The manufacturing industry relies heavily on computer-numerical control (CNC) machining, including operations that once used engineer-operated equipment like routers, shaping machines, vertical millers and center lathes. The many CNC machine advantages mean operator-required equipment has in some cases been replaced entirely. Manufacturers of many types across many industries choose the advantages of CNC machining for their fabrication and manufacturing applications. It provides efficient, expedient and precise production capacity ideal for creating large quantities of items normally produced with a router, grinder, center lathe, vertical miller or shaping machine.
The computer-numerical control offers a few types of financial and production advantages over the conventional method. In manual lathing, for example, there must be a skilled technician for every machine, while with CNC machining, one skilled person can operate several machines.
CNC machining produces a broad range of metal and plastic elements that become a part of businesses and the general environment. Many industries need accurate, consistent, complex cuts. A few of these industries are:
- Manufacturing, all types
- Metal work
The first CNC machines were developed by U.S. Air Force mechanics in the 1940s. The early machines used punched-paper technology as a driver, and that has evolved into today’s digital software. The CNC machining grew popular quickly due to its ability to produce ultra-precise results in large quantities across many applications. The computerization aspect of CNC machining gives detailed, consistent results.
Fairlawn Tool is your experienced local provider of CNC Machining. Read on to learn the answers to many common questions we receive about this process:
1. What Are CNC Machines?
Computer-numerical control machining is a process used primarily by manufacturers to produce machined parts, products, items. CNC machines are what accomplish the process.
A CNC machine is a machine that utilizes Computer Numerical Control over machine tools like lathes, routers, grinders or mills. Computer Numerical Control is different from typical PCs in the type of software used to control the machine, which is specially customized and programmed with G-Code — a specific CNC machine language that allows precise control of features like speed, location, coordination and feed rate.
Specialized software drives the computerized machining. The software has customized G-code, the language that enables precise control of coordination, feed rate, location and speed, among other factors. The G-code-infused software sits within a computer that looks like a sophisticated desktop.
One programmer at the computer console can command machine work that would be the equivalent of multiple operators on lathes, grinders, routers, mills and shapers. The computerized, automated machining method can achieve reaches, holds and other actions human operators and conventional machines typically don’t do efficiently.
Manufacturing finds CNC machining particularly useful because the industry needs large amounts of metal and plastic parts, often in complex shapes. A variety of CNC machines offer the advantage of having multiple axes that can adjust to difficult angles and help manage hard-to-cut materials.
Basic machines have a cutting implement along X- and Y- axes that can each work independently, yet simultaneously. Advanced machines may have up to five axes that perform similarly and have the capacity to turn and flip the part. For example, the Z-axis moves up and down.
CNC machines can automate the jobs that require several cuts. A router or spindle turns the cutting implement, which usually resembles a drill bit. A true drill bit cuts only at the tip, while nearly all of a router bit cuts the material.
The programming in CNC machines incorporates all the exacting, high-speed movements needed to produce the object, and it enables detailed customization. CNC machining is becoming increasingly popular as a way to fabricate metal parts as well as plastic parts, as it allows the manufacturer to produce complex shapes that would be nearly impossible to create manually. Many industries, especially manufacturers, look to CNC machining advantages for production solutions involving metal and plastic and any number of machining processes they may need.
2. Is CNC Machining Better Than Conventional?
CNC machining and conventional machining aim to achieve the same end, and both start with a raw chunk of metal or plastic and shape it into a part. The most basic difference between the two is the automation of CNC versus the manual nature of conventional. Speed, production rate, and accuracy are some of the main advantages of CNC machining over conventional machining.
With CNC, a skilled employee programs software to cut the part. With conventional, a skilled employee takes all the steps to setup and operate the machine. In the manual situation, a highly skilled operator must also set the gears, whereas CNC machining does not use gears.
Conventional typically costs less and is used for small-quantity projects. CNC machining is normally used for high quantities and is not as cost-effective for smaller ones.
Imagine a hypothetical part, for example. A component needs concave and convex arcs, imperial and metric threads and two tapers of differing degrees. An automated CNC machine would use three tools to cut the part, while the conventional machine would require five tools and no doubt more time.
You will find conventional and CNC technologies available for most machining jobs. Some of these technologies include:
- Drills: A bit spins to make contact with the material.
- Lathes: The block of material moves against the drill bit, usually in a lateral motion.
- Milling Machines: Rotary-cutting tools remove material from a stock unit.
Novel CNC machining technologies include the less-common types:
- Electrical/Chemical: The material block is cut using a specific kind of machining style such as electron beam, electro-chemical, electrical discharge, photochemical and ultrasonic.
- Other: Less commonly found methods of CNC machining involve such cutting media as lasers, oxy fuel, plasma and water jets.
