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Very late to the CNC party.

Springer

Plastic
Joined
Mar 2, 2016
Guys,

Im a 56yr old who has got this far in life knowing next to nothing at all about CNC.

I was trained on manual machines as an apprentice then I left the industry in my early 20s. Ive had my own workshop and machinery for much of my life and for the last 10yrs Ive earned a living with a small engineering shop doing a combination of rifle building and small scale engineering work, mainly small batch parts or modifications for the gun trade. Im used to machines in the 16x40 lathe category or Bridgeport mill sizes and I would say my general understanding of what I do is good, I have a good reputation for quality work.

An opportunity has arisen for me to buy four CNC centres from someone I know, mainly Haas VF2 and VF-OE along with a CNC lathe with the view to continuing production of parts he has successfully made. The machines are all in the region of 14-20yrs old and have been under his ownership for most of their lives, he tells me they have been well maintained and not worked 24hrs a day, they hold good tolerances.

The reason this guy is selling is his planned retirement, the products he makes are still in demand and the machinery would also offer me scope to make alternative products within a number of fields I have experience in. He said he will give me some support but as we all know exactly how much and how often might differ from my expectations once a sale has happened.

In with the sale comes the master copies of his products and the machines are very recently decommissioned so have all the programs installed for what they were running and come with all the tolling used to make what he was making. There are also masters of each product and drawings as well as a back up hard drive with all the programs on. The price for everything is in my opinion fair and the opportunity for me to expand looks to be a good one.

The problem however is Im scared of CNC and fear the learning curve will be too steep for a guy who might be so set in his ways.

I do have another recently retired friend who has worked these same type of machines for the last 40yrs, he has offered to help me to understand the new game and he seems to think I will manage fine but Im not convinced. A couple f years ago when Fusion 360 was free I started using it to design parts but that was as far as I went, when it comes to tool paths and G codes Im completely in the dark.

So my question to you guys are

1. Am I too old to learn this?

2. Does the idea of buying such old machines with the tooling and designs make sense? Im concerned breakdown on these machines might be very costly to fix

3. If you were me and you felt it was viable what are your thoughts on how to go about getting some training etc?

I appreciate this is a lot but any thoughts are welcome, I need to decide if I am going to do this in the next week or two. Im interested in learning, I enjoy a challenge and I dont mind working hard but I can decide if Im going to be biting off more than I can chew? The initial investment wouldnt break the family bank although nobody likes to lose money if things go wrong.
 
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1.

You are never too old to learn. You have to want to, or you will fail.

I successfully taught a guy your age (about 20 years senior to me at the time) who had real problems retaining information. He did a lot of drugs in his youth and it affected his memory. He took written notes on everything and really made the effort, and he was a dependable setup guy and operator for me for years, and could program simpler parts on the conversational machines.

My dad, who has no problems with retention or comprehension, bought a VMC and wanted to learn how to use it. I tried and failed to teach him. He just wasn't committed to learning it, couldn't handle the frustration of not understanding everything immediately, had no patience for things not doing what he expected etc.

You do not want to land in the deep end with this. It will take time to learn, and you really don't need the pressure of your friend begging you for parts before you are confident with it. Make sure you and your two friends are all very clear and on the same page about this.

2.

Buying a working package like that is probably a good option, assuming you've done your due diligence about market trends / future sales volumes etc. i.e. you have some confidence that orders for these already set up parts are going to keep coming for the forseeable.

You need to be cautious of the real value of those machines. Haas are low quality machines with an artificially high resale value, and a shorter lifespan than other brands. Haas do not support older machines - I believe the cut off is something like 2005-2007? Others will confirm or deny this - and machines older than that will be a write off upon certain electronics failures.

Be careful not to overvalue the machines in the package as a whole. Look at auction prices rather than dealer prices.

3.

A mentor is the best option, but they need to be shit hot. A mentor who doesn't really know what he is doing will set you back badly. Said mentor also needs to be familiar with the actual machines you will be using, if he has never used a Haas before he will have his own learning slope before he gets to you. You need to consider if your friend fits that description suitably.
 
