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Thread: Hard decisions concerning CNC upgrade/downgrade for small shop

  1. #1
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    Hard decisions concerning CNC upgrade/downgrade for small shop

    Looking for some advice from those in the know concerning my current CNC dilemma. I have a small shop (basically a small two car garage) which is way too overcrowded with machinery. Back when I was setting up the shop and idealistic in 2010, I purchased a 4 x 8 Camaster Stinger II machine with a 1 kW spindle. The machine has been reliable but gets less use than I had anticipated as it takes up such a huge part of my shop footprint that it's always covered with other stuff. Although I did make some large scale projects with it in the beginning, I have discovered that (a) the small electrospindle is really underpowered to do large 3/4" plywood cutting jobs conveniently (requiring a million passes) and (b) because of this I tend to use the machine for smaller precision type jobs. It was one of the first Camaster Stinger II machines (I think) and lacks a lot of the modern bells and whistles (for example, runs on Mach3, no cross hair, no rapid tool swap, hand controller, vacuum table, etc). So, I've got this small battleship sized CNC taking up too much of my space and lacking some of the software and hardware conveniences.

    I've inquired multiple times to Camaster about upgrade options for the machine but so far not much interest. Ultimately, they pointed me toward cncexperts.com but I've been unable to get anyone there to bite on this project and give me a quote or options since May 2021. Basically, I think I need the space in the workshop more than the table size of this machine but I want to continue to have CNC capability and actually use it more (which would be likely, I think, with a smaller machine). I've explored a lot of options but, of course, a tricked out, industrial quality 2 x 4 machine seems to be like finding a rainbow unicorn.

    I've considered shelling out for a new stinger I with a major spindle upgrade, vacuum table, stand, etc. which would certainly have about half the footprint. It's still a stepper motor based machine and I'm not sure how feasible putting a large spindle on it would be (despite the option on their website). Basically, I'd like to not be stuck making 14 passes for 3/4 inch plywood. I've also looked at the Axiom elite 2x4 machine which has a 3 Hp spindle (not sure how much stronger that is than my current option but suspect significantly) and servos rather than steppers but it lacks a real vacuum table option and some of the chatter about the machine wasn't great. Laguna makes a small ATC machine but I've heard mixed reviews about quality. Shopbot has the ATC Max but its pretty expensive for what you seem to be getting and doesn't look as overbuilt as the stinger.

    Any suggestions from the crew that knows? In an idea world, I would shell out for a very high quality and robust smaller machine with a strong spindle, vacuum table, servos?, that would take up less space but chew through smaller sized (2x4) workpieces and be good for another 10-15 years. Is this a fantasy?

    Thanks so much for any input.

    Richard
    Richard Link

    **********************

  2. #2
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    The 1.7kw Spindle that Camaster offers is more than capable of cutting .75" plywood in 2 passes or maybe three, depending on the tooling and technique you want to use, and you can get it on the Stinger I (2x3 or 2x4) as well as the Stinger II (4x3 or 4x4). (Stinger III is the 4x8 version currently) I don't use plywood a lot, but I typically cut .75" plywood with two passes and a .25" compression bit. MDF of the same thickness I prefer to go to 3-4 passes because if the density and fine dust. You can also get servos on the Stinger II if you prefer them and can fit the 4x4. It's an available upgrade, but you have to ask for it. You can go to a 3kw Spindle on the Singer II if you want that extra power, but I've not found anything I needed to do to be hindered by the 1.7kw spindle I have on my Stinger II.

    I don't have a vacuum setup, BTW...I don't really find it useful for small work because the holding power on small pieces is not great. Custom fixtures targeted to specific parts using vacuum are better for that, IMHO.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  3. #3
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    Thanks so much for the detailed response, Jim. I've followed many of your posts over the years and appreciate it.

