What is CNC Machining and How Does it Work?

CNC machining is a critical component in the modern manufacturing and prototyping process. Industries such as aerospace, medical equipment, and computers rely on it to produce a high volume of products with unsurpassed precision.

Despite its widespread use, most people are unfamiliar with the tools and process. Below are the answers to some of the most common questions we’re asked.

What does CNC mean?

CNC is an acronym that stands for “computer numerical control.” It’s a way to automate tools and machinery.

The idea of automated machinery being used in manufacturing dates back to the 1940s and 1950s. The first CNC machine used punch cards and a rudimentary computer to produce helicopter blades.

Punch cards were storage devices, similar to modern discs. These cards were fed into the system, translated by a computer, and its information sent to a nearby jig. The machine produced the helicopter blades according to the information on those punch cards with no other human assistance.

Today’s CNC machine shop isn’t limited to punch cards and jigs. A variety of sophisticated software is used to design then create products of any size and shape.

What are the advantages of this technology?

Using CNC machinery in the manufacturing process frees human hands so that they can be used elsewhere. CNC is a safer process for high-volume output because although someone is needed to design, plan, and oversee the work; he or she aren’t needed to operate the machinery.

CNC machinery also produces pieces more precisely and quicker than can be accomplished using only hand-tools. They aren’t limited by human capabilities, or possible mistakes, so they yield excellent quality control. They also allow greater innovation because they can create pieces that are more intricate than could be completed by hand.

What can the CNC tool do?

Modern CNC systems can be used for just about any process including the following:

  • Bending
  • Cutting
  • Drilling
  • Grinding
  • Lathe
  • Routing

How does it work?

CNC machines consist of a digital workstation connected to advanced shop equipment. From that workstation, a technician can access the file for the appropriate design he or she wants to create. The file contains all of the instructions for completing that project from sizes and locations of holes to the speed of the cuts it needs to make. Once the technician confirms the accuracy of the drawing, he or she can tell the machine to begin.

It’s important to understand that a CNC system is capable of operating one or more machines at a time. The creation of an item may require many processes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the material has to be moved during the process. Modern equipment can combine many different machines into one unit.

Alternately, a facility may consist of several machines with robotic arms that transfer pieces from one unit to the next. The CNC system would dictate the operation of each machine including the interval at which parts are transferred from one step to the next.

CNC machine shops are limited only by your imagination – whether you are a gearhead who needs a one-of-a-kind bracket for your custom hotrod, a marketing company who needs several hundred intricately etched keychains, or someone who needs a quick prototype.

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