I'm a 56yr old
You're not too old to learn, heck, I just learned a new word here today. But I think you've chosen the wrong question.

The machining part is not that hard. It's just learning how to translate what you already know to instructions of how to do that.

The part that may not make you happy is, this is an entirely different business. It's production, not small lot artisanal metalworking. It's about dollars and cents and speed and time, costs and cash flow. With four vmc's to keep busy, you won't even have time to learn about programing and cadcam. You'll be hunting sales, chasing receivables, screaming at suppliers, bargain-hunting materials, chasing receivables (not redundant, that's the single biggest job of an owner), maybe doing some q/c, talking to the insurance company ... you'll be doing a lot of stuff but very little will be cnc machining.

At 56 to start, I dunno. Not for me but some people enjoy that side of things so maybe that's you. But that's what I'd be concerned about, not the difference between a rapid move and a circular feed move.
 
Zero to 5 is a big jump. Do you know a cad program? This would be the biggest hurdle at first I think. That and 5 is a lot of machine.
As emgo says, you will not have any time after feeding the machines. Nc machines are really fast compared to manual machines.
 
Age has nothing to do with it.....
G code is not that hard...cad/cam programs......yea, steep learning curve up front but then Ok.
Are you moving all these machines to a new location? Lots of money and time invested in that.......
Having troubleshooting skills would be a big benefit keeping the old ones going, are there any CNC repair guys in your area?
Do you have a good tooling guy around? Could provide assistance with setups etc.
check with Mfg to verify just how much support is still available for the machines........if obsolete still not a deal breaker...but the initial selling price better be low.
 
Having troubleshooting skills would be a big benefit keeping the old ones going,
Oh right, almost forgot that. Electronics skills are harder to come by than cnc coding. If you know machining already then learning "S400 M03 means turn the spindle on at 400 rpm clockwise" is simple. But learning how to troubleshoot a stuck tool changer, that's a different animule.

They all break. Someone has to fix them. Either you learn how or it costs $150/hr minimum. And it ain't dependable hours like changing coolant. Might take ten minutes, might take three days.

I don't like to be Debbie Downer but 4 vmc's, this is a big jump. One, to add to your own capabilities, yay. But .... I'm old enough now to be scared of major life changes.
 
To answer you correctly, I would need to know the specifics also.
How much money do these parts bring in?
What's the year of the machines and their condition.
What are the parts made of, cast iron is worse on machines than Aluminum.
Are you a skilled computer operator? If so are you skilled at any or multiple pieces of software?
Do you have good mechanical and electrical diagnostic skills?

The machines are of low value $15k-$25k each for the Haas, Didn't mention which lathe.
This is why I ask how much the parts bring in.
Also how many different parts?, is it an assembly of 5, one, 10 separate ones....
How much time does it take to make the parts, so cycle times of each part in total.
Try to figure out how much time it takes to make a set, or fulfill an order, then how much money does that bring in after material and disposables.
They should have this number already.

I ask at your age, I know a lot of people because I am in that age bracket.
The big difference that I see is,
Are you a computer person, do you use computers a lot, are you skilled in them, are you skilled in various different software....
A person trying to use computer controlled machines, and CAD/CAM software if they are already used to this environment(computers/software)
have a FAR easier time than those who have minimal.
If you have minimal or basic computer skills, and your trying to learn computers in general but advanced CAD/CAM and computer controlled machines, this can be significantly harder,
and in a lot of instances I have seen, not a road I would suggest for people in our age bracket, unless they already had skills in computers/software.

You don't need good mechanical or electrical diagnostic skills as long as you have a large enough income from the parts being generated.
I have better, and more trained skills than the tech the vendors send out for maintenance and repair, but I make more money than the time per hour they charge.
So it is cheaper for me to pay them to fix it.
If your making $360hr running machines, and they charge $150-180 per hr to fix, then who cares, have them fix it, its cheaper.

The CNC machines as mentioned are fast, depending on cycle times of course, on average a person can run 2-4 machines, running more than 3 near impossible with average cycle times.
Running two machines, along with setting them up, is more realistic, you could do 3 with over 10 minute cycle times once your familiar withn them.

