Computer Numerical Control (CNC) is key to modern manufacturing. It allows for precise manufacturing utilizing computers. What makes this so much better for modern manufacturing than manual control? CNC machines follow the exact specifics of the user’s design, with no concern for slip-ups. It’s also much safer, as there is less human interaction with the machinery when it is operating.
This doesn’t mean that CNC machines prevent creative expression and design innovation. Anyone who has ever taken a high school or community center shop class can tell you how hard it is to use manufacturing tools unassisted. CNC machinery removes the difficult manual labor aspect out of much of manufacturing while using a computer’s close adherence to the smallest detail to allow for whole new frontiers of design.
CNC machining has been in use since the 1940s. The earliest versions were very primitive, relying more on actual human motion and simple punch cards, but they have grown increasingly sophisticated. Almost every kind of tool and technique of manufacturing has been adapted to CNC and whole new ones have become possible with this technology.
There are many, many different types of CNC machinery. Because of the value of older manufacturing machines, it is fairly common to find older machines that have been retrofitted with CNC technology. Modern versions of these machines are usually designed with CNC in mind, making them a more up-to-date version fitted with a variety of sensors and more precise capabilities.
Common types of retrofitted CNC machines include:
- Milling machines– These use rotary cutters to cut material following the instructions of the CNC computer. The computer directs the machine to make precise cuts at certain depths, angles, and directions. While mills have long been used manually, CNC allows for far greater precision than ever before.
- Grinders– As the name says, these machines abrade or grate material down into a desired shape or smoothness. Grinders are far from the most precise kind of manufacturing machinery and are very easy to program.
- Lathes- These machines work by placing material on a rotating spindle, then hold the object against an abrading or carving device. Lathes typically are used to create symmetrical objects. Again, the kind of precision available through the use of CNC makes lathes far more versatile.
While the use of CNC has made existing machines far more precise and useful for a wider range of industrial manufacturing, CNC technology has enabled the creation of machines that were not possible before. While new versions of older styles of machines have been made to interface with CNC computers, these manufacturing tools only exist because of CNC computers.
- CNC router- These cut material (including wood, plastic, and sheet metal) along the X, Y, and Z-axis. Three-dimensional routing is the most common. You can also find routers that cut in four, five, and six axes for even more precise complex manufacturing and allow for a greater level of efficiency. Routers are often used for large-scale objects.
- Laser and plasma cutters- Laser and plasma cutters are highly precise and would be difficult for a human being to handle, but CNC computers allow these tools to be used on tough materials when no other form of machining will work. They can create almost any angle or shape exactly as directed. Plasma cutting is less precise but has been in use for several decades, though laser cutting is becoming more common because it is more accurate.
- Surface mount machines- These “pick and place” machines are used to assemble electronics including circuit boards, resistors, and capacitors. Their small mechanical nozzles lift components, place them at the location designated by the CNC computer, and place them down.
- Metrology machines- These machines use specialized high tech 3D-software to measure parts for accuracy. They allow for faster inspection of products, increasing efficiency and quality control.
- 3D printers- 3D printers produce products by extruding materials into the programmed shape layer by layer. The number of materials available for 3D printing has been growing year after year, as has the kind of scale and detail these unique machines can accurately produce. They’ve also grown faster, with mid-sized products printable within a day on some printers. Every 3D-printed design is reproduced exactly from a computer file uploaded onto its CNC computer.
At Jawstec, our expert staff has been working with many types of CNC machinery for years. We provide excellent 3D printing services, from design to production, for everything from drone parts to prototypes. 3D printing is quickly changing manufacturing, offering new design options that can help you make the best products for your business or hobby. Contact us today for a free CNC Machining quote to help you reach your manufacturing goals!