What is CNC Machining?

14 November 2023
CNC Machining

Report by Danny Weller

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining represents a cutting-edge manufacturing method where computer software guides the precise movements of industrial tools and machinery. 

Working alongside Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM), this versatile process empowers the control of various intricate equipment, including grinders, lathes, mills, and routers. By utilizing CNC machining, you can efficiently execute three-dimensional cutting tasks with just a single set of instructions.

Read on to find out more about the manufacturing process that has shaped the modern world

How does CNC Machining work?

At its essence, CNC machining is rooted in subtractive manufacturing technology. In straightforward terms, this technology operates by removing material, guided by computer-aided software, to craft the end product. This precision is achieved using cutting tools that shape and sculpt the final item from a solid block, often referred to as a “blank” or “workpiece”.

Why is CNC Machining so popular?

The growth in popularity of CNC Machining stems from the high accuracy and quality finish that can be achieved by utilizing this process. Why? Because the final piece has been crafted from a CAD file. With Computer-Aided Design automated CNC Machining comes with a reduced chance for error.

That’s why CNC prices offer competitiveness for custom, one-off parts as well as medium-volume production. Moreover, there are companies willing to collaborate with you to ensure cost-effectiveness while maintaining top-notch product quality

CNC machining finds application across diverse industries, such as aerospace, automotive, and defense, thanks to its capacity to minimize human error and deliver exceptional accuracy in product manufacturing. In sectors where large-scale production, cost-effectiveness, and precision are paramount, CNC machining methods play a crucial role in the production process.

 

The Tempest Fighter Jet
Image: BAE Systems

CNC Across Industries

CNC machining stands as a versatile manufacturing method, transcending industry boundaries and applications. In today’s landscape, these precision machines find utility across various sectors. Notably, certain industries reap maximum benefits from the capabilities CNC machining brings:

  • Aerospace and Defense: CNC machining is integral to crafting components for aircraft and defense equipment, including weapons and ammunition.
  • Automotive: CNC machines are vital for producing a wide range of automobile parts, from engine components to suspension elements.
  • Medical Devices: CNC machining ensures the precision production of critical components for medical devices such as implants, prosthetics, and surgical instruments.
  • Consumer Products: CNC machines play a crucial role in the manufacturing of various consumer items, from electronics to toys and everyday household goods.
  • Machinery and Equipment: CNC machining is the go-to method for creating components like pumps, valves, and gears for various machinery and equipment.
  • Prototyping and Research & Development (R&D): CNC machining is commonly used for prototyping and testing parts in research and development initiatives.
  • Jewelry Production: CNC Machining ensures the intricate demands of jewelry production are met, guaranteeing precision and repeatability.
  • Molds and Dies: CNC machining is indispensable for crafting molds and dies used in the production of plastic and metal products.
  • Metal Fabrication: CNC machining is a linchpin in producing metal components for diverse industries, including construction, agriculture, and mining.

Types of CNC Machines 

What types of machines make up the CNC machining industry? Different types of CNC machines cater to varying degrees of complexity and cost, with each machine offering specific capabilities.

Here are the most common types of CNC machines in the industry.  

Common CNC Operations Across the Industry

CNC machining operations vary based on specific requirements. While simple designs may be achieved with a single operation like milling, more complex designs necessitate a diverse array of operations.

Explore common CNC machining operations widely employed across the industry:

CNC machinining
Image Clayton Cardinalli

CNC Milling

CNC milling machines are a staple in various industries like automotive, aerospace, medical devices, and consumer products. They operate on a perpendicular axis, employing a rotary cutting tool to craft a wide array of shapes and products.

A distinctive feature of the CNC milling process is the static workpiece while the cutting tool moves in response to a computer program. This dynamic movement allows for precision cuts and shapes, achieved through high-speed tool rotations and the ability to program multiple passes for the desired end product.

CNC Turning

CNC turning is an integral operation known for its ability to create highly precise cylindrical parts. The process is straightforward: the cylindrical part is mounted on the machine, which rotates while the cutting tool operates along perpendicular and rotational axes.

There are several types of CNC turning machines,  such as lathes, turning centers, and Swiss-style lathes. The selection of machine and cutting tool depends on the specific workpiece requirements and the desired final product.

CNC turning is a common process in crafting a wide array of components, including engine parts, shafts, bushings, and gears. It offers numerous advantages over traditional manual turning, including enhanced consistency, repeatability, and efficiency.