Your friend being able to help you out, I would need to know his skill set to answer that, it is a HUGE help BUT
What skill set does he have?
Has he ran Haas machines? Has he ran you brand lathe or at least its control?
What positions has he held? Is he a programmer, a setup tech, a machine operator, or does he sweep the floors.

So that you can ask him, ususally you start as a machine feeder just putting part in a and hit go, no skills.
Then machine operator, you can use the machine and may know its controls.
Then Setup tech., you actually load up and setup tools to, put them in machine and adjust heights, and set up machine coordinates for the work to be done, load vises, fixtures...
Then you have programmer, usually this guy knows everything needed.

probably a few other things, but I'll leave it here.
 
One thing about "friend helping" ... he may. But ... I sold one lathe to a (kind of pain in the neck) customer, which helped him and helped me and part of the deal was I'd train him. I spent so much time just getting them up on their own parts that after a while I almost wouldn't answer the phone anymore. I really honestly fulfilled my obligation about twice over, and they still could have used more help.

If you are lucky your friend is eventually going to have to quit helping, and you'll be lucky if he even speaks to you for six months or a year after that. If you are not as lucky it'll be sooner. It's a much bigger commitment than either of you realize right now. So don't be shocked if the help part is not all you hope for. Not everyone is as stupid as me.
 
I also would add, who is answering these questions on here?

from what I have noticed the bulk of people who consistently answer these posts are
intellectuals, they have spent their lives learning new stuff all the time, and still.
even into their older years, because psychologically, that's who they are.

If you fall into this category even better, if not be more weary.

I have a brother 2 years younger, and a cousin 6 and 8 years younger than me, in their 40's
they couldn't be taught to catch a stick!

They have no intellectual mentality at all, they don't want to learn anything if they don't have to.

So personality plays a big part, especially with age added.
 
I (me personally) would be very cautious about Haas machines of that age. If they were not correctly decommissioned, there could be problems. Even if they were, there could be problems. You might end up ok with them - my Haas machines of that age were fairly solid. They did quit supported some of the parts in the older controls, and the replacement/upgrade price makes it a better deal to get other equipment. Price is somewhere $20K to $25K last I heard, per control. That's assuming nothing else needs attention. I'm sure he wants to sell the whole package.
It's not too late, as others noted. You'll find it frustrating at times, but making a lot of stuff will be easier. I did something similar, starting out as a manual guy long ago, and then taking some classes. Then bought a CNC knee mill and made a living. I'm now in a similar situation to the gy you know but my machines are much newer.
Good luck!!!
 
1. Am I too old to learn this?
Not at all. Dad used to say - "If the other guy can do it, you can do it."
2. Does the idea of buying such old machines with the tooling and designs make sense? Im concerned breakdown on these machines might be very costly to fix
Not really an issue. My machines are all Reagan era and hold tolerances just fine. Kind of like a car, keep up with the PM and you'll get a lot of miles.
3. If you were me and you felt it was viable what are your thoughts on how to go about getting some training etc?
Do it. At my alma mater, we just had someone graduate with her degree - at 91 years old. It's not too late. Start reading. Hang out here. You tube. Other places.
Dad used to say that the best part about this business, is that the learning never stops. There's always some new thing you can pick up on.
 
On the Haas machines: if it has an analog spindle load meter on the front, it's got some primary boards (processor and motion control) inside that have been obsoleted. There are repair places in the US to fix them. On your side of the pond, it might be harder. As already mentioned: 2007-up, with the 15" LCD is still supported. For how long before those processor boards aren't supported? Anyone's guess. I don't think the VF-0 existed in the 15" era so I'm immediately suspect of at least one. It can be fixed but, might take months to do it. Get them cheap.

Learning CNC? I think every response so far has been guys within 10 years of you (both sides). This has also been alluded to but, I'll repeat it: how do you feel when faced with "needing to learn a new computer program"? You said you're using Fusion already. That gives you a huge jump start but, are you any good at it? Would you hire you if you saw your skills from the perspective of a hiring manager?

