We look at six of the best small format Compact CNC Machines for your workshop – whether you’ve a small space on your desk or a bit of room for a freestanding unit, there’s something for you to consider
We talked to the team at OtherMachine back in our May 2015 issue and it was clear that this was a machine unlike many others. The goal of the OtherMill is to provide CNC machining capability in a very small form factor.
Whether that’s small engraving jobs, PCB board prototyping or machining out small components for prototypes, the OtherMill is a capable machine in a very small package.
The whole machine is only 260mm × 254mm × 324mm, with a working envelope of 140mm × 114mm × 40.6mm. Constructed using vibration resistant HDPE and aluminium, it’s portable like no other.
What’s interesting is that while it might only work on small billets, its 10,500–16,500 rpm spindle can handle a lot more than its appearance might lead you to believe.
Another reason that this is an interesting machine is the included software. Based on the same code you’ll find in Autodesk’s HSM CAM products, it’s got some interesting capabilities (including two-sided machining and parsing of comon PCB formats such as Eagle and Gerber.
The machine costs $2,199. At present, the company doesn’t have CE rating, so its route in the UK is a little sketchy, but if you’re based in the US, it’s a breeze.
Carbide3D Nomad 883
If you’ve been following the self-build CNC market, you’ll be aware of the Shapeoko, a CNC driven router that’s one of the most popular, though its various incarnations.
Carbide3D, made up of the team behind the Shapeoko recently launched a machine that, as opposed to a selfbuild kit, arrives pretty much ready to go.
The Nomad 883 is more akin to a CNC mill, compared to the Shapeoko’s router-like capabilities. It’s got 50mm in the Z axis, with an X/Y of 200mm.
There are two variants of the machine at the moment, which boil down to your choice of materials for the side panels. HDPE will keep those vibrations at bay, but if you want to get a bit fancy, then bamboo panels are available for an extra $100.
Alongside the machine, there’s some interesting software tools. One of the founders of Carbide3D, Robert Grzesek, is the developer of MeshCAM, so you’ve got some useful tools built into its Carbide motion software. Carbide3D is also expanding its range with a set of accessories — perhaps the most useful is the flip jig, which helps with the alignment issues associated with two-sided machining.
How much for all this? $2,599.
Inventables has been around for over ten years. Starting out as a service through which subscribers were introduced to a range of materials and mechanism each month (with physical samples), the Chicago-based company has since transferred into a supplier of materials for those looking to make stuff themselves.
Alongside its materials and component supply, the company has also branched out into machine design and manufacture in recent years. With the desktop-level Carvey machine gaining plaudits for its slick design, the company stepped up its game in 2015 with launch of the new Inventables X-Carve range.
Available in both 500mm x 500mm and 1,000mm x 1,000mm models, the X-Carve is a self-build CNC router. If you’re working with sheet meterials, then this is the boy for you.
DEVELOP3D invested in the metre-square model earlier this year and the process to build it was frustrating at times. But now that the beast is up and running, we’re learning what makes it tick, how you can use a variety of CAM software to drive it and what can realistically be achieved with a self-build machine, driven by Arduino and that costs just a little over £1,000.
Roland MDX 540
Roland has been in the desktop manufacturing and prototyping game for over twenty years now and what it doesn’t know about desktop CNC probably isn’t worth knowing. While there are a couple of machines at the smaller end of the spectrum, the MDX 540 has always been a favourite at DEVELOP3D.
The MDX-540 has a working envelope of 500mm x 400mm x 155mm and the spindle will run anywhere between 400 and 12,000 rpm. That gives you more than enough space and power to machine some sizable parts in almost any non-ferrous material you need.
The machine costs £13,999 and that includes all the software you need, plus a 12-month on-site warranty.
While that price includes most things you need to get up and running, there’s another option to help with keeping things enclosed (in the form of an interlocked guard and enclosure, that costs an additional £1,199) or with a T-slot table for jigging and fixturing.
There’s also a high-precison variant, the MDX-540S, which sees the addition of higher-spec ball screws and more powerful axis motors for higher surface finishes in all materials.
Tormach has been taking the CNC market by storm among US-based serious hobbyists. Referring to its range of CNC mills and lathes, Tormach sees itself as providing “personal CNC capability” and its products are most definitely built for more serious work.
The 440 is the latest addition to its range. It boasts a pretty impressive 254mm x 158mm x 254mm work envelope, a 10,000 rpm spindle, all built into a cast iron frame and optional table.
All of this adds up to a lower-cost machine that will let you cut all manner of materials, from aluminium up to titanium and steel (and with proper toolpaths, rather than nibbling away at them in 0.1mm increments).
The 440 starts at $6,995, then grows as you start to add in options like the deluxe stand and cabinet, work holding, and a touchscreen control for Tormach’s own PathPilot control software (top whack for the 440 is $10,495).
If there’s a rub for readers in Europe, similar to the OtherMill, the Tormach machines aren’t CE rated as yet and you’ll be looking at import duty and costs of delivery from the US. Still, at £6,978 tops, it can definitely still be considered a bargain.
Haas Mini Mill
While there is a huge range of CNC machine vendors out there, if one has been the breakaway success, particularly for those looking to get into serious CNC for the first time, it has to be American manufacturer,
Haas. It seems that whenever we visit a smaller company, start-up or job shop, it’s Haas machines that are the default choice.
Much of its popularity is perhaps driven by cost. The machine tool market has seen a massive downward pressure on price and this is reflected with starting costs that are now lower than they ever have been.
The Haas range has a wide variety of machines in it, but the Mini Mill is perhaps the most interesting at the entry level (there are several that could take this position).
Work envelope is 406 x 305 x 254mm (weight for the table is around the 227 kg mark), a 6,000 rpm spindle and a 10 tool auto-changer. Of course, as with all these things, there’s a ton of additional add-ons available, including a fourth axis unit that can be retrofitted.
While we’re aware that this bad boy might be pushing what you could consider ‘desktop’, it’s worth noting that these machines are in the under-£30,000 price range and there’s a very active second-hand market as well.