Among the first things to happen with CNC machining is the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software to produce a two- or three-dimensional model of the final component. The prototype image of that component is then fed into the software, which operates through the computer to command the machining tools to produce items identical to the model.
Once the computer has loaded in a new image for CNC machining, it can pull that model up again and again to produce more of what it is, which is another of the CNC machine advantages. The technology is designed to achieve machining accuracy within .0001.
Conventional and unconventional methods of CNC machining are employed for a plethora of jobs that may involve a variety of materials:
You’d be hard-pressed to describe a typical project since every business has different needs, but these are 20 cutting chores frequently completed by CNC machining:
Even within this short list, you can see how many advantages of CNC machines there are. The only obvious situation where a CNC machine may not be right is if you have a small operation that needs simple metal shapes. In that case, the CNC machine would not confer a huge cost advantage.
3. What Are the CNC Machine Advantages?
Anyone responsible for planning the manufacturing of metal parts and components would want to know what benefits they gain using CNC machining. While the type of businesses and products differ, the CNC advantages are clear.
Advantages of CNC Machining
Precision Components: The digital template and autonomous machining of CNC practically eliminate human error and achieve accuracy within 1/1000th.
Reliable Endurance: CNC machines work around-the-clock daily, weekends and holidays. They only stop for needed maintenance or repair.
High Production and Scalability: Once the design parameters and specification have been entered into a CNC machine, it consistently executes huge quantities and affords flexible scalability.
More Capability: When used in tandem with advanced design software, CNC machines create outputs that cannot be replicated by manual machines. Even the most gifted engineers can’t do with conventional machines what advanced software can do with CNC machines. These machines can produce any size, shape or texture needed.
Less Labor: CNC machining requires fewer personnel to execute the production tasks. One skilled operator can run several of the autonomous CNC machines, and one programmer can get them loaded with the needed designs. A manual machine requires at least one skilled operator per machine plus usually a supervisor for the group. What you save on manpower can be passed along to customers, helping you achieve a competitive advantage.
Uniform Product: When you choose the advantages of CNC machines over conventional machines, your CNC outputs match exactly. Even the most talented engineers on a conventional machine will produce components that vary slightly. With CNC machines, each part is a perfect match to the prototype’s exact specifications.
Lower Costs: The collective result of high speed, efficiency, specialization, precision and most of all, fewer labor hours, all add up to a better bottom line for your business. The lower costs, in turn, can be used to create a competitive advantage and business re-investment. Saving money or making more money is one of the popular benefits of CNC machining.
Fewer Headaches: Manual machining serves many good purposes, but it remains forever susceptible to the human element. You’re probably familiar with the financial and cultural headaches it can cause when there are periods when you’re short staffed, have people out sick, or on vacation and operators who don’t perform to expectations. CNC machining nearly eliminates those concerning issues.
Better Safety: Along with an expedient production process and consistent pieces comes a safer environment. While there are operators involved in operating CNC machines, it’s at a distance from the sharp tools, whereas the operators of conventional-manual lathes, drills, punches and other tools come into direct contact with the implement.
Design Retention: Once a design has been loaded into the CNC machining software and a perfect prototype has been created, the program can easily retrieve the design to run it and create the object again. The master file ensures that regardless of external factors such as machine-operator changes, the CNC machining process produces a spot-on match every time. Additionally, there is no need to keep up with versions of the design that may exist on paper, a flash drive, a disk, other computer or elsewhere.
Low Maintenance: The G-code-based software will automatically update itself when needed, and CNC machines generally do not require much service other than to change the cutting implements at the proper interval and do some light cleaning. None of the regular maintenance requires professional service, which saves money.
Versatility: CNC machining itself creates virtually any component you can imagine. Some of the models include special features and accessories that further expedite and simplify the production process, for examples touch screens and automated tool changers.
A woodworking association surveyed its members, which include cabinet makers, architectural wood producers and others. A majority of them agreed on CNC benefits and advantages within their industry.
- Improves machining accuracy
- Enables complex tasks, detail
- Creates flexibility in manufacturing
- Increases safety
- Boosts production volume
- Reduces setup-changeover time
If you haven’t looked into how your metal parts are fabricated, it could pay to find out if you are using CNC machining or not. There are a great many advantages to using CNC machines. If your business has a manufacturer that is not using them, you may want to find out why and consider a change.
4. What Are the CNC disadvantages?
Disadvantages of CNC
CNC machining won’t be the least expensive option, which you may initially see as a disadvantage. However, the cost is an investment into long-term savings, efficiency, client retention and a reputation for quality and reliability.
It costs more initially to have CNC services done for you. Many companies rely on a trusted vendor to do their CNC machining services for them, which works well for many businesses across a lot of industries. The first production run will be more expensive than subsequent ones.
