What is CNC Machining? Understand This Fascinating Manufacturing Process

by | Sep 11, 2021 | CNC Machining

Take a look around, identifying and naming all the products in your surroundings, including phones, tablets, laptops, wrist watches, vehicles, and desks. Most, if not all of these items, are end products of CNC machining.

CNC machining is a manufacturing process that uses computerized instructions (or a computer program) to accurately and precisely create the parts you need.

The computerized nature—coupled with the high accuracy, precision, and broad range of material compatibility—of CNC machining make it one of the most in-demand manufacturing processes today. For example, Tech Giant Apple had to ditch conventional machining and rely on this technology to manufacture the unibody outer shell of the MacBook.

Do you want to learn about how CNC machines work, the machining process, and the different types of machines available today? You’re in the right place!

What is CNC, and How Do CNC Machines Work?

CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control; this is simply a method for automating the control of machine tools.

Computer numerical control machines rely on computer instructions and a CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) program to control, automate and monitor machine tools’ movement to create the desired part.

Look at it this way. A CNC machine takes a stock piece of material (for example, an aluminum block) and transforms it into a finished product through controlled material removal processes.

Let’s break the CNC machining process down even further.

The CNC Machining Process Explained

We can break the machining process down into four distinct steps:

#1 Create Your 2D and 3D Designs

2D and 3D Designs

The first step of the CNC machining process is to create the 2D and 3D drawings of your part using computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software like SolidWorks and Autodesk Inventor. When creating your 2D and 3D drawings, you must specify all important dimensions, features with tolerances, and surfaces with specific surface finishing requirements.

The goal is to make an accurate representation of the part (or product) you’re looking to create.

#2 Generate the Toolpath

A toolpath is a series of coordinate locations (or the path through space) that a CNC cutting tool will follow during the machining process to produce the desired geometry of the workpiece.

To help better understand “toolpath” in CNC machining, let’s consider the image below where we have a block whose features reside on the XY plane. To create the desired part (a block with two cuboid cavities), you must first position your cutting tool to make cuts along the Z-axis before moving along the XY plane.

A CNC machined block with simple features

CAM software typically has functionalities that allow you to define your machining strategy, including the types of cutting tools to use, feed rates, and cutting tool speed, among others. Once you’ve generated the toolpath and defined your machining strategy, proceed to the next step of the process.

#3 Convert your Machining Parameters into CNC-compatible File

The final step you need to take on the CAM software is to convert your machining strategy into what is called the G-code. A G-code is a computer language that a CNC machine can understand and execute; it tells the machine precisely what steps to execute to make your part.

After generating the G-code, export it to the CNC machine.

#4 Execute the Machining Operation

This is the phase where you insert the workpiece into the CNC machine and install all the cutting tools required for the machining operation. Once these steps have been completed, initiate the machining program and watch the machine create the part you need autonomously.

Types of CNC Machines

CNC machines come in several types, with each type having its functions and machining capability.

CNC Machines

CNC milling machines (or CNC mills) allow you to produce flat, helical, and contoured surfaces of various configurations. In contrast, CNC lathes are better suited for machining cylindrical shapes; they allow you to perform turning operations, including taper turning, drilling, knurling, grooving, and parting operations.

CNC plasma cutters, laser cutting machines, and electric discharge machines (EDM) have similar functions and machining capabilities. However, they differ in their modes of operations and their cutting mechanism. For more information, take a look at our article about the different types of CNC machines.

CNC Machining: Gensun Precision Can Help

CNC Machining: Gensun Precision

Now that you know what CNC machining is, how it operates, and the broad range of machine types, you are familiar with one of the best manufacturing technologies available today.

But even with the numerous benefits of CNC machining, the success of your manufacturing project primarily depends on the machine shop you work with. Therefore, you want to work with a manufacturer with state-of-the-art equipment, highly qualified engineers and machine operators, and a track record of producing high-quality parts consistently and on time.

Gensun Precision Machining is a leading provider of CNC machining services across the globe. Backed by nearly two decades of experience, we have a reputation for creating high-quality parts for customers in a broad range of industries. We have completed over 100,000 projects with several innovative companies serving different industries.

Tell us about your project and let our highly qualified engineers, machine operators, and quality control team create parts precisely to your specification.

Make Your Machined Parts With Us

Learn about our CNC milling and turning services.

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