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CNC Machines Explained: Understanding How CNC Machines Work

CNC Machines Explained: Understanding How CNC Machines Work

Even the ablest human hands have limitations. To bring our most intricate concepts into reality, we rely on computer numerical control, or CNC, in which a computer program dictates precise movements to a sophisticated machine, allowing us to work with wood, metal, plastic, and other materials while making use of unmatched accuracy. If this is your first time working with CNC technology, go over this quick guide to gain an understanding of how CNC machines work.

What CNC Isn’t

We’ll begin by distinguishing CNC from that other miracle machining process: 3D printing. The first thing you should know is that 3D printing is an additive process, while CNC is subtractive. What does this mean, exactly? The answer lies in the raw materials. 3D printing begins with raw materials and shapes them using heat, adding layers of material until it achieves a finished product. CNC, on the other hand, starts with a block of raw material that has the same makeup as the finished product. The cutting tools of the CNC machinery cut away excess material, leaving you with the finished shape. It’s the difference between building a statue from clay and carving one from granite.

All About Axes

If you remember geometry class, you remember the three dimensions and their x, y, and z axes. CNC machines move cutting tools along these axes to work in all three dimensions, taking precise directions from a computer file that specifies where and when to move the tool to complete the project. Some CNC machines even include an additional a axis to account for rotation.

What Kinds of CNC Machines Are There?

There are two main types of CNC machines: mills and lathes. Mills are the most common form of CNC technology. These versatile machines use drills and rotary cutting tools to shape a block of raw material to the specifications of a computer file. A lathe, while also a subtractive form of manufacturing, is somewhat different. Rather than moving the cutting tool into different positions, a rotating piece called a chuck mounts and rotates the raw material, where rotational contact with the cutting tool shapes the raw material to specifications.

The Importance of the Spindle

The spindle is the workhorse of CNC operations and the key to understanding how CNC machines work. This motorized piece holds the cutting tool in place and puts it into motion, allowing the operator and the computer file to shape the material. Without a functioning spindle, none of this is possible, meaning repairs are in order. CNC Service Company specializes in Haas spindle drive repair, getting CNC spindles moving again.

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