Roland MDX-40a and other CNC alternatives

Continuing the discussion from What’s your Form1+ (plus) experience?:

Your experience is very interesting. I have been wanting to hear first hand opinions about it. I see the MDX40a widely used on small modelshops from schools and universities so I assumed it is not bad.

I kind of sense it is “old” and a new generation must be coming up soon. They are introducing a new line of products with the Monofab: Unfortunately it as a ver small build size.

I have been searching for CNC machines with a closed cabinet to contain the noise and particles. To my surprise, I still don’t find good alternatives.

What I also like (from what I see) from the MDX-40a and MDX-540 is the included CAM software. Seems quite user friendly with a fairly short learning curve.

As you say, the MDX-540 looks awesome and has all the features I would want (in terms of build size, materials it can handle and the automatic tool changer!) but the price tag is crazy (€ 36247 for the higher precision version and including all accessories). I can only dream about it…

Something else that I’m taking into consideration is the need for electric cutting saws, good vacuum cleaners and a nice working table, all that can easily add an extra € 1500 to 2000 (+ the need for the extra space)

I was excited when I first learned about the Carvey, but taking a closer look, the build area is very small, software is not good (only 2.5D) and delivery times are crazy long. I think Roland will come up with a replacement for the 40a in the meantime.

Do you know any other interesting options in the market at the moment? I think the CNC field is yet to see an explosion of new options as we have seen on the 3D printer world.

I know there are cnc versions of the Taig mill and sells a desktop mill that has an auto tool changer and the works for far less than the Roland machines.

The smaller Roland machines have really bad design flaws, limited to 3 axis, use double face tape to hold the work in place on very small tables, have very shallow build ares, and worst of all the tool bit is held in place by a set screw instead of a collet which limits the max rpm and cause repeatability issues as well as inaccurate centering and vibration.

Depends on what you are using your parts for, if you need to go directly to a metal part or epoxy block then a cnc mill is the choice.

Really depends on what you intend to make on it.

For myself I had looked into the mills and ended up here.

The learning curve of a CNC is orders of magnitude greater than for the Form 1 / 1+.

I have both: CNC mill and the FormLabs Form1+. Completely different machines for completely different purposes.

There are plenty of micro mills out there at reasonable prices, just keep in mind they won’t be as sturdy / stiff as a large scale mill (and therefore you will be limited to plastics, etc.

That’s not really true. You can machine metals on some of the miniature mills we sell; like the Taig, Sherline and ACT mills, you just have to take lighter cuts than you would on a full-size knee mill or VMC. On the other hand, you can go faster with small cutters, since the spindle speed is greater than most large mills offer. These little mills are quite reasonably priced, in the same range as the better 3D printers (like the Form 1 +). and they offer different but complementary functionality.

Andrew Werby

To get the flexibility in the type of parts you can make on a mill compared to a 3d printer you need a 5 axis machine or you won’t be able to do minor undercuts along the x axis. Depth of cut is also still limited because it is based on the length of the mill bit.

is there any interesting desktop 5 axis machine? I haven’t found something enclosed. For me, noise reduction and particle containment are a must.

I think Roland is asking for premium prices because they also include a CAM software that is very easy to use. With other mills I read that you must purchase the software yourself and is quite expensive.

I would love to see something like the Carvey or MDX-40a but with automatic tool changer and 5 axis below USD 10K.

I did take a look at and ended up on the SIEG website. This looks interesting (but quite ugly to have in an office):

I would love the MDX-540 with the safety cover, but is insanely expensive :frowning:

I couldn’t find any affordable 5 axis machines. All of Roland’s machines are 3 or 4 axis. If your machining soft materials some of the desktop CNC Routers might be a good alternative. One thing you need to be careful of is not only the quality of the ball screws used but also that they have a usb interface. The market is flooded with older stepper motors that require older pc’s to run them ie > Win XP 32 bit.

After about a year and half looking I ended up here.

If you are in the mood (and have the time) then find an old denford Orac lathe or Triac mill. Cracking desktop machines which can easily be converted to Mach 3. Ball screws all round etc.

I have an orac and a mate has two triacs all converted successfully. Just need to calibrate my Orac :smile:

I have a small Rockford Pro (made in Australia) CNC lathe with auto tool changer. It is almost converted to Mach 3 control (everything is here, I’m just involved in too many other high-priority projects right now). Located near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’d need to come up with a price, but probably in the $1200 - $1600 USD area.

Hello to all. I need some answers on about my Roland ModelA MDX-404. I made holes in my design with a depth of 11mm. Is there anyway to make the SRP Player software to make a process just for drilling. If not can MasterCam work on my model Roland. Another question is how can I cut Aluminum in the Roland ? SRP Player wont let me select Aluminum as a Material.

SRP Player is very limited in what it can do; it’s far from a full-featured CAM program. There are no drilling routines. I’m not sure if MasterCAM can write code for Roland machines; you’ll have to ask the manufacturers. If you’re looking for CAM software that can do what you’re asking, I’d suggest VisualCADCAM Mill from Mecsoft, which does have a post-processor for that machine. We sell it at a significant discount.