    My original post had a typo - I have the 1Kw rather than the 1.7 kW spindle so perhaps that's the difference. Or maybe I'm just not pushing my machine as hard as I could be. The honest truth is that I'd much rather be able to upgrade my current machine as opposed to replacing it although the additional space would be nice if I downsized. I understand why Camaster doesn't find it financially viable to support upgrades or modernization of their older units (as opposed to selling new ones) but a guy can dream... Imagine being able to upgrade as you go....but I guess that would be a customer service nightmare for them.

    I agree with you about the vacuum. I built a vacuum table for my machine but find that it basically works best for large sheet good jobs (the ones I rarely do). I did just purchase one of those plastic nail shooting pneumatic guns and look forward to playing around with that as an option for quick and easy hold downs.

    Rick
    Richard Link

    **********************

  4. #4
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    Richard...
    In the same vein as remodeling a home is much more expensive than building new, those that have run all the numbers can tell you that it is usually more cost effective to sell and upgrade than to do a home brew upgrade. A side benefit is that you get all the new mechanical technology along with the electronic stuff. And besides, your machine isn't down for a number of days, weeks, months or longer.

    I do this type up upfit all the time, mostly building small format ATC machines running servos. I always caution any user that wants to use a frame more than a couple years old. Most users don't realize that the "hard parts" are constantly being upgraded just like the electronics. This is the reason the factories don't want to do this, many of their modern parts don't fit the old frames. Your best bet is to either perform the upgrade yourself if you are competent, or send it out to a retrofitter like myself.
    Gary Campbell
    FabMaster ATC-40 Bridgemill
    CNC Consulting & Custom Machines

  5. #5
    Richard, I have much the same machine as yours, a 4x8 Stinger built in 2011 but with a "3 hp" Porter Cable 7518 router instead of a spindle. I wonder if you are pushing it as hard as you might. I don't know what the power output is compared to mine, but 14 passes (really?) on 3/4" plywood seems out of line- I can do it in 3 passes with a 1/4" bit.

    I would tend to follow Gary's advice as he is an acknowledged expert.

    I personally would not want to downsize from the 4x8 machine I have as I get a fair bit of work in that would be impractical to do on a smaller table (though tiling is an option). Like you I don't use the router as much as I might, but I make it work in my 1100 sq ft shop by using it as an assembly table. I cut the legs down to make it a more useable height and put a 5/8" thick p-lam panel on top, which also is the platen for my vacuum frame press. You may be better off with a smaller, newer and more powerful machine, though.

  6. #6
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    Richard, I did catch you said 1kw in the OP. That particular size spindle really is best for small work...it's kinda the "trim router" of the spindle world whereas the 1.7kw and 3kw options are more analogous to the heavier traditional woodworking routers. (Spindles are obviously much better for CNC work for a variety of reasons, however)

    I'm glad that Gary responded and agree with his feedback. Upgrading an existing machine can be complicated, even for adding something simple. By the time you replace the controller with something more capable, replace the spindle with something heftier, potentially replace other electronics and drives, change all the wiring harnesses and maybe the steppers/servos, you've spend a bundle of cash and put in a mountain of work to do all the physical replacement plus all the electronic integration work. He's also spot on that there are constant generational changes with a given manufacturer. My Stinger II was built in 2018. The current version is likely pretty similar, but they have changed both some physical stuff as well as i provide options and so forth since I bought mine. Industrial level machine like Camaster, ShopSaber, etc., are inherently "nearly fixed entities" coming out of manufacturing, unlike machines like AVID which you can slice and dice and re-slice and dice over time.

    But I'll also add, that if you really want to do an upgrade project he and his partner in crime are about the best folks on the planet to assist you.

    I think the best financial play is "likely" order a new machine that best meets your needs and sell your current one to someone that will be able to make use of it "as is". There are many folks who would be happy to get a good, heavy CNC setup like you have, even with it being older and having some limitations brought by time, etc. It's a good, solid machine for sure.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  7. #7
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    i had 2014 stinger 2 with router that was lathe ready. got price from camaster for them to add lathe and change to spindal. would of been 8 grand. decieded to sell and get 4 by 8.