Another disadvantage some machinists perceive with the CNC method is that it works toward making conventionally manual skills obsolete. Along with them go the math and science skills developed by those who learn through years of training to operate lathes, mills, drills and more by hand.
While CNC machining has created tremendous, new opportunities for all kinds of businesses, it has also led to less conventional machining and ultimately, some unemployment. However, most experts do not agree that manual skills will become obsolete. In fact, some think conventional machining will thrive through small and specialty projects.
5. Is CNC Machining Right for Me?
CNC machining is one of two common methods of creating a prototype from a digital file, and it is often used in manufacturing as well as other industries. The other way to make a prototype is 3D printing technology, which uses fused-deposition modeling (FDM) to create the part or product. Besides FDM, 3D printing technology could also include stereolithography-SLA, selective-laser sintering-SLS and selective-laser melting-SLM.
You may wonder about 3D printing technology and if it has advantages over CNC machining. The answer depends on several factors and leads to a few questions:
1. What kind of object are you producing?
2. How complex is the piece you need to make?
3. Which material is involved in making the product?
4. What is the quantity expected?
5. What kind of timeline are you working on?
Generally speaking, 3D printing is used to produce prototypes and has relatively low speed compared to CNC machining. Because of this, it is not efficient for producing large quantities.
FDM technology constructs from the bottom up, while CNC machining works by cutting and drilling pieces away from a block of material into its shape.
FDM has no limitations due to axes angles, but CNC has no limitations on the kind of materials it can handle. CNC machining can create nearly any shape, while the capabilities of 3D printing are limited to the materials that have been adapted into feasible filaments.
Both technologies will continue to evolve and improve, but even 3D printing companies acknowledge that the two will co-exist and complement each other as part of the manufacturing process.
CNC machining delivers superior accuracy, precision and speed for high quantities of product, and that makes it the right choice in most situations. Businesses in competitive industries gain an edge through efficiency and consistency, as well as precision and accuracy.
CNC machining automates fabrication processes so you don’t have to worry about worker negligence, time off or errors slowing down your operation. You can continuously produce complex, multi-dimensional metal and plastic parts of all shapes and sizes.
You can perform machining tasks faster and more cleanly with CNC machining than with any other method, and that benefits the long-term bottom line, since you and your customers can rely on the expected quality getting delivered.
CNC machining caters to a majority of companies using such universal things as fasteners, plates, nozzles, valves and panels while also being able to customize designs exclusive to each business’ needs. The automated technique does millions of kinds of projects. For a few examples:
- Dental implants
- Textured handrails
- Military defense
- Automotive shafts
- Parts of electronics such as cell phones
- Firearm pieces
- Printing stamped in metal
- Punched holes.
Each business will have its own bullet list of different projects that probably make CNC machining the right thing for savings, quality and efficiency.
If speed, accuracy or precision in your metal fabricated parts are important to you, a CNC machine is right for you. If having your metal fabrication processes automated so you don’t have to worry about worker negligence, time off, or errors slowing down your operation, a CNC machine is right for you. If you need to make complex metal shapes for your business, especially three-dimensional shapes, a CNC machine is right for you. The only obvious situation where a CNC machine may not be right is if you are a very small operation that needs very simple metal shapes, where the CNC machine would not confer a huge advantage relative to the cost. For competitive industries, however, CNC machines are usually best.
Partner with Excellence
Among the advice experts give about CNC machining is to pick and work with a good shop. With more than six decades of metal-fabrication experience, Fairlawn Tool offers excellent solutions and service. We serve a full range of needs for high-quality CNC machining, from individual parts to fully assembled pieces. We’d be happy to help you examine CNC machine advantages and disadvantages.
Our machining specialties include a complete suite of turret-punching capabilities for perforated sheets and single pieces, as well as metal stamping, robotic and manual welding, metal forming and bending, tube fabrication and bending and precision metal sheet fabrication. We’re also one of the few companies in the USA that uses the Crippa Tube Bending Machine for our CNC tube bending projects. This unique machine allows us to create close shapes within a single cycle, ensuring your tube bends meet your specifications time after time.
Fairlawn Tools’ in-house capabilities mean that you get all the skills, equipment and expertise needed to execute projects in multiple industries. We serve many companies as an American-based contract manufacturer able to customize solutions, fulfill large orders and provide assistance across the range of machines, industries and tasks.
Fairlawn serves the East Coast and beyond with choices that save money, expedite production and result in a consistent, accurate product. We can’t wait to discuss with you soon how we can work together to complete your next project. Contact us today for more information on CNC vs. conventional machining. Make sure to ask for a free, no obligation estimate!
Post updated on 1/3/2018