As you probably know, there are thousands of CNC Machines available in the market today and the prices of these vary between extremes.
The most expensive CNC Machines such as 5 axis robotic CNC's used to manufacture high end military equipment, like the ones we had at my previous aerospace employer can cost upwards of a million dollars. On the other end of the spectrum, today you can get an entry level hobbyist CNC 3018 for a price as low as $150.
The quality, speed and versatility of the machine (what it can cut) is what roughly determines what it's worth.
As a quick guide, this table can help you get a rough idea of the categories available and their price.
|Entry Level Desktop CNC Routers (Mostly 3018's and Chinese Ones)||$150-$500|
|Hobbyist CNC Router||$1k-$3k|
|Professional CNC Machine||$5k-$100k|
|Entry-Level 3 axis Mill (VMC)||$50k-$100k|
|Production Mills (3 axis)||$100k-500k|
|Production Mills (5 axis)||>$500k|
That's a huge range and rightly so. While you can see the price of hobbyist CNC Machines on the seller's website, most bigger machines do not list their price online and you can only know the exact pricing after multiple back and forth emails and calls with the sales team. This is because there is a lot of room for negotiation on big ticket purchases like CNC Mills.
As a side note, CNC Machines intended to be used on wood are significantly cheaper than metal. This is because wood is a much easier material to work with than hard metals.
Also, the tolerance on metal is usually much tighter, so there's little room for error there.
I always make it a point to differentiate CNC's meant for wood and for hard metals. When you can get an absolute beast of machine for woodworking at $50,000, you can barely get an entry level mill for machining steel at that price. So this distinction couldn't be more important.
Factors affecting the price of a CNC Machine
Size of Machine
- This is the length the cutting end of the machine can travel along each axis (X,Y,Z). The Larger the range of motion, the larger the price, in general.
- The speed of cutting directly affects the efficiency of production. The same task can be done at different speeds. Faster speeds, generally mean faster and more efficient movements. It also means faster cutting.
- Rapid Motion speed, which refers to the speed at which the CNC repositions itself after cutting, is a factor in the value of the machine. The fastest CNC's have a rapid motion speed of 1000 inches per minute.
Accuracy and Tolerance
- If you need +/- 0.0002 mm tolerance for every cut your CNC makes, then that greatly raises the cost of the CNC you need. Needless to say, perfection/accuracy is expensive. Repeatability is expensive.
No. of Axes-
- As the number of axes increases, the cost increases. A 6 axis CNC machine (they do exist), can move around much quicker than a 5 axis due to the extra degree of freedom. Most Hobby CNC machines have 3 axes.
- The brute power of a CNC machine is measured in terms of specs like torque and spindle RPM.
- For larger professional grade CNC's they are rate based on the size of the servo motors.
- A hobbyist CNC like the Sainsmart Genmitsu CNC has it's stepper motor torque running at 0.18 ft-lb, while a professional 6 axis CNC like the Zimmerman FZ100 can generate a torque of 68 ft-lb. That's almost 400 times more. This also means the Zimmerman costs in the millions while the Genmitsu costs under $300.
Those are the most common factors which affect the cost of a CNC Machine. Next I'll talk about the most common categories of CNC Machines that people buy and how much the machines in each category cost.
If you want to know what the different types of CNC Machines are, read this post I wrote-The Different Types of CNC Machines
Category-wise Cost of CNC Machines
Entry Level Desktop CNC Routers (Mostly 3018's and Chinese Ones)
These machines are a good way to test the waters if you're just getting started with CNC machining and want to dip your toes. These machines are usually desktop sized with a size around 30" x 18" (which is actually the most preferred size among desktop routers).
It's very important to understand the limitations of these machines before buying them. They are not really CNC routers , but rather engravers. They work on wood, acrylic, PCB's, plastic and jewelry. Some of them, with quality rails and strong enough motors can engrave on aluminum as well.
Some of them have laser engraving module fitted with them, while some others ask you to buy the module as an extra.
The cheapest ones in this category are obviously Chinese made and their customer support is usually limited. Here's one such machine- CNC 3018 Pro Max 3 Axis Desktop. These are dirt cheap and you will need to do some tinkering to be on your way. btw, you'll need to do it on your own, expect very little documentation and seller support.
The better ones in this category cost around $350, which is slightly higher but well worth it. I say this mostly because of the Sainsmart Genmitsu 3018 CNC.
Sainsmart is a company based in Kansas and offers excellent support. Also, the documentation is excellent for this product. I personally tried this machine out and found it to be my choice in this category. The whole process from set up to cutting was quite smooth. I had a few queries while operating it and the customer care was quite responsive to everything I asked.
