Machine choices

I am in the market for a CNC machine. Initial use will be in the
engraving of custom keyboard keycaps (plastic). I also want to use it
to make custom jigs to hold said keycaps for engraving, painting and
other manufacturing tasks. This tooling could be made out of almost
I would also like to have the ability to machine metal. Aluminum is
My budget is $10K or less. What are my options? I looked at the
small ShopBot machine and it looks very interesting. I am almost
certain that these machines not good for machining aluminum.
The engraving I have to do is small letters, about 0.050in to 0.125in
of height with (obviously) very small cutting tools. I thought that a
traditional vertical CNC machine may either be overkill for this or
just not adequate.
Given the very wide range of cutting that I want to do and the range
of materials, what are my machine choices?
Do I need to modify my thinking and try to go with a small table-top
engraving machine (about $3K) and then buy a low cost vertical CNC for
my tooling and aluminum work?
BTW, another requirement is that I need to be able to get from
Solidworks models or AutoCAD drawings to cutting as easily and
painlessly as possible.
Thank you,
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If you don't get the help you want here, you can ask your question in its a hobby related machining forum. You could also try the Google archives of rec.crafts.metalworking, that same question has probably been asked over there many times before.
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Look into Sherline, Taig, Syil, Sieg, Wabeco, Tormach, Smithy, and Industrial Hobbies, which are roughly listed according to size and are mostly under $10k. There are others but that will give you a good start. They are all hobby mills with limits on work envelope, spindle HP and/or speed, and travel speeds as compared to much more expensive commercial CNC mills.
Tormach sells SprutCAM for about $1k (only with a mill) which gives you 3D CAM and indexed 4th axis now and on-going development for continuous 4th/5th axis. That's a lot cheaper than any other comparably-featured CAM program I've seen.
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Mike Henry
Thanks very interesting. Some of these companies really need to think about the image they portray with their (really bad) websites.
The Tormach looks interesting. I like the package.
If I was going to be picky I'd try to find something with a larger work envelope. I have a part that will need to be machined out of 1/2 inch Al plate. It would required about 22x and 15y for work envelope. Of course, you could do it in two steps on a smaller machine...but, since we are being picky...
My concern with regards to mills is that I don't have a tangible sense for whether or not they'd be good for engraving small text on plastic. I am not concerned about the ability to cut it, of course. I am just wondering if engraving small text on plastic cleanly requires higher speed and more precision than these mills can offer. Most of them quote sub-1mil precision. Again, I just don't know if this is enough. CNC engraving specs I've seen are in the 0.0002 range. Whether that holds in terms of repeatability, backlash, etc., is a different matter.
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