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When you need a machine that can accurately shape any material to your specifications, you need a CNC machine.

These computerized routers can make anything from basic wooden signs to an electric guitar, but how do they work?

Let's go through the CNC machining process. What it is, how it works and what it can do.

What Is a CNC Machine?

First, what does CNC stand for? CNC stands for Computerized Numerical Control. In essence, it is an automated machine operated by computer programming.

CNC machines are often associated with 3D printers. However, they are the opposite in a way.

3D printers add material to form the desired shape, while CNC machines remove material for the same objective.

It is a specific type of router that you control through the directions that you input into a computer.

Routers are versatile tools that are best described as a mix of a drill and a saw. Rotating at a typical rate of 20,000 RPMs, these can cut through anything.

With a wide variety of different-shaped bits that can be used on a router, they can create designs on any material like rounded edges, bevels, dados or almost anything.

However, CNC machines take out the need for human operation and give the ability to create many products with uniform precision.

Check out a more in-depth guide into what CNC machining is.

What Can They Do? 

If you go into a typical woodshop or manufacturing plant, you will see a lot of power tools. A CNC can provide the same functions of almost all of them, including:

  • Drill Press - CNC machines can drill accurate holes anywhere in your material.
  • Table Saw - CNCs can perform dados, bevels, rips, crosscuts, and everything that a table saw is capable of doing.
  • Bandsaw - With the free range of the bits, CNCs are capable of cutting the same curves as a bandsaw.
  • Router - The CNCs parent machine. CNCs can create the same effects as a router with the same bits used.

A table saw is commonly known as the most versatile tool in a manufacturing shop, but the CNC can perform all of its functions and more.

The only tools used for cutting that a standard CNC machine cannot mimic is the surface planer. This is because, for most CNC machines, the material needs to be able to lay flat on a table.

Because of this versatility, CNC machines can make a wide variety of products from many different materials.

Different bits can be used for different materials and shapes. For example, a steel bit will have no problem going right through any type of wood, or even aluminum.

If you want to cut through a hard material like steel, there are plenty of bits that can be used.

The CNC Machining Process

Now that we know what they do, how do they actually work? While these are computerized machines, there still needs to be some human intervention.

Programming

For the computer to accurately perform the desired function, there need to be specific instructions for it to follow.

First, you must figure out and program the dimensions of the material in use. This prevents the bit from going too deep or missing the material completely.

There must also be a specific path for the bit to follow while cutting. Luckily, instead of inputting every single code for dimension and curvature by yourself, there are computer programs like Aspire to handle that.

All you have to do with these programs is to design the desired outcome with the proper dimensions, and it handles the codes for the machine to follow.

The benefit of the programming process is that codes can be stored on a computer to continue mass-producing products with precision.

Set-up

First, you need to find the center point of the material in use. For a rectangular or square object, drawing an "X" with a straight edge from each corner to the opposite corner will find the center point.

Second, the material must be fully secured and flat on the CNC table. This is not only to ensure that the board doesn't move for accurate cuts, but it is also a safety issue, preventing the board from flying off the table.

Lastly, the proper bit for the desired cuts needs to be installed. There are thousands of differently sized and shaped bits for any router. It can be tricky, but there are great ways to find the proper router bit

Cutting Process

After you have the program set and you have secured your material and hit the start button, the machine does the rest.

The rapidly-spinning router bit will follow the instructions from the code and create the desired product.

Types of CNC Machines

We know the process for standard CNC machines, so what other types are available? What if you're not making a flat object? Well, you're in luck.

Lathes

Standard CNC machines can work on objects that can be secured flat onto a table. However, CNC Lathes can work on cylindrical or spherical objects by turning the material around for the computer to cut.

The difference in the process for lathes is securing both ends of the object to be turned safely. Different codes must be used for accurate removal.

Plasma Cutters

With a plasma cutter, the material is cut using a plasma torch instead of a bit. This is a great method for cutting hard metal, as the heat weakens it enough to be removed properly and safely.

Water Jet Cutters

Another tool used for hard material like metal, but can also be used for crystal or granite.

Water jet cutters operate the same way but use high-pressure water jets to cut through. In some cases, sand or other strong substances added to the water for additional force.

Regardless of the type of CNC, the process for programming, set-up, and cutting remains mostly the same.

Why CNC Machines are the Future

While CNC machines have been around for some time now, they are improving more and more, giving endless possibilities for the future of manufacturing.

The CNC machining process is a brilliant creation and will continue advancing along with the rest of technology.

Check out our products to get started building!

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