Drill bits
Image: Marcus Urbenz

CNC Drilling

Drilling is an important manufacturing process that creates different-sized holes in a workpiece. The process is completely automated because of the involvement of a computer that precisely controls the movement and speed of the drill bit.

CNC drilling is quite common in many industries including printed circuit boards, metal parts, and plastics. The process offers several advantages over traditional manual drilling, including increased accuracy, repeatability, and efficiency.

CNC Routing

The fundamental operations of CNC routers closely resemble those of milling machines. Typically, routers are suited for softer materials like wood, whereas milling is the go-to method for tougher metals. As with any CNC operation, routers provide exceptional levels of consistency, efficiency, and precision.

In the routing process, the workpiece remains completely stationary while the spindle moves in different directions. Since the routing process is for softer materials, the overall rotating speed of the spindle can be quite low. A wide array of CNC routing machines are available, including benchtop routers, gantry routers, and moving gantry routers. The choice of machine and cutting tool will depend on the specific requirements of the workpiece and the desired end product.

Electric Discharge Machining

Electric Discharge Machining (EDM) is an advanced manufacturing process that relies on electrical spark discharges to shape and mold materials into intricate and complex forms.

There are two primary types of EDM: Sinker EDM and Wire EDM. Sinker EDM employs a consumable electrode to generate the spark, while Wire EDM uses a thin wire that moves back and forth to create the spark.

The process functions by generating sparks between an electrode and the workpiece. Machinists immerse the workpiece in a dielectric fluid, which serves to insulate electrical energy and allows for precise control of the spark. The spark discharges vaporize the workpiece and meticulously eliminate excess material, ultimately achieving the desired shape.

CNC plasma cutting
Image: Unsplash

CNC Plasma Cutting

Plasma cutting is a cutting-edge manufacturing process that harnesses the power of a high-velocity stream of ionized gas, known as plasma, to slice through conductive materials like metals. In this method, a plasma torch produces a potent plasma arc that bridges between an electrode and the workpiece, delivering sufficient energy to effectively cut through the material.

Subsequently, the plasma arc works to melt and vaporize the material. This operation involves a high-pressure gas stream, such as air or nitrogen, which assists in expelling the molten material from the cut edge. The outcome is a clean, exact cut with minimal distortion or discoloration, effectively reducing the need for additional post-processing

CNC Laser Cutting

CNC laser cutting is a widely adopted method renowned for its remarkable precision and speed. The laser used in this process is proficient at cutting through a wide array of materials, rendering it a staple across various industries.

What further distinguishes CNC laser cutting is its consistent repeatability, making it an excellent choice for large-scale material processing, ensuring consistently accurate outcomes.

Additionally, laser cutting is an exceptionally precise procedure, resulting in minimal material wastage. This attribute renders it particularly well-suited for high-value materials commonly found in industries like aerospace and automotive.

kemal kozbaev LgLqmEZy0Mo unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Common CNC Materials and Surface Finishes

While CNC machining is highly adaptable, it does come with some limitations. In broad terms, CNC machines can work with a wide range of materials, but the level of precision and accuracy can vary significantly.

Let’s take the example of Titanium and Aluminum for a clearer understanding. Machining Titanium can be challenging, and the results may not match the precision achievable with the same machines and settings when working with Aluminum.

For example, here’s a brief list of common materials that CNC machines generally work with:

  • Stainless Steel
  • Aluminum
  • Titanium
  • Copper
  • Brass
  • Other Steel Alloys
  • Plastics

CNC machining stands as a transformative force in modern manufacturing, enabling precision and efficiency across a myriad of industries. Its versatility, when paired with Computer-Aided Design (CAD), allows for the intricate control of various machinery types, including grinders, lathes, mills, routers, and more.

This method’s popularity is well-founded, primarily due to its unmatched accuracy, the ability to work with a wide range of materials, and the minimal margin for error. The future of manufacturing looks brighter with CNC machining at its core, revolutionizing precision and efficiency in the creation of countless products.

AMFG DARK

We work with hundreds of businesses to enhance and accelerate their quoting process. Take control of your quoting procedure and streamline your pre-production workflow: our real-time inventory management empowers you to efficiently oversee your resources, leading to a smoother and more productive operation. 

Whether you’re an SME machine shop or a multinational OEM, AMFG offers a comprehensive end-to-end MRP system to enhance your inquiries, quoting, and pre-production processes.

Find out how AMFG can help you on your automation journey, today.

 

 

 

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