What Is Cnc (Everything You Need To Know About Cnc Machine) 

You may have been hearing the word “CNC” and wondering what it means. Well, this article will fully answer the question “What is CNC?”.

Read on.

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What Is CNC Machine?

CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control. CNC machines are computer-controlled devices that can carve out or cut through hard materials like aluminum, plastics, wood, etc.

These devices represent one of two standard methods – 3D printing technology and FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling), to create prototypes from a digital software file. 

Companies that use CNC machines are mostly engineering and prototyping companies. They use these machines to process and mill various materials like woods, plastics, metals, aluminum, acrylic, etc. 

History Of The CNC Machine

The first CNC machines were made in the 1940s and 1950s. These first sets depended on a “punched tape” or “perforated paper tape”. These were common telecommunication data storage technology then. 

The punched tape technology is no longer in use because it is long obsolete. The data medium quickly transitioned to analog and then digital in the 1960s. 

Right now, we have new and amazing technologies and modern CNC machines with improved digital processing power. 

This doesn’t stop there, the manufacturers of CNC machines still continue to improve their efficiency. 

How Does The CNC Machine Work?

Photo of a cnc machine

Just like other prototype development technology like the FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) and 3D printing, CNC depends on digital instructions from a computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) files like Solidworks 3D

The CAD or CAM do not run the CNC machine, what they do is to provide the road map for the CNC machine to formulate the designs. 

The CNC machine simply interprets the designs as instructions used in cutting or making prototype parts. 

CNC machines combine tools into common cells or units which the machine can draw. The basic machines move in one or two axes while the advanced ones move laterally in the X, Y axis and longitudinally in the Z-axis. They also rotate around one or more axes. 

Multi-axis machines can flip parts over automatically, making it possible to remove materials that were previously underneath. This removes the need for hard labor where workers have to flip the prototype stock materials. 

It also enables you to cut all sides without the need for manual intervention. Entirely automated cuts are more accurate than those done manually. 

What Is The CNC Machine Used For?

The CNC machine is used to transform a stock piece of material like a piece of wood or a block of plastic and arrive at a finished product using a controlled material removal process. 

These machines are used to improve the speed and accuracy with which prototype parts can be made, especially when the material is delicate like polypropylene. 

The use of CNC machines has made it possible to program computer devices to control machine tools and this has greatly improved production, accuracy, and productivity by automating highly technical and labor-intensive procedures. 

The CNC machine in the form of a CNC router can be used to make different types of projects ranging from:

Types Of CNC Machines

Before deciding to get a CNC machine for your operations, you need to take some factors into consideration as that will help you know the type best suited for you. 

There are two main types of CNC machines, we have the:

  1. Conventional machining technologies 
  2. The novel machining technology 

Each of these types have their peculiar advantages and disadvantages. 

So you need to factor in the particular needs of your projects when selecting the type of CNC machine to buy. 

Features of Conventional Technologies CNC Machines 

  • Drills: The drills of this type of CNC machine works by spinning a drill bit and moving the bit about and making it come in contact with a stationary block of stock material like wood, plastic, etc. CNC drills are used to make precision holes when needed. 
  • Lathes: Their lathes are very much the inverse of drills. They spin the block of materials against the drill bit instead of spinning the drill bit and bringing it in contact with the material. 

Lathes usually make contact with the material by moving a cutting tool laterally until it touches the spinning material progressively. 

Lathes are mainly used with metals and wood and they remove the unwanted excess materials leaving behind a beautiful and more useful component. 

  • Milling Machines: These are the most commonly used CNC machines today. They use rotary cutting tools to remove materials from the stock unit. 

They can perform a lot of functions like cutting gears, producing slots, drilling, boring, etc. within a given piece of material. 

Features Of The Novel Technologies CNC Machines 

  • Chemical and/or electrical machining: These novel technologies use specialized techniques to cut materials. Examples are the:
  • Electron beam machining
  • Electrochemical machining 
  • Electrical discharge machining (EDM) 
  • Photochemical machining 
  • And ultrasonic machining 

Most of these novel technologies are highly specialized. They are used mostly in special cases for mass production using a particular type of material.

  • Other cutting medium: these other novel technologies use different mediums to cut materials. For instance, they use: 
    • Laser cutting machines 
    • Oxy-fuel cutting machines 
    • Water jet cutting technology 
    • Plasma cutting machines, etc. 

In recent years, these machines have gained popularity in different industries. 

What Are The Materials Used For CNC Machines?

Photo of a cnc machine.Many people wonder 'what is cnc?'

Almost any material can be used in a CNC machine. It all depends on the application and what you want to make. 

CNC machines provide a wide range of choices to benefit a variety of projects. 

Common materials you can use in a CNC machine are: 

  • Plastics like polypropylene 
  • Fiberglass 
  • Foam 
  • Wood 
  • Titanium 
  • Steel 
  • Copper 
  • Brass 
  • Aluminum, etc. 

Is CNC Better Than 3D Printing?

Well, knowing the better one depends on some factors like the:

  • Material used 
  • The complexity of the part 
  • The skill of the worker 
  • What you want to create 
  • The economic factors, etc. 

3D printing technologies like the FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) machines build parts from bottom upwards. They can create complex shapes and even internal components more quickly than a CNC machine. 

3D printing offers a degree of flexibility and creativity that CNC machines cannot give through conventional means. CNC machines are also limited by available tools and the axis of rotation the machine can use. 

Though CNC machines can be used with a lot of materials, the machines are locked in a reasonably strict set of confines and restrictions on how they can interact with different materials. 

On the other hand, CNC has some advantages over 3D printing like FDM prototyping. FDM prototyping is limited by materials, they make use of only specific materials in 3D printing. 

CNC machines on the other hand can work on a wide variety of materials and create specific parts. Also, on the CNC, almost anything can be machined while on 3D printing, only certain materials adapted into filaments can be used. 

Another difference between CNC machining and 3D printing is their processes. CNC machining is a subtractive process in which products are created by chipping materials from an original piece while 3D printing is an additive process in which products are created by adding materials. 

So when you consider these factors, you would know which one is the best choice for your specific project.


We hope we have been able to thoroughly answer the question: ‘what is cnc’? CNC machines have revolutionized the way productions happen, as you can achieve a lot in a minimal amount of time. The CNC is a technology that is here to stay, and you can take advantage of it by learning how it works and using it profitably.

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