4 Totally Awesome Things To Make on a CNC Mini Router ...

This year, we got not quite 300 responses, and we got them in less than a week.  The last time we did a CNC Router Survey was 2017, and we got about half as many responses after 2 weeks.

Thanks to everyone that contributed by taking the survey!  Let’s dig into the numbers and see what we can learn.

Hobby vs Pro Users

Our 2020 results are identical to the mix from 2017, 72% Hobbyist and 28% Professional.

Market Share: Which CNC Routers are Most Popular?

This year, we had a whopping 67 different CNC Routers reported.  In many cases, only 1 or perhaps 2 people reported having a browser.  The chart above shows the share for “Non-Other”.

If we compare to 2017, certain patterns emerge.

First, the DIY Homebrew from parts category is now #1, although it actually has lower market share–17.5% in 2020 vs 19% in 2017.  It’s holding its own, in other words.  To learn more about DIY CNC Routers, check out our Complete Guide to CNC Router Parts.

The Carbide3D/Shapeoko dynamic duo remains the #1 most popular choice of name brand CNC Routers.  Share is down from 24% in 2017 to 10.7% in 2020.

Generic Chinese Routers (those 3020’s, 6040’s, and similar) continue to hold 3rd place and have actually increased share from 7% to 9.7%.

Now let’s get into some of the big movers in the next tier:

  • Avid, formerly CNCRouterParts, has gone from #10 with 2% share to #4 with 5.8% share.  Big jump up, congrats guys.
  • OpenBuilds was nowhere in evidence in 2017 and now has the #5 spot with 4.9%.  They edged out Inventables, which has fallen to #6 and lost share going from 5% to 4.2%.
  • Among the more pro brands, Laguna has edged out Shopbot and done a remarkable job gaining share.  They had 2% in 2017 and are now at 4.2%.  Shopbot meanwhile when from 4% share to 3.2%.
  • Next Wave Automation is another good growth story.  They placed 2% in the survey in 2017 and now coming in at 2.9% with their Piranha and Shark routers.
  • Multicam and Shopsabre have also fallen off in popularity among the more pro models.

It will be interesting to see the changes the next time we survey.  The market is definitely extremely fragmented, and there are major new players entering.  Tormach, for example, has just launched 2 new CNC Routers, and their 24R is already starting to show on the survey.

The thing that surprises me most about these results is just how strong the DIY / Homebrew contingent is.  There is a ready supply of parts and plans, and CNC Routers are apparently just not that hard to build.  I enjoy a good kit, such as our CNCCookbook Shop’s Shapeoko, but building a machine from scratch is a lot of work.  I know from experience building a servo-driven metal cutting CNC mill.  It took a lot of hours, and cost nearly as much as a stripped down Tormach mill.

But, there is an undeniable satisfaction out of building your own machine.

CNC Router Features

We asked a number of questions about router features and size.

CNC Router Size

First up is size of the work area.  Here are the trends since 2017:

  • Desktop was 48% and is now 43%.  People are buying or building larger routers.
  • Intermediate was 30% and is now 36%.  Looks like Intermediate is the category that folks have moved up to.
  • Full Sized was 21% and is now 22%.  The share is about the same.

CNC Router Spindle Power

This is a new question, so I can’t report on trends until our next survey.

But we can see that most of these routers (57%) are 2 Horsepower or less.  That means they likely use a trim router or proprietary low power spindle.

More powerful / professional quality spindles account for 43%.

CNC Router Features

As before, we surveyed to see how many had these premium features on their CNC Routers:

  • Dust Collection or Enclosure was most popular, and actually increased from 71% to 76%.  Routers can sure make a mess without a little help!
  • Vacuum Tables are a very handy way to hold down the work.  They’re up slightly from 25% to 27%
  • Tool Changers are a professional productivity feature, but they are hard to come by.  Share is down slightly from 16% to 15%.  I wonder when we’ll see a breakthrough in the lower range of the market with someone introducing a toolchanger at a good price on a popular machine?

CNC Router Workholding

This is a new category this year.  It tracks what form of workholding is most popular among CNC Router users.

At 58%, the most popular by far are clamps that attach to either threaded holes or T-Slots.

The clamps are followed by Vacuum Tables or Fixtures, Blue Tape & Superglue, or screwing directly into the spoilboard.  A few listed custom fixtures.  One of the most interesting was a fixture to allow mounting a board vertically for cutting dovetail joints.