If you're the type to dig in, learn everything you can, go to trade shows, try things out, it might be your gig. You'll have to learn the Haas control. You'll have to learn at least the CAM side of Fusion. There are a ton of videos online but, you kinda' need to have a knack for it if you're going to self-teach. If you dread the idea of figuring out something that isn't working as you expected, it's probably something to stay away from.

Hiring good programming and setup people is hard to do on a budget. If you have money to throw around, you can attract the best but, absent that kind of cash, it gets considerably harder. If this is a retirement / hobby business and you have the cash to support it, the skills to do it and the desire, it could be satisfying. If you need to make money right away, it gets to be much harder to recommend it.
 
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I bought my 1st CNC mill at the age of 47. It was a beater Deckel FP2NC, but ran. I had no prior experience operating a CNC. I didn't have CAM, so it was all finger-code, and I got pretty good at it. Sure, I crashed the machine and broke too many cutters, especially at the beginning. I am on the "intellectual" end of the spectrum cited by Harry Houdini16 in a big way, and persistent. I was also an experienced manual machinist, which helped. I say go for it. Who wouldn't want to be able to profile a circle at the push of a button, unlike on a manual mill?
 
One's affinity for learning never goes away. People who were eager to learn in their teens will still be eager to learn in their 70s and beyond.

I'm going to be realistic with you though. The fact that you haven't learned CNC in the last 30 years, while working in an industry that heavily uses CNC machines, suggests the POSSIBILITY that you might not have an affinity to learn. You can't say this is the very first opportunity in your entire life to learn CNC.

This isn't meant to discourage you. It's meant to give you a reality check. At 56 you have enough life experience to answer this question for yourself. Have you ever successfully overcome a similar obstacle in the past? Do you have the tenacity to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges? Do you have any physical ailments that will prevent you from working long hours to figure this shit out?

If all of us tell here you that you're capable of doing it and then you try it and fail, we'll all shrug our shoulders while you're left holding the bag. Massive failure at late stages in a career have severe financial consequences that you may never recover from.
 
Your car tosses the Check Engine Light. Do you take it to the repair guy or do you whip out your code reader and look up the error? If replacing the sensor in question stumps you, do you then take it to the repair guy or do you start digging online to see if anyone else had a related failure? If the related failure could be a couple of things, do you whip out a voltmeter and start individually checking sensors, or do you take it to the repair guy? Do you even trust the repair guy over yourself?

You don't even have to share the answers. Your willingness and curiosity to fix it yourself would be a fair indicator into whether you're mentally ready to do this on your own.

Making parts is not just programming a tool path. It becomes the design of a whole process. How will I hold the part? What will the work holding look like? Soft jaws? How will I put them back in the machine each time I need to run those parts? How will I pick up the origin when they're installed? How hard can I expect to cut on the material as it's held using this holding method? Sometimes work is literally screwed down to the machine and you can take insane cuts. Sometimes you have it held by a delicate feature and have to nurse it along.

And after all of that, the machine may not do exactly what you thought it was supposed to. There is probably a very good reason but, now you're down to troubleshooting. This very second, my phone is blowing up with texts from a 67 year old friend, trying to troubleshoot why his machine is mysteriously losing Z position during long runs (not a Haas and this machine has a history of motion control issues). Is that something you'd dread, or would you get some satisfaction out of solving the puzzle?
 
I'm in the camp that will say be prepared for it to be harder than you think to get up to speed on this new business.

I don't think learning CNC is especially tough or anything, but buying a business you are not an expert in can be a real mess.

Customer support is tough if you don't know everything there is to know about the product.

It can be more difficult to master packaging and shipping products than learning CNC.

I've seen numerous product businesses fizzle out after a sale. Usually when the new owner thinks they know more than the old owner and makes changes without understanding why it was done the way it was done. Or too many changes at once. Or thinks they can just farm everything out to other shops without good prints or checking the work.
 
Your car tosses the Check Engine Light. Do you take it to the repair guy or do you whip out your code reader and look up the error? If replacing the sensor in question stumps you, do you then take it to the repair guy or do you start digging online to see if anyone else had a related failure? If the related failure could be a couple of things, do you whip out a voltmeter and start individually checking sensors, or do you take it to the repair guy? Do you even trust the repair guy over yourself?

