What is CNC Machining?

CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining has taken the manufacturing world by storm, and is showing no signs of stopping. But what is CNC machining and how does it work?

CNC machining is what is referred to as ‘subtractive manufacturing’. This means it begins with a solid material and removes parts to create the desired design, as opposed to an additive manufacturing method such as 3D machining, which works by building layer upon layer of a material to create the requested product.

The movements of CNC machines are pre-programmed into the machine ahead of time. To start with, a design is created using CAD (computer aided design) software, which is then converted into a code which the CNC machine can read and follow.

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Types of CNC Machines

CNC machines have a multitude of uses and come in various forms, such as:

Lathes: Lathes work by pressing a material against a spinning tool which carves away at it, usually symmetrical materials such as spheres or cylinders.

Router: Routers are usually designed with a Cartesian coordinate system, allowing the machine to operate along 3 axes.

Milling Machine: Milling machines can perform multiple functions such as tapping, face and shoulder milling, turning and drilling. They are used to construct precision parts for various manufacturing and industrial needs.

CNC Plasma Cutter: Plasma Cutters beam a torch onto the chosen material to cut via burning, a precise machine which is usually used for cutting two dimensional shapes into materials such as sheet metal.

CNC Laser Cutter: Much like the plasma cutter, the laser cutter uses extreme heat to burn and cut through the desired material. But instead of a plasma beam, it projects a high powered laser which is usually used (depending on its strength) for wood plastic and metal.

Pick and Place Machines: These machines are relocators of small electrical components. This is done using tools with vacuums inside many tiny nozzles. Pick and place machines tend to be used during the construction of electrical circuit boards for a multitude of technology.


CNC Companies can work with all manner of materials, including the following:

  • Foam
  • Fibreglass
  • Metals: copper, aluminium, titanium, steel, brass
  • Plastics: ABS, Nylon 6, polycarbonate, polypropylene
  • Soft and hard woods

As you can see, CNC machines are abundantly versatile, and are constantly developing – watch this space!