Aluminum is not a recommended material for that machine, because the open structure underneath is liable to fill up with chips and jam, and there’s no provision for coolant, which aluminum generally requires. Also, the spindle doesn’t have enough torque to cut aluminum with anything but the smallest cutters. If machining aluminum is a major part of what you need to do, I’d suggest getting a Taig mill, which we also sell at a discount.

Andrew Werby

Not sure if anyone is reading this in 2019, but I am looking at Formlabs printers and have owned an MDX-40 for about 10 years. If you’ve ever used a milling machine you know the, err, drill. But if you have never used a milling machine I will say there is a much steeper learning curve than using an SLA printer. You have to learn things like appropriate tools (‘drill bits’), X, Y, Z, and A tolerances, cutting paths, tool start location, etc. If you don’t get these right the machine can break a tool or literally cut itself. However, once you get set up you can relax a little and have fun. But you can never relax completely. You always have to remind yourself of the do’s and dont’s or you will break a tool or cut the machine. That said, although the included CAM (tool path) software is basic, it can take you a long way and it’s fun to learn some CAM concepts without having to learn G-Code or pay a bunch of money for CAM software. CAM is serious business. There are consequences for getting it wrong but it’s empowering when you figure it out. The MDX-40 was not designed to cut aluminum, but it can. There are videos on YouTube of people cutting aluminum with MDX-40’s. You just have to add a stream of coolant and a catch basin, and also be careful with your tool selection, cutting depth and speed. In fact, if I buy an SLA printer I will most likely use my MDX-40 for cutting aluminum molds for plastic injection, or making molds with resin and seating them inside aluminum frames cut on the MDX-40. So, the machine is useful. Would I buy a new MDX-40 today (now the MDX-50) with all the SLA printers and other milling machine options out there? I don’t know. Probably not, unless I am missing something. It wasn’t really designed to cut aluminum molds. It was designed for rapid prototyping, and there are arguably better options for rapid prototyping now. Would I buy one used, for a good price? Very possibly. The machines were made in Japan and can run hundreds of hours without issue if used with care. One caution if you have never owned a milling machine is, they can be LOUD, even when cutting ‘soft’ material like machinable wax. You can quiet them down by making more shallow passes with the tool, but then you are putting more time on the tool spindle. Can you use the thing in your living room while watching a movie? Yes. But it will annoy you. It’s not a machine you want to tuck in another room and leave alone while it cuts. You want to keep an eye on it, so you will most likely be nearby while it is making noise. There is a big, red emergency stop button on the front for a reason. One plus for many people is, no smell like with resin printers, and no sticky resin. Would I opt for an MDX-40 over today’s resin printers? No. Would I opt for an MDX-40 over other milling machines? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. Would I sell my MDX-40 after buying an SLA printer? I seriously doubt it, unless someone offered me a great price. The potential to cut aluminum and the beautifully smooth finish mill tools can achieve is worth a lot, especially if you would like to design prototypes or molds for production as opposed to parts for fun. Another plus is, the cutting materials are very inexpensive and plentiful; wood, wax, aluminum. Another downside I can think of… it’s been a while but the last time I checked MDX forums were pretty dead. I wouldn’t expect a lot of community support but you can figure things out on your own. The CAM software comes with help files and you can find PDF manuals for the machine. A word of caution; don’t try to install new firmware on an older machine. It might not understand it. If so, you can roll back by reinstalling the older firmware. In my setup what I plan to do is use an SLA printer to make various versions of prototypes to test, then use the milling machine to mill the final aluminum mold if something stronger than a rubber or resin mold is needed. Well, just my two cents.

Hi BurstDog,

Belated welcome to 2019. HA HA. Totally agree with you.

The Roland MDX-40A with 4 axis is a good tool especially with the CAM software that comes with it. We use the SRP Pro that is a huge improvement on the SRP standard. Unfortunately it is no longer available. It should be noted that CAM software IS expensive and it adds to your cost.

When we started up 8 years ago we had the discussion of CNC milling vs 3d printing. What made us decide to go for the milling was that for our work, the actual material we were making our parts from was critical and no “affordable” 3d printer could come close to the material properties that we require.

We have cut aluminium and brass on this mill but as you say using very fine cuts! The machining of polymers the quality has often exceeded that of a HAAS mini-mill! The main reason was the high spindle speed enabling the use of single flute cutters going down to 0.2mm diameter

We have modified our the basic mill to help stabilise it (It is not super rigid like a commercial mill) and it is contained in a sound absorbing chamber that is temperature controlled. Reasons being, my office is in the same room as the mill and we machine polymers that have large thermal expansion coef.

We have also improved the jaw chucks and tail stock, added vices and vertical chucks that attached to the bed. We still use double sided tape and we spent ages finding a high end adhesive tape.

Another reason that we went for the Roland MDX40A is that our business targets designs that fit on or in your hand so small.

