What is a CNC Machine for Metal?
A metal CNC machine is a computer numerical control machine tool for milling, turning, engraving, prototyping, and other operations. These machine tools come in the form of CNC milling machines, CNC routers, CNC plasma cutters, CNC lathes, and other machines like laser cutters and engraving machines.
CNC software creates program codes and instructions controlling the movements of the machinery. And although CNC machines are impressive pieces of equipment, they can’t run without the help of skilled programmers and operators, personnel to load and unload parts, and inspectors to confirm the results.
CNC cutting machines cover a broad spectrum of metal shapes, sizes, types, and operations, yet they have several characteristics that connect them under the standard banner of CNC machines.
Here are eight of those traits:
1. Metal CNC Machines Perform Various Metal Cutting Operations Flawlessly
Although they cut various materials, such as wood, acrylic, MDF, PCB, and PVC, CNC machines show their value when producing metal parts made from cast iron, mild steel, stainless steel, aluminum, and even the most challenging alloys.
Examples of applications for metal CNC machines include milling rectangular blocks, turning round shafts, creating three-dimensional molds and patterns, engraving plates, and prototyping. CNC machines are appropriate in many industries, such as automotive, aerospace, military, and medical.
2. CNCs Have a Reputation for High Precision
High precision CNC machining refers to processes that produce accurate parts and components to exact specifications. It’s a subtractive process that removes the material from a workpiece using a cutting tool. Precise dimensions are possible because a CNC machine allows easy and minute adjustments. In industries like aerospace and medical, where quality is essential, being able to tweak dimensions is critical.
The precision machining from a CNC machine also results in an excellent surface finish, making it suitable for parts that require a fine finish and high precision for the safety of an airline passenger, for example, or a patient receiving a medical device. You can understand why many industries depending on quality parts rely on the high-precision of CNC machines to produce them.
3. Milling Machines Specifically Have Multi-Axis CNC capability
Today’s multi-axis CNC milling machines have a broad range of features that enhances their value and capability. The more axes they have, the more shapes and angles they can create without removing the workpiece from the machine for secondary operations.
Here are three of the popular multi-axis CNC metal milling machines:
- 3-Axis CNC Machines: In three axis machining, the workpiece remains fixed while the cutting tool moves along the X-axis (back to front), Y-axis (side to side), and Z-axis (up and down). These are relatively simple machines for milling shapes and drilling holes. Although CNC mills get most of the attention, 3-axis CNC router machines can also work with softer metals like aluminum.
- 4-Axis CNC Machines: The 4-axis CNC works comparably to the 3-axis but with the addition of a fourth axis (A-axis) that rotates, making it possible to machine complex arcs.
- 5-Axis CNC Machines: The 5-axis CNC adds two more rotational axes (and much more complexity) to the original X, Y, and Z.
4. They All Require Powerful and Sophisticated Software
The CNC metal machining process starts with a computer-aided design (CAD) model converted into a CNC program for the CNC machine. After setting up the machine, it’s ready to run various metals and wood, plastics, and other non-metal materials.
CNC software controls a range of machinery, including laser cutting machines, CNC lathes, CNC milling machines, and CNC routers, avoiding the limitations of traditional manual machining. CNC software enables machining complicated parts that would be impossible to produce manually.
The standard programming language is G-code, enabling fine control of the machine tools. CNC software interprets the G-code and triggers a series of sequential instructions for machining the part that the CNC machine follows. Cutting-edge CNC software is responsible for higher production, product uniformity, increased safety, fewer labor hours, and lower costs.
Some established brands of CNC software include Master MX, Mach3, and MasterCam.
5. CNC Machines Take Advantage of Various Cutting Tools
CNC metal machines remove material, and the best of them employ cutting tools to accomplish it. Although different CNC machines will use cutting tools unique to their machine type, they will get the job done. Here are some of the tools you will see on a CNC milling machine:
- End mills
- Face mills
- Fly cutter
- Drill bits and taps
Many of these cutting tools will fit in an R8 collet, and the tooling for the CNC mill will typically be made from high-speed steel, carbide, or ceramic.
Tools for the CNC lathe would include:
- Turning tool
- Chamfering tool
- Threading tool
- Facing tool
- Grooving tool
- Boring tool
- Parting tool
- Forming tool
Drills, taps, and reamers are also part of the CNC lathe’s tooling arsenal.
Tooling for the CNC router could include some of the same cutting tools as the CNC mill, such as end mills. However, much of the tooling consists of profiling CNC router bits.
6. They Can Be Adapted for Home Use, Especially CNC Milling
CNC machines are found in some of the most extensive facilities and sizes that are hard to fathom, yet CNCs are not exclusive to the big guys or even the small to mid-size shops. CNC machines with small footprints and some that fit on a bench top have been cropping up in garages and home workshops for several years.
Hobbyists and one-person enterprises purchase desktop CNC routers, table-top CNC mills, and space-efficient CNC lathes. These shops might not be big businesses, but the metal CNC machines enable them to compete with them. The machines hook up quickly to a personal computer, and the CNC software is easy to learn and use.
These CNC machines are high-quality products with a smaller working area. They are as powerful, versatile, and precise as a full-sized model at an entry-level price and without taking up all that precious space.
7. CNC Machines are High-Speed Machines
CNC machines are lightning-fast workhorses. They are designed for speed and efficiency with deeper cuts, higher RPMs, and increased feed rates. Automatic tool changers, large tool magazines, and high-speed flood coolant aid in achieving faster running times.
Even though CNC machines are already high-speed machine tools, a few adjustments to their operational processes can make them faster. Running machines at total capacity and using internet of things (IoT) devices that help make maintenance decisions and calculate accurate cycle times ensure manufacturers get the most from their CNC machinery.
A few simple steps to maximize these high-speed machines will pay dividends with increased efficiency, faster market time, and other valuable cost savings.
8. They Hold Tolerances Consistently
Repeatability is an essential watchword in CNC machining, and you can’t overstate its advantage to the owner of a metal CNC machine. Before the advent of CNC machines, well-trained machinists made production parts on manual machines. However skilled they were, they were also humans who made mistakes, meaning that the results of a batch of components could be inconsistent.
CNC machines follow a designated path to produce a high-precision workpiece, and the results are repeated for multiple cycles throughout the workday. Unlike manual machines operated by human workers, these automated machine tools have no trouble holding tight tolerances repeatedly.
Our CNC Machines Have Every Characteristic You Would Need
Look no further if you need something in a CNC mill or lathe. CNC Masters has a Supra, our Bridgeport-type CNC vertical knee mill, in two sizes, and we also have two CNC lathes that can quickly transition between manual and CNC turning.
Three tabletop milling models bring CNC technology to hobbyists and small business owners. But don’t rush out to Amazon for your next benchtop mill because you can have a high-quality machine tool with ball screws, a warranty, top-notch service, and a tag that reads “Made in the USA,” all at a competitive price!