A manual knee mill is a bit like Sally, the golden retriever you’ve had since she was a pup. You’re with her every day. She’s hard working and you know what to expect from her. And even though getting Sally to perform new tricks is unlikely, that’s okay—the old gal has been a faithful companion for many years, and you’re planning to keep her around as long as possible.
Change is inevitable though. Dogs and knee mills must eventually be replaced, and choosing the right one is a big decision. In the case of machine tools, however, sticking with whatever’s most comfortable to you might not make sense. Yes, a good machinist can make practically anything on a properly-tooled knee mill, but put that same machinist in front of a CNC knee mill and the work will likely get done in half the time.
Mistakes are less likely with a CNC. There’s no chance of cranking the handle one turn too far or forgetting to zero out the DRO after picking up an edge. There’s no need for a calculator or trigonometry tables when laying out a bolt hole pattern—just plug in a couple values and get drilling. That nerve-wracking pocket you worked on for two hours last week is child’s play on a CNC knee mill. Part quality’s better, tool life increases, and the pile of parts sitting on the bench at the end of each shift will be much higher when a knee mill has CNC capabilities.
One look at the computer screen mounted to the side of the thing, though, and you might be tempted to avoid all that programming stuff and stick with your trusty DRO. But CNC knee mills are surprisingly easy to operate—the Acu-Rite MillPwr G2 control available on all Kent USA CNC knee mills, for example, is both user friendly and powerful, with simplified navigation screens, offline programming functions, Ethernet and USB ports, and a 3D-graphics display that will never leaving you guessing about a part feature.
Best of all, a Kent USA CNC knee mill supports manual operation just as well as it does automatic mode, giving you the option to use as much of the CNC as is needed to get the job done quickly. Granted, it might not be as fun as a new puppy, but it’s darned close.