Draw backs:
If you have never run a cnc mill there is a very steep learning curve.
You have to keep an eye on things and constantly clear away swarf
The vertical travel does limit the depth of hollow components that you can machine.
Under cuts are not impossible but you really have to cheat the software! and it always hurts my head.
It is not a fast machine. It cannot machine great chunks out of polymer quickly.

In the last year we invested in a F2. Only reason was because our clients insisted that parts were 3d printed? Even though we could cost effectively cnc mill. We had a lot of experience on additive manufacturing of titanium alloys on commercial machines.

Compared with a cnc mill it is so easy to use straight out of the box. It has changed the way we work. Each design seat is connected to a F2 and we do first, second offs, third offs…on it. We can put multiple designs on the build plate and run with almost zero supervision. When the design is 90% there we move it to “real world” cnc milling on to polymer, mainly PEEK and PPSU

Taking some of the initial prototyping off the mill and on to the F2 has released milling capacity.
Roughly the cost of 3 F2s = cost of tooled up MDX40A.

Added my tuppence ha’penny worth!

Right on greymatter. :wink: Would be interesting to see how you beefed up your MDX-40. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am the MDX-40 might prove to be very useful for cutting aluminum molds. Most of my work will be done on the SLA, so the MDX-40 will only get a workout every now and then. Could be a good combination. Cheers!

Hi BurstDog,
Good plan mixing the technologies. Horses for courses! In fact all the moulds we used to machine out of acetal and then polish!! is now done on the F2 using Dental Model resin. We only use low temp cure materials in the moulds.

My biggest and heaviest mod was to bolt the machine to a concrete paving stone. This was shimmed and torqued so as not to distort the chassis. It was meticulously clocked to check for this. This was then mounted into a custom speedframe “cupboard” that was lined with acoustic foam to absorb noise from the machining. The “cupboard” is temperature controlled for machining polymers.

The driver board gets quite warm so we bought a cpu cooling kit and attached it to the warm metal work to improve the heat sinking of the driver board. The fan from the cooling kit doubles to gently create an airflow from back to front of the machine. Gently wafts light swarf to the front of the machine for easier cleaning.

To reduce noise further we lined the inside of the metal panels with heavy acoustic liner material to attenuate the ringing of the chassis.

We have also mounted a hypodermic needle so that we can pulse a jet of air at the tip of the cutting tool to help keep it clear. It only keeps clear a small area around the cutting tool and does not generate a dust cloud.

Other mods are standard lathe and mill tools. Decent low profile scroll chuck to hold bars horizontal or vertical and a small precision vice to hold small slabs. We are also looking to fit a collet chuck as well. We also use the Karnasch single flute tools for cutting polymer and these are brilliant though a little pricey. We are driven by quality and precision and not cost.

We do use double sided tape a lot. It seems low tech, but the beauty of it is that it does not put stress into the material to distort it while machining, We use 3M High Performance Double Coated Tapes with Adhesive 375.

We were thinking of putting a toothed drive on the spindle but decided that the flat belt had an important function to slip if the tool locked up and this protects the motor.

Our last mod that is more on the back burner than not is designing a more rigid metal plate that is the same weight as the present 4 axis plate. This plate will have a regular pitch of threaded holes for fixation of tools and the whole plate will be made rigid by a lattice of struts.

Seems a lot of work, but for the money of the basic unit these mods still present value for money. Especially when you can pick up a second hand machine on flea bay fro just over GBP 2000.

My ideal cnc mill would probably be a HAAS OM2A office mill! but who can afford one of those.

We have been looking at the MDX 540 and are impressed. We are putting that off until we get a larger office. The only negative to us is the lower top spindle speed because we use so many small tools.

Hope that gives you food for thought. The MDX40A is a great machine and we have just made it a little better with small low cost mods.

1 Like

Thanks greymatter! Will definitely save all of your great tips. Sounds like you do some real precision work in your shop! If I ever manage to mill an aluminum mold I will try to remember to return here and drop a comment. Really appreciate that you went out of your way to share your setup. :grinning:

No problem. good luck with your aliminium mould.
Do you have any experience of high temp resin for moulds?

Have you of you small CNC mill guys looked at the PocketNC 5-axis desktop mill? I’ve been thinking about picking up one just to play with.

I was interested at first look at Roland machine but it ended up that they are extremely overpriced for what they do.
You’re better buying an HAAS mini mill instead of the MDX 540, and the Roland lower performing mill are not even ball screws…
I won’t even talk about reselling a Roland machine, but an HAAS on the opposite will resell extremely well and fast.

I would, however, quote the Nomad 883 Pro from Carbide3D. A great little machine that comes with a fair price, can mill aluminum from series (6xxx) at expenses of speed, it’s possible to make a mold for dirt cheap but the amount of times you’ll spend just fixturing the thing and finding the right speed to mill aluminum with a decent surface finish can be a big deal, although using diamond coated tools will make the job much much easier.

Speaking of it I’m selling one because of the aforementioned above. I’m from the EU, can ship to the US too but the shipping cost can be a problem.

Hey thomas, do you still have that machine?