CNC Machines – Everything You Need To Know

Posted on Jul 17, 2020

CNC Machines – Everything You Need To Know

In today’s manufacturing industries there is a myriad of different CNC Machines. In this article, we will provide you with a concise list of the most common types of computer-controlled machine tools and their main applications. If you want to read more about CNC Machining in general, please check out this article.

CNC Machines – The Origins

The origins of modern CNC machines date back to as early as the 1940s and 50s. The earliest NC (numerical control) incorporated a motor that controlled the movement of pre-existing tools. The man who is considered to be the “Father of Numerical Control” and therefore NC Machines is John T. Parsons. In 1942 Parsons was subcontracted by Sikorsky Aircraft to build helicopter rotor blades. To increase the safety and computer numerical of his machines Parsons and his team developed a numerically-controlled machine that ran on data from IBM punch to allow (what was considered then) ultra-precise wing construction.
Before the era of computer storage, NC machines relied on this “punched tape” or “perforated paper tape” telecommunication data storage technology. This technology became obsolete as data storage quickly transitioned to analog, Numerical Control, and then digital computer solutions in the following decades. Digital Computer Technology is what made CNC Machines a reality.


The Different Types of CNC Machines

Today, the vast majority of manufacturing equipment is completely electronic. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common CNC Machine types in the modern manufacturing world.


Traditional CNC Machines      

Milling Machines

CNC Milling Machines are the most commonly used CNC machines in the world of manufacturing today.  This type of CNC machine uses rotating cutting tools to remove material from the workpiece. Standard milling machines operate on three axes (X, Y, and Z), though more advanced mills can accommodate additional axes (see the machining center section below).

:: Read more : What to expect from CNC Milling machines in the future?


CNC Lathes / Turning Centers

In lathe machines, the workpiece is rotating and cut in a circular direction. This material removal process creates rotational parts by cutting away unwanted material. Thanks to CNC controls on modern CNC Lathes these machines can perform cutting operations with extremely high precision and at a very high speed.  Without CNC lathes many complex and intricate parts that are manufactured today would be impossible with just a manual lathe.

:: Read more : CNC Lathes Are the Workhorse of Any Machine Shop


Drilling Machines

CNC Drilling Machines operate by spinning a drill bit and cutting it into a block of material. The drilling operation on a CNC drilling machine is a cutting process. Using a unique drill bit, holes of a circular cross-section are cut into the workpiece. The most common are rotary cutting tools with multiple points. As the drill bit presses against the workpiece, it rotates at high speeds that range between hundreds and thousands of revolutions per minute (RPM). The outcome is precision-drilled holes that benefit many industries and for a multitude of applications. Thanks to CNC controls metal drilling applications have become safer, more reliable and ensure an overall better performance compared to conventional drilling machines. When it comes to CNC drills usually you can distinguish between upright, bench and radial drill presses. 


Grinding Machines

CNC grinding machines use a rotating grinding wheel to cut away material from a workpiece. Grinding machines are mostly used during the final stage of a manufacturing process, as they can achieve very high-quality surface finishes. Modern CNC grinding machines can reliably and process even very complex crankshafts, camshafts, valves, and other components in a very efficient and reliable manner. There are different types of grinding machines such as surface grinders, cylindrical grinders, centerless grinders, internal grinders and special purpose grinding machines.


So what about CNC Machining Centers?

Just to clarify: when someone is talking about a CNC Machining Center this could mean any CNC milling and drilling machine that incorporates an automatic tool changer and a worktable to clamp the workpiece onto. The orientation of the spindle is the crucial characteristic of a CNC machining center. We can distinguish vertical machining centers (VMCs) and horizontal machining centers (HMCs). The 5 axis machining center is the most advanced type of machining centers, as it is able to rotate and turn the cutting tool and/or the part on five axes. This type of CNC Machine performs different milling and drilling operations in one cycle without the need for unclamping and repositioning the workpiece.

New Technology CNC Machines

Electric Discharge Machines

Electric-discharge machines (EDM) discharges electric current (electrical sparks) between two electrodes to remove parts of a workpiece. Generally there are three types of EDM machines: wire-cutting, die-sinking and hole-drilling EDMs. With EDM, current. With Wire EDMs the spark erosion is used to remove portions from an electronically conductive material. Die-sinking EDMs the electrode and the workpiece are soaked in dielectric fluid during machining. Hole-drilling EDMs use electrode tubes made of brass or copper to drill holes on an electrically conductive material at a very high speed. 

Plasma Cutters

This modern way of machining uses a plasma torch to remove material from the workpiece. The most common materials processed by plasma cutters are steel, stainless steel, aluminum, brass, copper and other conductive metals.
See product: Plasma Cutting Machine

Advantages of CNC Machines

  • CNC Machines can operate 24/7 with the right setup

  • Provide higher accuracy and precision compared to manual or NC machines

  • Higher productivity and cycle times

  • Reduced labor costs as the number of operators per CNC machine is lowered

  • Manufacture of more complex, intricate parts with high accuracy and repeatability

  • CNC machines have controllers with modern software applications that allow for 3D simulations of the machining process. This often eliminates the need of a prototype which reduces expenses and shortens the lead time.

CNC Machines on

If you want to learn more about CNC Machines you can find more articles about specific types of machine tools on our blog page.  Also make sure to make use of our search function to find hundreds of CNC machines in our product database.
If you are interested in a more in-depth look at everything Manufacturing Industry related make sure to check out our MTS Industry Channel. In this show we introduce new products and trends while visiting manufacturers in their facilities!
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