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What Is CNC Machining?

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Have you ever wondered, “What does CNC stand for?” CNC machining, or CNC manufacturing, is a process using computer numerical control (CNC) machines, which are tools such as mills and lathes guided by computer instructions that control the precision of the instruments.

CNC machining enables the creation of parts and components that would usually be impossible to create manually. A single set of prompts fed into a computer can produce complex 3D products. The CNC machine removes material from the base stock piece through drilling, milling, turning or other types of operations to create shapes, angles and the finished product.

The answer to “What is CNC?” is to think about the process as a blending of technology and physical tools. Computers take input from CNC machinists, who translate drawings into a programming language called G-code. The CNC machine then dictates to the tool what speed and movement to follow in order to create the desired part or object.

If you’ve ever wondered “What does CNC stand for?” and are curious what a CNC machinist career looks like, read on.

What CNC Machinists Do

There are many different fields where CNC machinists can work, including automotive, manufacturing, dental, computer part production, aerospace, tool and die making, motorsports, and medical industries. CNC machinists read blueprints and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) and computer-aided design (CAD) files. They set up and manage CNC machine tool operation. They have to measure and test completed products to ensure they’re perfect. And they modify CNC processes as needed.

Several graduates from the CNC Machining Technology program, a UTI program taught at NASCAR Technical Institute, have gone on to work for Roush Yates Engines. Other CNC machinists have a hand in making joint replacements and other implants for the human body.1


CNC machines create large components, like automobile frames and doors, and small parts, like those found on medical devices. CNC machining uses all types of material, from plastics and metals to wood, foam and fiberglass.

CNC machine tools improve automation, making it possible to reduce or eliminate operator intervention for producing quality products. CNC machines are fast and efficient. They reduce the likelihood of mistakes caused by human error or operator fatigue.

CNC machines also provide flexibility. Since they’re run from programs, you simply need to load a new program or add a new prompt to an existing program by revising the code if you want to create a new part. Once the program is verified after you’ve tested it, you can use that program in the future whenever you want to produce the same part.

How Much Do CNC Machinists Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median annual salary for computer numerically controlled tool operators was $41,200 in May 2019.34

In this industry, salary depends on several factors, including skill level, experience and specialty. CNC machinists are in high demand, which can potentially open doors to exciting opportunities for those trained in the field. Whether it’s working on military equipment or parts of a car, CNC machinists are needed across a wide variety of industries.

Who Is a Fit for a Career in CNC Machining?

Problem solvers who are mechanically minded may be a fit for CNC machining, since math and communication skills are essential qualities for CNC machinists. CNC machinists must possess strong attention to detail, be able to work autonomously and independently, excel at following directions, and have a grasp of computers in order to be successful.

“Machinists are a little OCD,” says NASCAR Tech instructor Craig Hibdon. “They like to be in control and like to seek perfection. We live in a world of small tolerances.”

CNC instructor Andrew Collier agrees.

“I think the people who tend to make the best machinists are people who like working with their hands but have a great attention to detail,” Collier says. “Quick example: I moved into a new house and was hanging a 60-inch TV on my wall. I finished, and stepped back and said to my wife, ‘That isn't level.’ ”

Collier continues, “My wife says, ‘What do you mean? It looks great,’ as I walk over to the TV with a tape measure. I exclaim, ‘No, this side is an eighth of an inch higher.’ That is most machinists I know in a nutshell.”

No machines are perfect. CNC machinists must be prepared to troubleshoot problems as their machines operate. From start to finish of a project, there are always important details to monitor. Since every part is different and presents its own challenges, CNC machinists always have to be thinking critically, which makes their careers stimulating.

How to Become a CNC Machinist

NASCAR Tech’s CNC machining program is 36 weeks, teaching students what they need to succeed after graduation. Students learn skills including reading blueprints, interpreting geometric dimensioning and tolerancing, and programming, setup and operation of CNC mills and lathes.

“The thing that would have driven me to go to NASCAR Tech for machining is the speed of the program,” Collier says. “I personally went to a community college for training, and it ended up taking more than five years to get a two-year degree because the school’s and my schedule didn’t line up. You can take 36 weeks and apply yourself, and you will have a major leg up over someone off the street.”6

Get information on the CNC machining program at NASCAR Technical Institute.
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