You don't even have to share the answers. Your willingness and curiosity to fix it yourself would be a fair indicator into whether you're mentally ready to do this on your own.

Making parts is not just programming a tool path. It becomes the design of a whole process. How will I hold the part? What will the work holding look like? Soft jaws? How will I put them back in the machine each time I need to run those parts? How will I pick up the origin when they're installed? How hard can I expect to cut on the material as it's held using this holding method? Sometimes work is literally screwed down to the machine and you can take insane cuts. Sometimes you have it held by a delicate feature and have to nurse it along.

And after all of that, the machine may not do exactly what you thought it was supposed to. There is probably a very good reason but, now you're down to troubleshooting. This very second, my phone is blowing up with texts from a 67 year old friend, trying to troubleshoot why his machine is mysteriously losing Z position during long runs (not a Haas and this machine has a history of motion control issues). Is that something you'd dread, or would you get some satisfaction out of solving the puzzle?

Although this is all 100% correct, some of these types of things I don't do anymore.

I now know life is short, and I make too much money to do things like this anymore.

I don't fix my own car, I don't mow my lawn, I don't fix the CNC's....

Now I make say over $300-400 hr.
I pay the guy $100hr to fix my car.
the guy $20hr to mow my lawn,
the CNC tech $180hr to fix the machine....

So there is a context to not do that also.
Get your time back.

But this is more related to business, money, and minding the value of your time, so contextual. :D

My oscilloscope sits in somebody else's shop now:D

But I do have a new electricians tool belt full of all kinds of on new electrician tool goodies:D
 
Now I make say over $300-400 hr.
I pay the guy $100hr to fix my car.
the guy $20hr to mow my lawn,
the CNC tech $180hr to fix the machine....

So there is a context to not do that also.
Get your time back.
All may be true but, I also have to be earning enough money to buy all the parts that mindless parts-swappers will replace before getting to the real problem. Or maybe they do more damage than good trying to find the problem.

It's like the Haas board repair guy who told me on the phone that my diagnosis of a bad part on the Mocon board was wrong and he wouldn't touch it until I had a "real technician" look at it. We went back and forth. He insisted it was the I/O board that had the problem and my diagnosis wasn't even close. He insisted the questioned sensors didn't even go to the Mocon (they do).

Well, it was the Mocon board. I even know which chip is misbehaving. I got as far as identifying that it didn't have proper 5V at one of the reference pins. Then I didn't need to fix it anymore because an eBay mocon board got it going again. No clue how many thousands in labor and unnecessary parts would have been flushed if I went through the process he suggested.
 
All may be true but, I also have to be earning enough money to buy all the parts that mindless parts-swappers will replace before getting to the real problem. Or maybe they do more damage than good trying to find the problem.

It's like the Haas board repair guy who told me on the phone that my diagnosis of a bad part on the Mocon board was wrong and he wouldn't touch it until I had a "real technician" look at it. We went back and forth. He insisted it was the I/O board that had the problem and my diagnosis wasn't even close. He insisted the questioned sensors didn't even go to the Mocon (they do).

Well, it was the Mocon board. I even know which chip is misbehaving. I got as far as identifying that it didn't have proper 5V at one of the reference pins. Then I didn't need to fix it anymore because an eBay mocon board got it going again. No clue how many thousands in labor and unnecessary parts would have been flushed if I went through the process he suggested.
Yah gotta love it, when you know more than the guy fixin it.
which if your unfortunately an intellectual with skills is usually the case.

When I have had techs come, they do say, "you have more training and specialized tools than we do, why don't use fix it"
I don't have time, too busy making $$. :D

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But my point I guess was:
I don't do a lot of that stuff anymore, but am minded.
a couple years a go, my son was thinking of doing game dev.
told him check out Unreal Engine ,80% of games are made with it,
Nah too complicated, he said.
So I down loaded, learned it for a couple weeks, started creating a game, and in less than a month created a entire small horror game.
Him, my daughter , and her boyfriend was like WTF!
I ended up teaching the boyfriend how to use the software.
This is what happens when your highly computer literate, give me any software, I'll be fluent in a couple months tops!
 
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