What is CNC Machining and How Does it Work?

CNC machining
CNC machining service
Resource: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXOR4YeMn-8

CNC machining is simply a computer-controlled machining process. Machining is any process that involves cutting, shaping, or drilling material—basically, anything that removes material to create a specific shape. Let’s start by looking at what CNC machining stands for. Also, CNC machining technology has evolved over the years to become the manufacturing method it is today.

CNC Machining Full Form

CNC is used in place of Computer Numerical Control. It simply the CNC machining tools are controlled by computers. Numerical control indicates operation with numbers, symbols, and coded instructions.

In simple terms, specialized CNC machining software is used to create a set of instructions, also called CNC programs. These are fed into the computer that controls the machine tool. The machine tool then carries out the instructions to produce the required product shape.

CNC Machining History

Here is a brief history of CNC machining: The first CNC machine was created in the 1940s by John T. Parsons. However, it was only in the lin that the technology began to gain popularity. By the 1970s, CNC had become more widely adopted as more and more manufacturers started using it.

The early CNC process used cardboard sheets with holes punched in them to correspond to the commands the machine needed to execute. Today that has dramatically changed: modern CNC machining equipment is computerized, highly precise, fast, and versatile.

CNC machining
CNC machining
Resource: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQPvRM2gaZU

How Does CNC Machining Work?

Now that we know a little bit about the CNC machining history let’s take a closer look at how it works today. As we mentioned earlier, CNC machines are controlled by computer programs. These programs tell the machine what movements to make and how much material to remove.

In order to create a part, the engineer first inputs the design into a computer-aided design (CAD) program. The CAD program is then used to create a CNC machining program, which is a set of instructions that tells the machine the kind of movements to make.

The CNC machining process follows this basic sequence:

  • Once the CNC program is created, it is downloaded into the CNC machine controller. The operator then sets up the machine and stock material in readiness to start the machining process.
  •  The CNC machining operation starts. The controller reads the program and sends signals to the axis drive.
  •  The axis drive moves the cutting tool in a precise manner to remove material from the stock and create the required shape or feature. These CNC machining steps take place automatically.

The process is repeated until the job is done. When complete, the operator checks the part to make sure that it meets the specifications. If it does, the part is then ready for use. For a CNC machining prototype, it would mean that full production can now begin, but usually, after further tests are carried out.

CNC machining engine block
CNC machining engine block
Resource: https://www.enginebuildermag.com

What is CNC Machining Used For?

With CNC machining, manufacturing takes a whole new level as one can create almost anything from virtually any material. Generally, CNC machining is utilized in both the prototyping and mass production stages of manufacturing, as explained below.

CNC Machining Prototyping

CNC machining is often used to create prototypes. A prototype is a small batch of parts that is used to test the design of a product before it goes into production. Creating prototypes with CNC machining has several advantages.

First, CNC is relatively fast, so prototypes can be created quickly. This comes in useful when sample parts must be made quickly or during what’s often called rapid prototyping in the manufacturing world.

Second, CNC machining prototyping allows for a high degree of accuracy and repeatability, so prototypes that are created using this technology are typically very close to the final product.

CNC Machining Manufacturing

When it comes to actual manufacturing, CNC machining is used to create small or large batches of parts. In some cases, CNC machining is the only manufacturing process. In other cases, it is used in conjunction with other processes, such as casting or injection molding.

The type of manufacturing process that is used depends on a variety of factors, including the number of parts that need to be produced, the size and complexity of the parts, and the materials that are being used. Some of the most common CNC machining applications include:

  • Aerospace: CNC machining is used to create parts for airplanes and satellites.
  •  Medical: CNC machining produces medical devices, such as implants and prosthetics.
  •  Automotive: in the automotive industry, CNC machining technology is widely used in the manufacturing of parts for cars, trucks, and other vehicles.
  •  Consumer goods: CNC machining is also employed in the production of a variety of consumer products, such as appliances and toys.
  •  Electronics: CNC machining comes in useful when manufacturing parts for electronic devices such as computers and cell phones.
  •  Construction: The construction industry is a major beneficiary of the CNC machining process when making construction equipment like excavators and bulldozers.
Benefits of CNC machining include high quality surface finish
Benefits of CNC machining include high quality surface finish
Resource: https://gaugemagazine.com

Benefits of CNC Machining

There are many benefits of CNC machining as a manufacturing process. First, CNC machining is an exact process. That means CNC machined parts are typically highly accurate and have tight tolerances. Also, CNC machining is a repeatable process, and the same part can be created over and over again with the same results.

