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What Is CNC?

Jun 14, 2021 ·
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If you’ve ever considered pursuing a career in the trades or have been exposed to the world of manufacturing, you’ve probably heard the term “CNC” used. If you’ve felt confused or left in the dark, you’re not alone!

CNC stands for computer numerical control. If this sounds even more confusing, don’t worry — the process is complex, but this guide will walk you through everything you need to know.

Keep reading to learn all about CNC machining and the role it plays in manufacturing today.

CNC Definition

CNC machining is a process that uses computer numerical control machines like mills, lathes and grinders to control the precision of instruments. These machines are guided by preprogrammed computer software to create parts that meet a particular set of specifications.

So many things exist in the world around us thanks to CNC machining, from the pen in your hand to the ventilators used at hospitals to the rims on your tires. CNC machining produces parts and components with a speed and accuracy that would be impossible to achieve manually.

What Is a CNC Machine?

CNC machines are very intricate, just like the parts they make. Essentially, these machines remove layers from a block of material, known as the work piece. This block of material can be anything from metal, wood or plastic to foam, glass or composites.

One of the biggest advantages of using CNC machines is how precise the process can be. With some parts, being off by just millimeters can lead to critical errors. CNC machining can be incredibly beneficial when creating detailed parts in large quantities.

To ensure the part is produced exactly how it needs to be, the CNC machine will be assigned a specific tolerance, which is the amount of permitted variance in the dimension of a part. The tighter the tolerance, the more precise the part will be.

Read: What Are Machining Tolerances?

There are many types of CNC machines that can be used depending on the desired result. Here’s a quick look at some of the most common CNC machines:

A CNC lathe is used to make a precision cut.

Image credit: Marvo Technologies

  • CNC lathe: Cuts work pieces as they are rotated; ideal for making precise cuts quickly by using various tools.
  • CNC milling machine: Offers a wide variety of functions, like face milling, tapping, drilling, shoulder milling and turning; larger and more costly than other types of machines.
  • CNC plasma cutter: Cuts material using a plasma torch; ideal for cutting heavy materials, like steel.
  • CNC router: Ideal for smaller projects; works well with wood, steel, aluminum, plastic, composites and even foam.
  • CNC laser cutter: Similar to plasma machines but better suited for cutting; works well with materials like plastic, metals or hardwood.
  • CNC electric discharge machine: Uses electrical discharges, or sparks, to create specific shapes with materials.

Check out our guide to common types of CNC machines to learn more about these different types of machines.

While every machine has different features and is better suited for certain types of projects, they all rely on a set of computerized prompts to function. These machines are incredibly advanced, but they do require CNC operators, machinists and programmers to oversee the process.

A CNC operator is responsible for loading stock material and running parts, while a machinist is the one who loads the program, selects and sets up the tools, tests the program, and ensures everything runs smoothly.

A CNC programmer uses a blueprint and determines how to make the part — so they essentially write the program the machine runs on. These instructions are typically made on computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) or computer-aided design (CAD) software, such as SolidWorks or Mastercam.

CNC Manufacturing: What Do CNC Machines Make?

At this point, you might be wondering, “What do CNC machines make?”

The process of CNC machining is used to produce parts that support a wide range of industries, including:

  • Transportation: CNC machines are used to create parts for passenger vehicles, large trucks, trains, boats and more. These parts can be anything from brakes and engine components to headlight covers and cylinder heads.
  • Defense: Many types of defense applications, such as parts for tanks and communications equipment, are produced using CNC machines.
  • Aerospace: Aerospace components must withstand fast air currents and extreme pressures, which require them to be highly precise. As a result, many aerospace components are sourced from CNC machining suppliers.
  • Medical: Few industries require as much precision as this field, which is why CNC machines are commonly used to produce medical devices. Everything from medical instruments to custom orthotics to surgical implants are accessible thanks to CNC machining.
  • Electronics: Technology would be nowhere near as advanced as it is today without CNC machining. The process is used to produce semiconductors, printed circuit boards, laptop bodies and so much more.

As you can see, CNC machining is a process that continues to transform the way we manufacture the goods we rely on. Without it, the manufacturing industry would not be as fast, accurate or efficient as it is today.

Train to Become a CNC Machinist in Less Than a Year

If you’re looking to get trained for a career in CNC machining, look no further than Universal Technical Institute (UTI). Our NASCAR Technical Institute campus in Mooresville, North Carolina, offers a 36-week CNC Machining Technology program.1

The program was created in conjunction with Roush Yates, a leading brand in the performance industry, to help equip you with the skills today’s employers are looking for. Your courses will cover everything from reading blueprints to the setup and operation of CNC lathes and mills.

Classes start every six weeks, so you are able to get going and start training for your career sooner. To learn more, request information to get in touch with an Admissions Representative today.

In the meantime, feel free to check out these additional resources:

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By submitting this form, I agree that Universal Technical Institute, Inc., Custom Training Group, Inc., and their representatives may email, call, and / or text me with marketing messages about educational programs and services, as well as for school - related communications, at any phone number I provide, including a wireless number, using prerecorded calls or automated technology. I understand that my consent is not required to apply, enroll or make any purchase.

By submitting this form, I further understand and agree that all information provided is subject to UTI's Privacy Policy available at uti.edu/privacy-policy

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