Take a look around, noticing and naming the products made of metals and plastics in the space around you. Most, if not all, of these products have components made using computer numerical control (CNC) machines.
CNC machines are vital in the manufacturing industry, allowing product designers and engineers to achieve a high level of accuracy and efficiency when fabricating simple and complex part features. But just as there are many different part features in product design, various types of CNC machines are used to perform different machining operations.
In this article, we will talk about 5 of the most common types of CNC machines in the manufacturing industry. You’ll learn about how each of these machines operates and the different cutting operations they can perform.
What is CNC Technology?
Computer Numerical Control (CNC) describes the idea of automatically controlling machine tools through pre-programmed software and code.
The CNC machining process starts with the 3D modeling of the desired part using CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software. Next, this 3D model is loaded into a CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) software, which then creates a set of computer instructions (G-code) that controls the sequence of movements of the cutting tools on the workpiece.
Now let’s look at the different types of CNC machines and how they differ from one another.
#1 CNC Milling Machines
CNC milling machines (or CNC mills) are the most common kind of CNC machines. They feature a multi-bladed cutting tool attached to a spindle and made to rotate at high speed against a stationary workpiece. CNC milling machines are available in 3- to 6-axis configurations, allowing them to fabricate pretty much any design you come up with.
If you intend to create cavities, angled cuts, or complex features on a workpiece, then the CNC milling machine is your go-to CNC machining equipment. You should also opt for CNC milling machines if you’re looking to make off-center holes since most lathes only allow you to drill at the center of the workpiece.
#2 CNC Lathes
CNC lathes (or turning machines) share some similarities with CNC mills; they both feature chuck and spindle and rely on CNC technology. However, these machines differ in their working methods, which are exact opposites.
In CNC lathes, the chuck and spindle hold and rotate the workpiece against a stationary cutting tool. These machines usually have a 3-axis configuration and can achieve tolerances as tight as ±4 μm. Thus, they are ideal for machining complex cylindrical shapes.
If your machining project requires high-quality turning processes, including taper turning, knurling, drilling, parting, and grooving, then a CNC lathe machine is the ideal equipment to use. You may also use this machine for reaming, counterboring, spot facing, and thread cutting operations. However, bear in mind that CNC lathes get less accurate as the workpiece gets thicker.
#3 CNC Laser Cutter
CNC laser cutters are similar to CNC mills in the type of shapes or features they can machine. However, they differ from their milling counterparts by performing cutting operations using laser beams.
A laser beam is a column of high-intensity light. When focused on a workpiece, it melts the workpiece till a cut is created. CNC technology controls the sequence of movements of the laser cutting head (and laser beam) till the desired custom part is made.
CNC laser cutters offer a high level of cutting accuracy and are great for cutting a wide range of materials, including metals, plastics, and hardwood. In addition, their extremely high precision makes them ideal for machining your brand name and logo to a CNC milled or turned part.
#4 CNC Plasma Cutting Machines
CNC plasma cutting machines also offer a high level of cutting accuracy and a wide range of material compatibility, like laser cutters. They only differ from laser cutters by performing cutting operations using a plasma torch.
The plasma torch generates high-powered plasma (or charged gas) capable of reaching temperatures of up to 50000°F. This tremendous amount of heat energy seamlessly cuts through any material so long as it is electrically conductive.
#5 CNC Electrical Discharge Machines (EDM)
CNC Electrical Discharge Machines, also known as spark CNC machines, use electrical sparks from a metal tool to cut the workpiece into the desired shape. Like plasma cutting machines, electric discharge machines also require that the workpiece to be machined is electrically conductive. This stringent requirement exists because the metal tool serves as an electrode and can only disintegrate electrically conductive materials.
Electrical discharge machines are ideal for machining micro slots, holes, and angled features in difficult-to-machine metals, such as high-carbon steel and hardened steel.
Gensun Precision Machining is a leading provider of CNC machining services across the globe. We’ve got a wide range of state-of-the-art CNC machining equipment as well as highly qualified CNC operators to fabricate the parts you need precisely to specification. Our dedicated team of quality control experts will also ensure that your CNC machined parts are of the highest quality. Learn more about our CNC machining services.