CNC stands for Computer Numeric Control. A CNC is an automated manufacturing technique that allows for fast, efficient and repetitive cutting, boring, drilling, machining and fabricating of material by computer-controlled devices. A CNC machine consists of a mini or micro computer that acts as a controller of the machine. All cutting processes are carried out by a range of complex machining tools that are directed by instructions fed into the computer.
Once a particular part has been designed and instructions for machining it have been written, a CNC machine is programmed with those instructions. Raw material is fed into the machine, the setup is completed and the computer does everything else: rotating the part, cutting off various layers, drilling holes to desired depths, even changing cutting bits automatically. Identical parts can be machined over and over, with little or no variance.
The basis of each CNC project is a 2D or 3D CAD drawing which is translated into computer code for the CNC machine to execute.
CNC machines are designed to be very accurate. They are programmed to carry out dimensional tasks as specified, similar to robots. Some common types of CNC machines include the following:
CNC Milling Machine
CNC milling machines are often very large and have built in tool changers, auto-feed mechanisms for loading in material and various electrical sensors for safe monitored machining.
A lathe spins the workpiece in a spindle while a fixed cutting tool approaches the workpiece to slice chips off of it. Because of this geometry, lathes are ideal for parts that have symmetry around some axis that could be chucked up in the spindle. The act of cutting a workpiece on a lathe is called "Turning".
CNC Routers are very common pieces of machinery. These types of CNCs typically have no human interface other than through the computer.
Routers are generally for producing larger dimension parts with wood, plastic or metal. Routers are most commonly a 3 axis setup (X, Y and Z). A 3 axis set up will allow cutting of profiles, pocketing and 3 dimensional relief machining.
CNC Plasma Cutter
CNC plasma cutters are very similar to CNC routers. Plasma cutters don’t require as much of a powerful set up because as opposed to dragging around a spinning tool in material they move above the table with a plasma torch. Plasma cutters are made for cutting 2D shapes into sheet metal.
CNC Laser Cutter
CNC laser cutters are like plasma cutters, except they use a powerful laser to do the cutting. Laser cutters are good for cutting wood, plastic and metal. Each will need a different strength of laser suited for the material.
A 3D printer uses a similar set up as a CNC router or laser cutter. However, unlike those machines it does additive machining as opposed to subtractive machining.
Instead of starting with a solid piece of material and removing bits of that material to end up with the desired part, the 3D printer starts with nothing but a plan and builds a part up layer-by-layer.
Pick and Place Machine
A pick and place machine uses a tool for cutting a material. There are multiple small nozzles that pick up electrical components using a vacuum. The machine then moves to a desired location and places that electrical component down on the printed circuit board.
Pick and place machines move very quickly and are used to place the many hundreds or even thousands of electrical components that make up devices such as computer motherboards, phones / tablets, and pretty much everything else that has a printed circuit board.
The number of industries that utilize CNC machines is vast and varied. CNC machines are involved in just about every kind of industrial manufacturing operation. When accuracy is critical, CNC machines provide solutions. In today’s industrialized world, industries of all kinds utilize the powerful accuracy of CNC machines.
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