CNC machining is a very fast process too. That means you can quickly create many parts in no time, plus it’s a versatile process that can be used with different materials, from metals and plastics to wood and composites or even foam.

When it comes to CNC machining costs, production expenses remain low after the initial setup cost. That’s because there are little to no manual labor costs involved, and once a CNC machine is programmed, it can run on its own. The advantages of CNC machining can thus be summarized:

  • Repeatability
  •  High precision
  •  High speed
  •  Versatility
  •  Cost-effectiveness
CNC machining equipment in use
CNC machining equipment in use
Resource: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jF4F8Zr2YO8

CNC Machining Disadvantages

The CNC machining process offers many advantages. But it also has a few disadvantages that you should be aware of before deciding if it’s the right process for your project. Here are some of the key disadvantages of CNC machining:

High Initial Investment

One of the biggest disadvantages of CNC machining is that it requires a high initial investment. Some CNC machines can be quite expensive, which means that you’ll need to make a large upfront investment before you can start using them.

That said, the cost of CNC machining can be offset by the many advantages that it offers, such as increased efficiency and reduced labor costs. In addition, CNC machines can be used for a variety of different projects, which means that you’ll be able to get a lot of use out of them over time.

Requires Specialized Training

Another disadvantage of CNC machining is that it requires specialized training to use. Unlike some other manufacturing processes, you can’t just pick up a CNC machine and start using it.

Instead, you’ll need to receive some training on how to properly operate the machine. This training can be expensive and time-consuming, which means that it might not be the right option for everyone. If you’re going to hire a CNC machining engineer, that can mean an even higher initial investment.

CNC Machining Questions

Still, have questions about CNC machining? We understand. CNC machining is a broad industry that covers a lot of ground. Here is a list of the most asked CNC machining questions, along with their answers:

Q1. Is CNC Machining Dangerous?

A: The CNC machining process is one of the safest manufacturing techniques. CNC machines are highly automated and usually require very little human interaction. But while CNC machining is not inherently dangerous, a few safety risks need to be considered. Read more about them here.

Q2. What is the Difference Between CNC Machining and 3D Printing?

A: CNC machining is a subtractive manufacturing process, which means parts are created by removing material from a larger block. 3D Printing, on the other hand, is an additive manufacturing process where parts are created by adding material layer by layer.

Q3. What is the Difference Between CNC and Traditional Machining?

A: The biggest difference between CNC and traditional machining is the role of the operator. In traditional machining, the operator is responsible for controlling the machine. In CNC machining, the operator is only responsible for loading the machine with the proper programs and materials. Other than that, the two processes are similar.

Q4. Is CNC Machining Expensive?

A: The cost of CNC machining will vary depending on the complexity of the part, the material, and the quantity. But in general, CNC machining is a very cost-effective manufacturing process that suits most product manufacturing requirements, including tight tolerances.

Q5: Is CNC Machining a Good Career?

A: CNC machining is a great career for anyone who is interested in working with automated tools. A CNC machining engineer or machinist has to complete a specialized training program before they can begin working. CNC machinists typically earn a median salary of $41,925 per year.

Q6: What is the Future of CNC Machining?

A: The future of CNC machining is very bright, no doubt about it. As the world becomes increasingly digitized, more and more businesses are turning to CNC machining to create parts and products. And as the technology continues to evolve, the possibilities for what can be created using CNC machining are endless.


CNC machining, or computer numerical control machining, is a versatile and fast manufacturing process that has a wide range of applications. CNC machining is a great option for businesses of all sizes and can be used to create parts from a variety of materials. As such, it is one of the most versatile and cost-effective manufacturing processes available today.

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