Hobbyist CNC Router ($1,000-$3,000)
This is the level at which you are just starting to get serious. Most Machines in this range start at $1,000 and go upwards.
Unlike production mills and big CNC's which have been around for decades, this category is more recent and fast developing. Over the last decade, the cost of a hobby router has come down considerably making it a realistic option for many hobbyists. You can actually do good stuff at this price range, if you work with wood, plastics and PCB's.
The BobCNC is one such machine which I found to be a good choice and it is the most affordable one in this category. It can cut/engrave on wood, plastic and PCB's. Bob's manufacturers do not recommend the router to be used on aluminum, brass or steel. Although I did test it with aluminum and it sort of worked, but not perfectly. Probably why they don't recommend it for aluminum.
Around the middle of this price range is the X-Carve by Inventables. It became really popular after some popular youtubers started using it for their projects. One of the really good things I noticed about X-Carve is their software Easel, which seems to make things much easier for a beginner. At least in the U.S there are people running woodworking businesses with their X-Carve.
At the higher end in this category you have router's like the Shapeoko CNC Router. Which is a slightly nicer machine compared to the X-Carve, but also pricier. In what I saw, Shapeoko is an X-Carve with much better extrusion rails, resulting in better quality cuts. There are people who run small home businesses with their Shapeoko. In fact, Shapeoko has a very active facebook group where many people run custom woodworking businesses at a small scale.
Professional CNC Mill ($5k-$100k)
At the lower end of this category you have your tormachs ($10k-$20k). This is the point at which you can start machining steel and titanium. None of the CNC's below this price range can actually cut steel, at least not with any quality.
The Tormach is probably high end for a hobbyist, while at the low end for any type of industrial work . You cannot expect to run any sort of business or machining service with the Tormach though. It's still too slow for any production work.
I often see a lot of machinists denigrate Tormach and compare it to the big expensive CNC's ( costing $100k+) at the companies where they work. I think it's stupid and unfair to do this. The Tormach does have it's place in the market. Especially for people who don't have the space to keep a giant mill in their garage.
If you work only with wood, plastics and PCB's, and not metal, between ($20k-$30k) you have the option of buying a shopbot PRSalpha. If you run a SMB woodworking company, this machine will do the job for you.
With the shopbot, you have the option of running it 8 hours a day for several years straight and it wouldn't make the machine sweat. With it's welded sturdy steel frame, it is quite a solid machine compared to other brands which compete with it like avid CNC. Also, feedback from everyone in my peer group about Shopbot's customer service was excellent. Being a made in USA company, they do take that part very seriously.
For woodworkers, anything higher than the shopbot's price range would be unnecessary unless you are thinking of running a full fledged manufacturing facility. In which case there are other brands like Onsrud, AXYZ, Biesse and Komo, which have machines costing between $60k-90k.
Entry-level 3 axis Mill (Vertical Machining Centre) ($50k-$100k)
This is the category at which you can realistically start to machine steel and harder metals like titanium. Of course, you can try it on the Tormach, but that's only just for prototyping, not for any serious machining business.
The most well known brand in this category is Haas. In the CNC world, entry level Mill is pretty much Haas. Now, Haas is an american machine tool company that has been making machines for almost 40 years. Their machines start at around $50k and the priciest ones cost around $400k.
HaaS machines are built really well for an entry level mill, and there is a big market for buying and selling used HaaS machines. To give an example, one of my old colleagues started a machining business and he bought a used 2006 Haas VF-2 for $30k and it's worked well for him.
Now, HaaS wouldn't be used in the aerospace company I used to work at or in a medical manufacturing facility making spine implants. But for a small machining startup, HaaS does the job. Granted, the spindles might break but they can be replaced cheaply and quickly. This makes HaaS much easier to maintain compared to the more advanced machines like DMG Mori.
HaaS also follows a transparent pricing policy, and list it directly on their website. You can find them here.
So many shop owners love the financing options for HaaS. They take a very lenient view of credit ratings and have affordable monthly payment options, which makes them really attractive to small machine shops. They often do this even when you don't have any customers to claim in your list.
In conclusion, I'd say HaaS has really made it easier for machinists to start their own shop business.
Production Mills (3 axis and up) ($100k+)
Now, once you are in production category, things turn really serious. These machines cost upwards of $100k and ideally you need months before you decide to write a check for a machine in this category. There are so many things to consider here such as:
- Cost of just the Machine
- Cost of Tooling
- Cost of Work-holding
- Service availability in your locality
Firstly cost of the machine isn't the full picture. You need to know the cost of every accompainment you need for your job.