Customer Satisfaction: Most Loved CNC Routers

Overall Customer Satisfaction is up compared to what it was in 2017 when it was already high.  In particular, having 59% of folks giving their CNC Router highest marks (It Rocks!) is awesome.  That number was 55% back in 2017, so the machines have only gotten better.

The “Not So Good” rating went from 5% down to 2.5%.

This year I’m doing something a little different with Customer Satisfaction.  It’s not really fair judging a super cheap machine against a much more expensive fully loaded machine.  So, I have created market segments:

  • Pro:  These are top of the line production machines.
  • Prosumer:  These are less expensive than Pro machines, but still more money (and features) than most Hobbyist machines.
  • Hobbyist: These are the least expensive and least highly featured machines.

I put all DIY Homebrew machines into their own category because it’s too hard to judge exactly where each machine goes from the questions asked in the survey.  They’re all one-offs and not really comparable to commercial machines with a consistent build and feature set.

CNCCookbook is giving a Customer Satisfaction Award to a machine in each category (there’s a tie in Prosumer).  Only the top 14 machines by overall market share were considered to make sure we had enough votes for the machines to get a fair assessment.

Pro Market Customer Satisfaction Award

Congratulations to ShopSabre for winning our Customer Satisfaction Award for Pro CNC Routers.

Other contenders in the Pro category included Laguna, and Multicam.

Prosumer Market Customer Satisfaction Award

“Prosumer” is a term I borrowed from the Digital Photography world.  Prosumer cameras may not have all the features of a “Pro” camera, but they are capable of Pro quality photographs.

I think it is an apt designation for machines in this category.  As it happens, we had two machines tie for our Prosumer Customer Satisfaction Award.  They both had perfect scores were every user reported “It Rocks!” for their machine.  That’s truly outstanding.

Without further ado, here are the Customer Satisfaction Prosumer winners:

Congratulations to the Axiom Precision team for co-winning our Customer Satisfaction Award for Prosumer CNC Routers.

Congratulations to Tormach whose 24R picked up a win here not long after the machine was announced.

Other contenders in the Prosumer category included Avid CNC (formerly CNC Router Parts), Shopbot, and NextWave Automation.

Hobbyist Market Customer Satisfaction Award

Congratulations to the Open Builds team for winning our Hobbyist CNC Router Customer Satisfaction Award.

Other contenders in this category included Carbide 3D / Shapeoko, Stepcraft, Inventables, and the many Generic Chinese Routers (3020, 6040, etc.).

Future Purchases

I asked a couple of questions in the survey to determine where respondents are in their journey.

About 30% of respondents had owned other CNC Routers in the past.

In terms of Future Purchases, 40% say they have all they need, 18% would like additional CNC Routers, and 42% would like to upgrade to a better router.

How are CNC Routers Being Used?

It’s always interesting to see how CNC machines are used.

For the most part, respondents are cutting Wood, Plastics, and to a lesser extent aluminum on their CNC Routers.

Cutting Aluminum on a CNC Router does take a bit of skill and special techniques, but it’s good to see many respondents are pulling it off.

As for what folks are making on their CNC Routers, here’s what they said:

Some of these need a little interpretation:

  • Prototyping:  Many said “repair parts”, “we make everything”, or “parts for products we manufacture”.  Those all landed here.  Consider it to be generic parts.
  • Furniture and Architecture:  Cabinets went to both.  Architecture could include architectural details like decorative mouldings or anything that would become physically part of a building.
  • Relief Carvings were also referred to as 3D Carvings by many.  Same thing.
  • Toys & Models was everything from children’s toys, to games, to scale models of various kinds.
  • Tools includes anything tooling or shop storage related.  A lot of these involved jigs and fixtures used for making other things.
  • Boxes also includes generic inlay work.
  • Guitars is mostly guitars but there are a few other music-related things that went here.
  • Woodworking was both people calling out things as “woodworking projects” and miscellaneous woodworking that didn’t go elsewhere.

All in all, there were many cool things being made with CNC Routers.  These are very versatile machines!

More to Come

I have one more thing I want to do with this data.  I will be putting it together a premium eBook Guide to CNC Routers.  This will be very in-depth information on specific routers as well as more details on some of the data already presented.  As mentioned, the eBook will be a premium offering, so we will be charging for it.  It will be of interest to those actively evaluating purchase of a new CNC Router or those in the business of designing and manufacturing these machines.

I will announce availability via email when the eBook is ready.

 

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