Tormach xsTECH Router
Note well: It called a ROUTER not micro-mill. Or any type of mill. Routers and mills are cousins, but don’t live in the same family group.
I was extremely excited when I saw this tool for the first time. I like Tormach equipment and I especially like their Linux based PathPilot controller software. This little baby OH router, the Tormach xsTECH actually runs full strength PathPilot!
It’s also a complete, full house, tools and all, everything one needs to get up and running — 3-axis micro overhead router. WOW!
Unfortunately, that is where the joy ended for me and my expectations.
The apparent purpose of this light duty router is a basic training tool for young students to experience negative manufacturing CNC g-code programming from CAD systems. This is in comparison to the 3D Printing additive manufacturing using the millions of public access stl files. There is no age limit. Old students can learn too.
But so far there has been zero information on machine operational components. Marketing text clearly states “belt drive” so one must assume that this is all axis. The Spindle is 125W BLDC direct drive. Nothing about T.I.R. and bearing quality. 125 Watts is about 0.17 HP. Or 1/6 HP. Nice 5K to 20K RPM range but not much power for hogging cuts. Pretty much like a Dremel or Proxxon hand tool with an ER11 spindle. The ER11 spindle is a great feature.
My first CNC home-built machine (HomeBrew1 or HB1) is exactly the same size as this machine. Except I used direct screw drive and brass nuts, not printer drive belts. —
So in a way, I do have intimate experience with a light duty OH Router of this size and power. I built one from scratch.
I can see the same linear X and Y axis small diameter shafts on the xsTECH as I used on HB1. No idea how Z moves. Probably shafts and bearings but presently it is a secret, it seems.
The issue for me is the xsTECH router is certainly operationally no better and has the same serious limitations of my HB1 machine. The belt axis drives on the xsTECH may possibly make it inferior, especially for heavy duty metal milling. IMHO belt drive is only suitable for use on laser cutters, inkjet printers and 3D printers where there is no load resistance required to drive a cutter through solid material.
I can program my HB1 machine and make nice decorative light cuts in wood. I also cut printed circuit board patterns. (I am a 50+ year experienced ham radio guy.) But HB1 was of no use as a practical daily manufacturing CNC machine. Slow and underpowered. It WAS a great, getting started, learning tool, same as the xsTECH. But with certainly less than $200 invested in building the machine alone.
Look around at my machine shop web sites. There are many links in the side columns here. Look at the many machine tools I have used. None of them are built like a plastic case 3D printer with a variable speed DC motor. I must mention, I do own and operate five different FDM 3d Printers and one DLP (UV Resin) 3D printer. I am extremely familiar with 3D printers.
So, my total impression is the xsTECH has been designed in China, using 3D printer engineering design and hardware.
There is a maximum 2.25 inch Z axis useable height. Less with longer length tooling. No space for a standard vice.
I noticed in one video; maximum settable accuracy is 3 decimal places (thousandths) with the ten thousand (4th decimal place) indicating a randomly displayed value on PathPilot screen after the user entered a three decimal value.
Learning PathPilot is its most valuable feature. But with a $3000 to $3500 price, anyone wanting to do serious manufacturing should double the money and take a close look at the Tormach PCNC440 machine.
Let grade school teachers spend your tax dollars for this pricy classroom training tool. (But low cost compared to say a Roland) Skills will transfer to a more capable and expensive system if they enjoy the CNC process (as I do.)
I don’t kid myself. I don’t see the Tormach xsTECH as a real production tool other than training. I asked myself, “Do I see the xsTECH running long term 10 years from now like other Tormach machines?” My personal feeling and answer is, “No.”
Tory Keller from Tormach, sent me the Tormach newsletter that posted article brag., “Build an Etsy Business With Less Than $3500” with a direct link “CHECK OUT HOW YOU CAN START YOUR BUSINESS” to the xsTECH website product page.
The only business I can see, is getting paid to train a 12-year-old kid how to operate the xsTECH with PathPilot. Dinky little products produced on this very small and very slow router machine, will quickly net the vast majority of start-up business owners a negative cash flow. Cash flow requires production. I’ll say again, “The xsTECH is not a production machine.”
Much the same experience as making a simple low-end 3D printer the center focus of a business plan.
Tormach has disappointed me… Except for providing excellent experience with PathPilot.
The xsTECH will take a low end market share from companies like Roland and probably influence affluent folks to step up to bigger Tormach machines. Limited Z is the first issue and why it is labeled as a router. Wax and soft materials not needing cooling are fine. Metal engraving etc. will be OK on this machine. It’s NOT intended for whittling down a block of metal like a real milling machine.
If I had a spare $3-3.5K I’d enjoy a first hand experience with the xsTECH (probably just to play with PathPilot) It will do my wax machining just fine. A small chip blower like used on a jigsaw is needed. I have no expectation of it being a cornerstone of a new business. That’s for sure.
Caveat Emptor – Buyer beware