you can hit the ground running when you do get one.

I suggest you go to each plant and bring the same file(s) with you and do some actual cutting and see how they compare. You (or your operator) are the one that will have to use it so see which one will grow with you instead of just being sold a product. Service after the sale is paramount and Thermwood does it for me. So no matter what some sales man says, they will always knock the better machine because that is the only way they can try to compete. The choice is yours but I hope this helps you out a bit.

From contributor F:
First, you also have the option of having factory support, training, and installation for the PanelMate if you are for some reason uncomfortable with local training and support. I think by all accounts, our factory support will hold its own when compared fairly to anybody else's. Plus, our local distributors just finished the week long support training classes here to be able to support you properly. Between these two avenues of support and the included full online diagnostics capability of the machine; you will be properly supported with one of our machines, one way or the other. Your salesperson's presentation that the machine is very light weight would be correct if he's comparing this PanelMate to our larger Panel Pros, and Panel Techs. I think that you will find that it will stack up at least comparably or perhaps even favorably to the two machines that you've mentioned and the third that was suggested.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From the original questioner:
I have not decided yet which way to go. I hope to buy something by the end of the month Can anyone tell me if weight matters? Also, does the way the frame is built matter, meaning tube steel or plate frame. Is 1/4 thick steel enough in ether design? What about aluminum gantries? Do you think that is a good design?

From contributor W:
I have two routers, one is a 4x8 4x4 welded steel table built in 99 and is still flat and true, it is probably at the starting point for what I would call a minimum for weight. I ordered another three head machine in 08 and requested 6x8 legs and a heavier base. This was not a jump in price and while I am glad I did however both routers are stable for panel processing and all of the 3-D work we do. If I were going to process 50+ panels a day I would have considered "big iron" but most of the mid size routers I looked at were way overbuilt and had a price to match. We can cut a kitchen in 4-6 hours including programming.

I am sure there are those that will consider this slow but whose racing? I am a small cabinetmaker and these routers have not missed a beat for me, with the older one and the new one I have less money in two routers including software than most any of the heavy mid weight's. All have a reason but times have changed and most large router companies are now building smaller routers as the technology is getting competitive at this level!

From the original questioner:
To contributor W: what brand of router do you have?

From contributor W:
I have a Camasters.

From contributor B:
First I'd like to tell you I'm not a salesman. I've been in the woodworking business for 26 years. The best advice that I can give is before you decide on any CNC machine, tech support and factory training are two very important things that I considered before purchasing our machine. I researched all the major brands and asked for names of local woodworking companies that we could visit to see the machines in real time production. I was amazed at how willing and open the various companies were to share information and let us visit with actual machine operators. I think you have some very good advice to work with.

From contributor K:
Contributor B has given the best advice yet. Visit a shop that has one - without the sales rep for that company tagging along. This way the owner of the machine can discuss both the good and the bad points to his machine with you in confidence. It isn't easy for an owner to tell you anything negative at all with his own support person standing right there. I once showed a machine of mine to a guy with the dealer there and I'll tell you it was very uncomfortable when I was asked a question on one of the negative aspects of the machine. I believe it was the tool holder that was somewhat underconstructed and problem prone. When I mentioned my thoughts on the subject the dealer almost went nuts on me. In fact I had an overall positive experience with the router as a whole, but discussing the toolholder caused a problem with the dealer nonetheless.