How It Works – How To Buy A Vertical Machining Center

Today’s Machining World Archive: October 2005, Vol. 1, Issue 08

In pursuit of this “How it Works” piece, entitled “How to buy a vertical machining center,” I found myself stuck at the very beginning of the process, and had to admit: I didn’t know how to do it. So, I decided to visit Arthur Machinery, a 20-year old machinery dealer specializing in precision CNC and manual  machine tools in Elk Grove Village, IL. I sat down with four salesmen: Mark MacVicar, Rudy Marotti, David Scheck and John Schneider, all seasoned veterans of the VMC world.

The first thing Mark MacVicar said he would tell a customer is to “look at 80% of what you’re looking to do, try and buy a machine that’s going to do that. Let’s make the part you’re looking at, but recognize what else can you cover.”

They all agreed that material was a principal driver of what to buy. If you’re running steel, you’re going to need horsepower, so these salesmen would hone in on a machine with torque, probably with limited RPMs. If you were running aluminum, they would recommend going with a higher spindle speed, with faster feed rates.

The customer may want to get everything available, but for the first machine for their job, they do not think someone should necessarily buy a bigger machine than they might need. They recommend what fits the 80% rule, run that, get comfortable with it, and then add equipment.

Rudy Marotti says, “We could start out real simple. The first time around maybe they’d buy a small mill, make a fixture, get up and going. Once that has been successful, they will come back and make a larger investment and buy something with a pallet changer. It’s not always time effective to have someone unload 30 pieces, then load another 30. Another consideration might be adding a rotary table to the machine.”

A mini mill can get you started.

For a first time buyer with a turning shop who has multi spindles and CNC Swiss but needs to do some second op work on some stainless steel parts, there’s a pretty uniform price structure to show you what bang you can get for your buck. For a base price of $30,000, you could start with a mini mill.

The next step up – at $35,000, you’ll have 16-inch X travel, ten tool changer and 6,000 RPMs. For $35,000 in a 5-year old used vertical machining center, you could get 40×20 size, larger capacity, larger table size, but a used machine.

A rotary table is a consideration in purchasing a VMC.

One can spend $40,000 without a pallet changer and have a limited amount of tools. One could spend $65,000 and get a pallet changer and twice as many tools. For $60,000, Arthur can offer three machines – a tool room mill, a mini mill or a Haas VF- 1. These three machines are basically slower, a little faster and fastest. It will come down to how many parts you are looking to put through the machine, and how fast you want to be.

A customer has the option of purchasing a used VMC.

Low to mid $50s, you will get 30 inches of X travel. You are going to have at least 20 tools. You’re probably going to have 75 RPM, 7500 RPMs.

In the used world, for $55,000 you could buy two machines, but more than likely you’re going to get two different styles of used machines with different characteristics. There will be some that will be very similar but they will be subtly different as far as travels and table accommodations, but fixturing might not match up, there may be different controllers, and they could even have different style tools. There is an advantage to buying two spindles; an operator can typically handle two machines simultaneously.

$75,000 would get you twice the spindle speed and it would probably get you a pallet changer. Depending on configuration, your travels would be larger than the $30,000 machine but might be comparable to the $50,000 machine. You’re not getting any bigger machine, but you’re getting the ability to increase your throughput if it matches the type of parts that you’re looking to do.

Basically, the more money you spend, the higher RPMs, and the more rapid travel speed. You can get a pallet changer, side mount tool changer, fourth axis rotary capability, possibly by the rotary table itself. Spending closer to $100,000 is going to increase your throughput. The more money you spend, the faster you are going to be able to run. That’s what it is going to come down to.

Beyond money, the dealer should provide you with all of your support: They should help you identify the correct machine for the application. Your dealer should look at it as a partnership; that they are educating you on where technology is going, what they have to offer, not only from the machine tool standpoint, but parts, installation, support, training and service as well.

Schneider says, “If you sell a guy his first CNC and he’s a screw machine shop and he buys a used machine, he is relying on that thing to make a part. If that used machine breaks down he is going to call somebody, and he is going to pay for that guy to come there, and he is going to wait. If you buy a new machine, you’re not worrying about it breaking down. If it does break down you have somebody to call that is going to send a guy out there right away. A used piece means you’re taking on all the responsibility. And that could be detrimental to a company. If you buy a new piece you’re investing in a dealer’s organization to keep you up and running.”

And then I asked the inevitable: How long will it last? Marotti responded, “What’s going to happen is technology is going to pass it up. You’re going to become slow.

Would they recommend that somebody start shopping on the web? Absolutely.

You can go to or, where you can look, spread out all the specifications and compare. But they felt it would be difficult for a first time buyer to apply what they are viewing to their own application. And therein lies the beauty of the dealer.

It’s important to align yourself with somebody who has resources. There should always be phone support when you call. You want someone who’s going to be able to watch your back and make sure that they have the power to move the world if they have to in order to satisfy your requirements.

Scheck concludes, “If you give him everything right, he isn’t going to look anywhere else. He is going to come back to you because he trusts you, you took care of him, you got him financing. You got him the right machine. You got delivery. When he needed a question answered you were there. If you don’t do those things, there are 99 other people he talk to.” tmw

Share this post