What can you make through the CNC machining process? Virtually anything. Cameras. Prosthetic legs. Parts for cars, planes, and electronics. If you can think of something that isn’t made with the use of CNC machining, you can bet there is an engineer somewhere who is probably working on that right now.
How important is machining? It dates back at least to the 18th century, and served as one of the pillars upon which we built the industrial revolution. CNC machining, in which computers are used to control the machining process, began in the 1940s and continues to be the primary means by which most products are produced today. In fact, it doesn’t really matter what industry you consider; you can bet that CNC plays a vital role in it.
What is CNC Machining?
CNC machining is a subtractive process. You begin with a block of material—metal, plastic, even wood—and using a variety of tools, you remove excess material until you’re left with a final product or part. The “CNC” part of the title stands for Computer Numerical Control. This refers to the fact that the machine performs its operations based on sophisticated computer programs. These programs allow you to make a part both faster and more precisely than you could ever do it by hand. For instance, you can create custom machined aluminum parts, to tolerances within .01 millimeters.
CNC machining isn’t one process. It’s a whole collection of different processes that are used depending on the demands of the finished product. In CNC turning, for example, the block of material is placed on a spindle and rotated at high speed while blades cut away what isn’t needed. CNC milling involves using rotary cutters to remove interior portions of a piece. With the variety CNC machining processes available, you can create essentially anything you can imagine.
A Few Examples
With CNC turning, you can create anything from baseball bats and table legs to paintball guns and bicycle handlebars. With CNC milling, you can create hollowed-out objects such as pens or respirator tubes. CNC routers carve signs and sculpt jewelry. CNC grinders put precision finishes on everything from ball bearings to transmission shafts.
Put these and other CNC machining processes together, and suddenly you can create even more complex products, from clocks, to MRI machines, to space stations. It’s no wonder, then, that CNC machining drives design and manufacturing in so many different industries. It is particularly essential in any industry where multiple parts—dozens, hundreds, sometimes thousands—go into making up a finished product.
Automotive manufacturing, aerospace, defense, health care industries: none of these could function without CNC machining.