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What is a CNC Machine Used For? - That's a very good question and you'll be surprised at how versatile CNC machines are.

What is a CNC Machine Used For?

That’s the question those new to CNC are asking. There’s no question CNC (computer numerical control) machines are prevalent, but to the outsider their function seems a bit vague. In general, CNC machines are used in various manufacturing processes to speed up and automate projects.

Because CNC machining has the potential to increase productivity, various types of machines have been designed to meet the demands of these industries.

Metal Removal

CNC machines are used in industrial processes that necessitate removal of metal from materials. This is most often used in car manufacturing for gears, shafts and other components. CNC machines are also used in processes which require creation of threaded, rectangular, square and rounded shapes.

Any process requiring metal removal benefits from CNC machining. What makes CNC attractive is different types of machines can be used for metal removal. The tasks mentioned above can be performed by reamers, milling machines, routers, lathes and so on.

Regardless which CNC machine is used, you’ll be able to perform all the functions using the CNC controls. Everything from threading, knurling, boring, grooving, turning and facing are done from the CNC controller. For instance, a CNC grinder can work on flat surfaces as well as the inner and outer diameters.

Metal Fabrication

Thin metal plates are used in various applications, and CNC machines are the best tools to fabricate these. With a CNC machine you can also perform various machining tasks like welding, forming, laser cutting, punching, plasma cutting and shearing.

CNC laser and plasma cutters are very effective when it comes to shaping steel plates. If holes are required, a CNC turret punch press is used. In some cases it is necessary to bend the steel plate, in which case a CNC press brake is required. Shearing machines and CNC back gauges are combined to set the plate length that has to be sheared.

EDM Applications

CNC machining is often used for electrical discharge machining. EDM systems take out the metal by producing electric sparks which results in burning metal. Two kinds of EDMs are used with CNC machines, Wire EDM and Vertical EDM.

Wire EDMs are designed for the punch and die combos for the dies utilized in fabrication. A Vertical EDM requires an electrode of the size and shape of the cavity that’s being created for the project.

Wood and Metal Working

CNC machines are mainstays in woodworking projects including milling and routing, and it also automates a lot of engraving and lettering system processes. There are also a growing number of CNC systems designed for the electrical industry including soldering equipment, terminal locations and col winders.

Milling and Lathing

Modern milling machines are CNC enabled, and even older systems can be retrofitted to be compatible with CNC. Retrofitting a milling machine involves taking out the old components and replacing them with CNC so it’s easier to control and use. Retrofitting milling machines also involve replacing the old screws with new ones which are more accurate.

The same general process is used to retrofit a lathe machine. Once the machine has been upgraded to CNC level, it will be more accurate than the older model. Wood lathes are used for shaping and crafting wood, while a metal lathe is designed for shaping and working metals.

Milling and lathing machines come in various sizes. Hobbyist models are small, while those used in industries are massive with several built in tools and sensors to oversee the procedure.

Other CNC Applications

Other machines can be retrofitted and used for a wide range of applications.

  • Router: CNC routers are used for cutting and shaping plastic, wood and metal materials. Because of their versatility, routers are widely used in various industries and hobbyist machines.

These routers are designed to be run via CNC alone, and the operator controls the process from a computer. Routers come in different forms, but most have the 3 axis configuration (X, Y Z) which allows for 3D relief machining and basic profile cutting. For cutting more complex shapes, some routers have up to 6 axes.

  • Plasma and Laser Cutting Systems: CNC plasma cutters generally have the same purpose as CNC routers. While they are used to cut and shape materials like routers, plasma cutters don’t require as much power. Routers need more power because it has to move the spinning tool. In contrast, plasma cutters use a torch and are over the table.

Plasma cutters have a lot of uses, but they’re most effective when slicing two dimensional material and turning them to metal sheets.

Laser cutters are similar to plasma cutters, but they’re just as effective for wood and plastic as it is metal. However the laser strength has to be specific for that material.

Plasma and laser cutters tend to overlap in terms of function, and the same is true for routers. This is actually a good thing and demonstrates the versatility of CNC machining tools. Within various industries, these tools are often used together or interchangeably to perform various functions.

  • 3D Printing: there is a lot of debate on whether 3D printing is a form of CNC machining or not. What is certain is 3D printers share a similar configuration as a CNC laser cutter and router. The biggest difference is a 3D printer uses a plastic extruder to release hot plastic, layer after layer in the desired shape.

This is just a basic description of how a 3D printer works, as more complex models are available.

CNC machines are used in other manufacturing processes. Good examples of this are those machines which pick and set electrical components on circuit and computer boards. Also known as pick and place machines, they require precision, otherwise the system won’t work.

Conclusion

The fact is you’ll be hard pressed to find an industry that doesn’t use CNC machining. As their features and capabilities improve, expect the demand for CNC technology and machines to increase. If you’re in the manufacturing business, this means greater productivity at lower costs.

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