  8. #8
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    Thanks everyone. All outstanding points and it makes sense. I've requested a quote from Camaster for a tricked out Stinger I to downsize and upgrade and will see how that looks. Hopefully that can be purchased with the 1.7 kW spindle. It seems like they remain the best option for a high quality small footprint machine at least as far as I can tell from reading forum posts and other comments. It makes more sense to get a new machine with the right characteristics.

    Thanks again.

    R
    Richard Link

    **********************

  9. #9
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    I've little to add other than that if you aren't on the Camheads user group I would recommend joining. There are several used machines usually at any given time. It might be another option to look at to upgrade. There's currently Cobra 404 (4x4) with ATC and vacuum table on there listed for $17,000. That would be a significant step up in capabilities. 5 hp spindle also. Something to ponder. That also would be a place to list yours as well.

  10. #10
    A spindle upgrade is far from cheap but are you telling me the frame/gantry on a Camaster shipped with a 1kW spindle is incapable of performing with a spindle 2x, 3x, the power with conservative upgrade costs? Sad to hear Camaster letting you dangle in the breeze.

    I too would never leave the 4x8 format unless your overall workflow fell into much smaller work. Even bumping to a 3 1/4HP router motor or an import spindle would seem well below the frames capacity. Understood CM is not going to sign on to an upgrade combo they dont supply and also that upgrading to a new machine is undoubtedly going to gain some enhanced performance and reliablity.

    My two options in this situation would be install a new spindle on my own without CM support or if your work has transitioned to all small work have Gary build you a performer and sell the old one. Hard part is the 1kw spindle probably crushes your resale given the current market which would have me back to istalling a bigger spinde.
    Sometimes I just want to look at pretty pictures,... Thats when I go to the Turners Forum

  11. #11
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    well mark your mighty crapsabre. well why bother,,, have no reason to deal with them any more.

  12. #12
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    Also remember that if you do buy a used machine there will be a charge for support. I belive it is $1500 to get it

  13. #13
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    The machine the OP has is a very old one. It's almost like an early prototype to what was moved to later on. I do not believe that the manufacturer is being any different about this than any other company would with an early generation machine over 11 years later. I also do not believe there i any issue with the stature of the frame and gantry with upgrading to what the OP wants. But the cost to replace the spindle with a modern one with a lot more power, add a balancing cylinder to help with the extra weight on the Z-axis to avoid problems with the stepper, change the wiring, change the electronics to support the upgrades (the existing 1kw spindle may or may not be a 120v unit rather than 240v), upgrade the controller software, add any other desired features, etc., along with the labor (even if self-installed) is substantial and potentially a lot more than buying a contemporary machine with the latest design and a warranty. And that's whether it's the same manufacturer or a different one... I do agree that if space allows, staying big is nice, but if the projects don't require it, there's a lot of value in a smaller unit with all the bells and whistles.

    --
    Jerome, that's true and was recently clarified by the company. A buyer of a used Camaster can obtain full support and remote orientation for $1500 which is the equivalent of what the buyer of a brand new machine receives as part of their package. Buyers of a used machine can also opt to purchase just support hourly if they are already knowledgeable and prefer that.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  14. #14
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    I do have a Blue machine and the first one I was the third owner and still got full tech support. even the person I sold it to was getting the support. You just have to give them the SN and they will transfer the ownership over, No charge for the support

  15. #15
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    I believe that the consideration at this point is that with so many used machines now entering new lives with new owners as compared to even a few years ago because of folks upgrading to the latest or moving on from CNC, the strain on any manufacturer's support structure, both time wise and financially, is pressing consideration of handling things differently. A lot of the folks buying used machines have no experience/knowledge and that starts to saturate the support infrastructure. Aside from raising prices on new machines to cover the increased support for re-sale users, charging a flat fee for training and support or hourly for just support is a reasonable approach. Someone has to pay for it...
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

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