What Is CNC Machining? 6 of the Most Common CNC Machines


CNC stands for computer numerical control and these machines play an important role in the manufacturing industry. These complex machines are controlled by a computer and provide a level of efficiency, accuracy and consistency that would be impossible to achieve through a manual process.

Operations that were impossible years ago are now easy thanks to CNC machining. Just as there are many different parts that CNC machines can make, there are also various types of CNC machines used to accomplish this. Each machine differs in construction, the way they operate and the types of product they can make.

Keep reading to learn all about the different types of CNC machines and their unique functions. 

What Is CNC? 6 of the Most Common CNC Machines

The CNC meaning can be defined as a process in which pre-programmed computer software dictates the movement of factory machinery and tools. As a result, manufacturers can produce parts in less time, reduce waste and eliminate the risk of human error.

This manufacturing process is used to control a wide variety of complex machinery, which will be discussed in this article. Essentially, CNC machining makes it possible for three-dimensional cutting to be completed by following one set of prompts.

Training to become a CNC machinist at NASCAR Technical Institute doesn’t look like your traditional college classroom. Rather, it’s an “intensive immersion,” as CNC instructor Craig Hibdon says, meaning students dive in with hands-on training to develop meaningful skills applicable to a variety of careers.

Watch the video below to learn more about the CNC experience at NASCAR Tech:

The Different Types of CNC Machines

If you've ever wondered what is a CNC machine, here we break down the different types of machines for you. These impressive machines are designed to manufacture a wide variety of items. As such, there are several different types of commonly used CNC machines.

It’s important to know that these are not your average machines. They require the skills of a trained professional to be able to produce high quality commercial products. All of the following machines use G-code, which is the language that a CNC machine understands. Each type of CNC machine caters to a specific purpose.

CNC Milling Machine

One of the most common types of CNC machines, a CNC mill utilizes computer controls to cut various materials. Mills can translate specific programs of numbers and letters in order to move the spindle in various ways.

Photo by directindustry.com

Many mills use what is known as G-code, which, as mentioned, is a standardized programming language recognized by most CNC machines. A CNC mill can have a wide array of functions, such as face milling, shoulder milling, tapping, drilling and turning. Most CNC mills come in three to six-axis configurations.

A CNC mill is very large compared to other tools and can be quite costly. Some CNC milling machine manufacturers include Okuma, HAAS and DMG Mori.

CNC Lathe

A lathe is a CNC machine that functions to cut work pieces as they are rotated. CNC lathes can make precise cuts quickly by using various tools.

These CNC machines are quite effective in the precision they offer compared to manual lathes. They often have fewer axes than CNC milling machines, and are therefore smaller in size and more compact.

CNC Lathe

Photo by cnc.com

CNC lathes come with similar controls to those of CNC mills and can read both G-code and other proprietary programming languages. Some of the most common CNC lathe machine manufacturers include HAAS, Mori Seiki and Okuma. The framework of CNC lathes is similar to manual lathes.

What Is a CNC Router?

A CNC router is a machine that is very similar to the commonly used handheld router utilized for cutting various materials. This type of CNC machine can aid in the cutting of steel, wood, aluminum, composites, plastic and foam.

A CNC router is similar to a CNC mill. It comes with the ability to use computer numerical control to route tool paths that enable the machine to function. CNC routers reduce waste and increase productivity by producing various items in a much shorter amount of time than other machines.

CNC Router

Photo by stylecnc.com

Most routers can operate on a particular material in all three dimensions, and are great for smaller projects and the creation of prototype models and complex designs. You can also find three axis, four axis, five axis and six axis routers.

What Is a CNC Plasma Cutter?

The process of plasma cutting involves the cutting of a material using a plasma torch. This method is most commonly used to cut heavy materials, such as steel and other forms of metal.

CNC Plasma Cutter

Photo by stylecnc.com

With a CNC plasma cutter, gas is blown at a very high speed from a nozzle. While this is being done, an electrical arc forms through the gas coming out of the nozzle to the surface that is being cut.

This converts some of the gas into plasma, and these plasma temperatures range from 10,000-50,000 degrees. The plasma is hot enough to melt whatever material is being cut, and it blows away any molten metal from the site of the cut.

In terms of shape and size, CNC plasma cutters are very similar to CNC routers. These machines only work with two-dimensional shapes.

CNC Electric Discharge Machine

Electric discharge machining, or EDM for short, involves creating a specific shape within a certain material by using electrical discharges, or sparks.

Electric Discharge Machine

Photo by directindustry.com

In this process, the material is removed from a specific work piece by a series of recurring electrical discharges between two electrodes. These electrodes are separated by a dielectric fluid, which often receives an electric voltage. In this machine, the material is placed in between two electrodes and the machine then calculates to see the amount of electrical discharge each electrode needs to produce.

What Is a CNC Laser Cutter?

Last but certainly not least, there are CNC laser cutters.

CNC Laser Cutter

Photo by ACCURL Machine Tools

These types of machines are similar to CNC plasma machines—the only difference is that lasers are mostly used for cutting and are great when it comes to cutting metals, plastic or hardwood. Depending on the density and strength of the material, the intensity of the laser can be adjusted.

Applying This to Your Career

As you can see, there are various types of CNC machines, all of which serve different functions. As a CNC operator, machinist or programmer, it’s important to have an understanding of how these machines work and what they are capable of in order to get the job done right. 

If you’re wondering what career opportunities exist in the CNC industry, be sure to check out our CNC career guide. From aerospace to medical to oil and gas, CNC machines are used in a variety of fields, which opens the door to many different career opportunities in each of these industries.

If you’re looking to pursue a career in the CNC industry, it’s important to have the right training. UTI offers a 36-week CNC Machining Technology program, where you can gain hands-on training and high-tech skills needed to prepare for a career as a CNC machinist.1

Created in conjunction with Roush Yates Engines, a leading brand in the industry, you’ll learn everything from reading blueprints to the setup and operation of CNC mills and lathes. This program begins every six weeks, so you may be able to start your training sooner than you think.

Learn More Information

UTI’s CNC Machining Technology program is offered at the NASCAR Tech campus in Mooresville, NC. To get information on class schedules, housing, financial aid and more, contact us today. Our team is here to assist you!

For even more information, be sure to check out our CNC FAQ page.

NASCAR Technical Institute Campuses That Offer CNC Training

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1.4 ) NASCAR Technical Institute is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.
2 ) For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit www.uti.edu/disclosures.

Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.


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