Converting your manual mill (Bridgeport) to CNC is a cheaper way to get into running production runs. While manual mills can still be useful in shops today for certain operations on one-off part, they are virtually obsolete for production runs if you want to make money. However, if you are starting up a small CNC shop of your own or are a hobbyist on a budget, a CNC conversion kit may be your answer. However, lets take a look at what it will take to convert, how much it will cost, and how it compares to a a VMC (vertical milling center).
You can buy a CNC conversion kit and piece it together yourself, or you can buy a mill that has already been converted. Of course buying one that’s all set up and ready to go would be ideal, but you may not have that much cash to spend right away. This is why many machinists end up buying the parts as funds allow.
If you want to convert your Bridgeport (or similar) manual mill to CNC, I suggest doing a full 3-axis conversion. It will be more expensive, but if you are going to do the swap, you might as well go all the way. Being able to program for Z-axis moves in addition to the X and Y-axis will allow for shorter machining times.
So how much will it cost? A knee-mill (bridgeport) converted to CNC will cost anywhere from 10K-25K. The newer and nicer set-up the more expensive it will be. Shopping around and waiting for deals may help lower that cost, but you should still expect to end up in this margin for a ready-to-go mill.
Buying a VMC
While buying a vertical milling center will be more expensive in most cases, they are much more capable machines. Faster rapid moves, a lot sturdier, more horsepower, coolant, automatic tool changes, and the list can go on. It really depends on how much you want to spend and how big of a machine you want. $20k can get you a used CNC mill, but it will probably be 15+ years old and will need a lot of maintenance sooner rather than later. For another 10-20 grand you can get a newer and nicer machine that will actually last a while depending on how you use it and what kind of deal you get.
What Do I Recommend?
Without a doubt, a VMC is the better choice IF, and that’s a big if, you have enough dough. Of course, many of us that are middle or lower-class citizens cannot just throw $30,000+ at a machine at any given time. This would be a long-term goal, but the capabilities are are vastly greater than a converted knee-mill.
I Should Buy/Build A Converted Manual Mill If I:
- Am on a budget
- Have time to convert it as funds/time allow
- Am just a home hobbyist
- Want to DIY to save money
I Should Buy A VMC If I:
- Want a faster, sturdier, more powerful and capable machine
- Want to make a business out of it
- Have a bigger budget
- Have patience to save up for one (If funds don’t currently allow it)
There’s advantages to buying each kind of machine. While I haven’t said which one is better for YOU specifically, I have tried to lay out reasons why you would or wouldn’t want to go a certain route. If you have any questions, feel free to post a comment.