For a production shop/factory, every day where you don't get to run your CNC is a loss where you're paying interest for nothing. So, it is essential that you're CNC has none or very little downtime due to a part breaking down.
For this, you need excellent service for the machine at your location. When you buy from a Chinese CNC manufacturer, there is always the risk of not getting the service support you need.
Also, service levels of each brand differ according to the city you're in. Matsuura service personnel might be coming from connecticut whereas DMG Mori might have their service personnel coming from new jersey. In some cities, the big brand might have agreements with third party service agencies to do repairs.
At this level, every upgrade you seek costs heavily. If you want to hold 60 tools instead of 32, that costs a ton. If you want your spindle RPM to be 20,000 instead of 15,000, that will take the costs upwards by a lot.
What you need to do is to really understand your shop requirements, not just current requirements but what job you might need to do in the future. In a production facility, every second you can shave off is an advantage.
These are the good brands I know of from my experience with CNC's:
- DMG Mori
As you probably noticed, most of the good CNC's in this category are made in Japan or Germany.
Also, A Vertical Machining Centre is cheaper compared to a Horizontal Machining Centre (HMC).
A 5 axis CNC from DMG Mori can set you back by at least $400,000. But at that price you're ready to run your machine 18 hrs a day for 6 days/week.
Lastly, having a robotic arm/robot added to your CNC is common these days for more productivity. Fanuc is a well known brand that makes cutting edge robotic technology for CNC's. With the robot, you can have much higher run times and almost 24 hour continuous production ( I say almost, because there will be downtime, whatever you do).
Of course, the value of a good machinist still exists, because robots can't do everything. However, there are fully automated shops these days, but they are nowhere near perfect, yet. Also, with a robot you need to pay for the machine as well as pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for integrating it to your mill.
Other costs (or Hidden costs) of a CNC
Back when I used to work on the shop floor, we had this joke- "The machine is just the down payment for the tools." And rightly so, I'd say. Believe it or not, the cost of tooling and work-holding can cost as much as your machine. So it has to be figured right into your budget, if you are considering getting a toolroom mill. This is more applicable for CNC's costing upwards of $20k, rather than the hobby routers.
A good vice from Orange or Allmatic will set you back by $2,000 (yep!). These costs can quickly add up.
This is a general checklist of accessories for you to consider in your budget. This is by no means comprehensive and will vary depending on your purpose:
- Work holding
- Tool Holding
- Inserts and Insert cutter bodies
- Tooling (carbide etc)
- Inspection equipment
- Tooling Storage
- HSS Drills, Coolant mixer, fasteners and wrenches.
- Measuring Tools such as micrometers, callipers, thread gauges and pin gauges.
- PC/Computer setup with OS, Networking and other essentials.
Apart from these physical equipments, you might need to buy a license for the software for your machine. Sometimes, the software comes for free with the machine, but it need not be always. Companies like HaaS and Fanuc, for example sells the software separately and you need to pay extra to "enable your machine", so to speak, which I find quite annoying to be honest. One of my buddies told me they paid around $4,000 to fanuc to activate a 2MB memory for their CNC.
If you are using your CNC for woodworking, then VCarve is a good and popular design software that costs under $1,000 for a single license. Most people with a Shopbot or Some brands like Inventables XCarve have their own software (Easel) that comes for free with the machine.
Cost of Used CNC Machines
When I say used CNC machines, I'm talking primarily about Mills and CNC's costing upwards of $10k. Below that price, there isn't a big market for used machines and most people just buy a new one.
Now when it comes to used Mills, there can be quite a price differential between a new one and used one. If you want examples of specific prices, then here are a few:
- A friend of mine sold his 2009 DMU 50 (DMG Mori) for $40,000 because he wanted to upgrade. The new one cost him around $220,000.
- I often check websites like machinetools.com, to help friends and customers buy mills. I would say you could get a 2010 Mazak HCN 5000 for around $150k compared to a brand new HCN 5000 which would cost around $400,000.
Careful inspection and due diligence is necessary when buying a used CNC. As a thumbrule, it's better to buy a sparsely used 2000 model than a worn out 2010 model. The hours that the machine has run matters.
In general you should check the spindle runout, RPM of the CNC, what noises it makes at speed, if there's excessive noise when the table is moving, the machine time on the CNC, stored alarms of the CNC, any leaks, etc. This is not comprehensive. If you buy a used machine without looking at the alarm history and maintenance logs, you might be making a big mistake.
This was a general overview of the costs in the CNC world. If you found this useful, consider subscribing to our newsletter where we share useful stuff for CNC enthusiasts.