CNC or Computer Numerical Control is a device developed to manipulate the tools in a machine shop. You can know more about this on this site here. Computer programs run them, and what they receive as input from the software will be output to the tools.

CNC is a name that represents several methods like SLS/SLM, SLA, 3D printing technology, and FDM. They all generate prototypes with the help of software from a digital file. Many prototyping and engineering companies are using machines to process and mill a lot of materials, including plastics, metals, and wood.

The first machines were developed in the 1940s, and they relied on telecommunications data called a perforated paper tape or punched tape. The punched tape technology has been long obsolete, but the process has been transitioned with the digital computers that came into the picture in the 1950s. The new technologies have significantly improved the processes, and the CNC has continued to evolve its efficiency ever since.

How the Machines Work

Generally, machining is one way to transform a block of metal or plastic into a finished product. This is typically a prototype for cars, machines, and other devices used in many industries today. A controlled removal process in some of the areas is utilized to make the cuts accurate.

You can compare the CNC process to be similar to that of the FDM or 3D printing. However, the computer numerical controls often rely on the CAD or CAM files to do the work. While Computer-Aided Manufacturing is not processed on the machine itself, it’s still a critical component that provides the CNC roadmap to create pre-fabricated designs. The machines are the ones interpreting the instructions and techniques to aid them in cutting the prototypes.

This ability of the computers and devices to control the tools results in more productivity for the shop. If everything is highly-automated, the labor is reduced, and there will be enhanced accuracy and speed, especially if there are over a hundred parts to make. This is a critical process, especially if the company is working with materials like polypropylene.

In many cases, one may need several tools to make their desired cuts. Combinations may include many things, including a laser engraver, different-sized drill bits, and many more. The devices may often combine standard cells or units in which they can draw. The basic ones move into two axes, namely x and y. Others are moving into the z-axis, longitudinally and rotationally for one or more of the axes.

Multi-axis tools can use automatically flipping the prototypes so that the underneath parts can be polished and cleaned. This eliminates the need for the workers to flip the prototypes themselves, and the workshop tools can cut on all sizes without the need for human intervention.

The automated cuts are sometimes more accurate compared to the manual inputs. With this said, sometimes finishing the etches required in extensive designs are better with automation and machine programming than by hand.

Types of Machines to Know about

There are various types of machines out there, and many owners may have difficulties choosing which ones will fit their needs best. If you are one of them and you’re shopping for a CNC tool that you can add to your operations, it’s better if you know the factors that you need to look for to find the perfect device for you.

Typically, a CNC machine can fall into one of the two categories available: novel machining technology and conventional machining technology. Each of them has its pros and cons. What you need is to factor in the project’s particular needs and select the ones that you would love to add to your workshop.

The similarities are that both can operate under the guidance of specialized software or computers. They are more precise than the manual tools, and you can reproduce many prototypes and parts with their help. The difference is that the novel technology is more specialized, and you can utilize this in exceptional cases where great detail is needed to a particular part. Another thing is that the novel machining technologic are using different types of media to do the actual cuts.

What You Need to Know about Conventional Technologies

1. Drills: Drills can work by spinning the bits and moving them on a stationary stock material. The drills on CNC can make precise holes in the areas where you need them the most.

2. Lathes: Lathes are the inverse versions of drills where a block of material is spun against the drill bit. Lathes have lateral movements, and they make contact with a cutting tool in a progressive way. This is usually used in wood and metals, and the result is a more useful and beautiful component.

3. Milling Machines: These mills are popular and well-known in many CNC workshops today. Their rotary cutting techniques are used to remove the materials needed from a stock unit. They are handy in performing various functions like cutting gears, boring, drilling, and producing slots.

Novel Technology

1. Chemical or Electrical Machining: These utilize specialized techniques that are used to cut the materials. Some of them are electrical discharges, electron beams, photochemical, and ultrasonic machining. Many of these are complex and highly-specialized, but they produce quality prototypes.

2. Other Cutting Mediums: Many novel technologies are used as media for cutting materials. Some of them are oxy-fuel, lasers, plasma, and water-jet cutting materials. These have gained popularity in recent years, but they are still considered as highly-specialized equipment.

Materials Used

Almost all the materials and metals in any industry are used in CNC machining. The results may depend on the program and the application, but these tools still offer some degree of versatility and flexibility in many projects. Some of the common materials used to complete the projects are steel, copper, aluminum, brass, plastics, fiberglass, foam, wood, and titanium. You can learn more about titanium here:

Rapid Prototyping Applications

CNC machines first received an essential breakthrough in their field because of a process called rapid prototyping. Before it evolved to numerical control, which was the case with punched tapes, and digital and analog computing, the machine parts have to be carved by hand.

This ultimately led to many errors in the prototype products that were difficult to replicate. Even if the machines were used in large-scale manufacturing, human intervention is prone to mistakes. It was becoming more evident when the devices were used in larger-scale manufacturing. When CNC machines came, it revolutionized the workshops’ ability to produce more and better prototypes at a reasonable speed. The precision factor is one of its distinctive qualities that many appreciate.

Application in the Manufacturing Sector

The novel specialty machines related to CNC are explicitly built for the manufacturing niche. This is apparent with electrochemical processes that can cut the highly-durable materials that are otherwise not feasible with hands. The conventional types are also more reliable in the development of prototypes than in the manufacturing phase.

3D Printing or CNC?

You may be torn between 3D printing and CNC but choosing one of them depends on the materials that you’re going to use. This is the complexity part where the economic factors are considered. In 3D printing technology, the machines are naturally building parts starting from the bottom all the way up. They tend to create and design complex components and shapes that are quicker than the CNC machine. RD prints also offer product design features that can improve the creativity and flexibility that many manufacturers want.

On the other hand, the CNC machines are conventional, and the tools are somewhat limited to the rotation and axis that the machine can use. While they are still useful for various materials, the machines are usually confined and restricted on how they can interact with a block of metal or piece of wood.

There’s also the FDM prototyping that has more limited materials when working on a block. The FDM may require particular materials that can also be used in 3D printing. The CNC machines may offer different techniques in manipulating the materials, and they can also work well in creating the machine’s specific parts. If you need a living hinge that is used for prototypes, you may want a combination of polypropylene and CNC.

Only certain materials have adapted with the 3D printing, while almost anything can be worked at a CNC machine. You can learn more about the manufacturability and engineering of different materials from other blogs and websites. There are also other videos available online to show you more information about the machines that you can use in your workshop.

If you are looking for a design firm with all the tools you need, you can also contact one of them on the internet and see if they can provide you with sample prototypes. This way, you can bring your products to the market in no time with the mechanisms that can provide you with all your prototyping needs.

Closeup of generic CNC drill equipment. 3D illustration.