Plastics Fabrication: Key Considerations for Purchasing CNC Routers

CNC routers are becoming the preferred choice for plastic fabricators due to the flexibility and wide variety of opportunities that only a CNC router can deliver. Recent advancements in CNC technology translate into a more robust and accurate system. One of these examples of advanced technology is upgrading from a standard rack and pinion transmission to a helical transmission. This configuration offers more precise machining capability with faster cycle times. Another important factor is how the tooling industry has responded to this growing market by offering “Industry Specific” specialized and innovative tooling. Lastly, it is a well-established fact, especially when processing plastics, that heat is the number one enemy. When plastics and acrylics are processed, it does not take long for heat to dramatically diminish the edge quality and can cause the plastic to gum up, resulting in foggy or cloudy finishes and poor edge quality. To address this issue, today’s CNC routers use cold air guns to diffuse heat when processing plastics. These optional attachments use vortex tube technology and filtered compressed air to produce sub-freezing air as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit (-34 degrees Celsius) for spot cooling. The effective air cooling from a Cold Air Gun can eliminate heat-related parts’ growth while improving parts’ tolerance and surface finish quality.

Tips for researching CNC routers for Plastics

Thanks to these improvements, the availability of CNC routers has increased exponentially. As a result, plastic fabricators may need some guidance in determining which one is the best fit for their needs. Here are some key considerations to think about when purchasing CNC routers:

  • Consider the type of plastic that will be cut by the router. How hard/soft or flexible/rigid is the plastic? Look for tables and options that can handle these demands.
  • Find a router that provides the desired edge quality you need to achieve. Previously, it wasn’t possible to attain great edge quality and finishes using CNC routers. The result was fabricators needed to buff the edges or flame polish the edges to produce the desired finish. Today’s routers, when specified correctly, now provide a nice clear finish, thus eliminating the need for post-production work.
  • Look for a robust table with a heavy steel base capable of handling heavy plastics and achieving high-resolutions, equipped with a helical rack and pinion transmission and coupled with direct drive servo motors, giving power and accuracy.
  • Reduce vibration and material movement by choosing a flat sacrificial bed and a capable vacuum hold down system. The vacuum hold down ensures material stays true and flat throughout the cutting process.
  • Do not cut corners on tooling. Select CNC cutters specifically designed for fabricating plastics. You can view router bits at CNCshop where we stock over 900 tools from 132 categories.

The importance of experience

Finally, there’s no substitute for experience. Companies new to the world of processing plastics using CNC routers may not really understand how to customize and configure these machines for this industry. Seek out a CNC router manufacturer to partner with who has established credentials and a solid reputation known for providing quality machinery to the plastics industry. Vendors knowledgeable in fabricating plastics who also offer training and reputable post-sales service are the choice for plastic fabricators to take their businesses to the next level.

Learn more about how AXYZ can help the plastic fabrication industry. 

About the Author:

Larry Daignault is southwest sales manager, based out of Los Angeles, CA, for AXYZ, a leading global manufacturer of CNC router and knife cutting systems. From a two-man beginning in 1990 to now, AXYZ has manufactured, sold, installed and supported over 10,500 CNC machines for use in a variety of applications. AXYZ conducts business in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Poland and India.