Computer numerical control (CNC) machining refers to subtractive manufacturing operations that utilize automation technology to control the movement of machine tools. Specialized computer software is used to program the equipment to remove excess material from a stock piece as needed to achieve the desired shape and size with minimal human operator involvement. Compared to traditional machining methods, it offers various advantages, which has led to its rapid rise in popularity within the manufacturing sector over the years.

Common Types of CNC Machining Processes

The term “CNC machining” encompasses many subtractive manufacturing processes. Some of the most common are CNC turning, CNC milling, CNC laser machining, CNC electrical discharge machining (EDM), and CNC plasma cutting. 

CNC Turning

Turning is a manufacturing process in which the workpieces are rotated, and the cutting tools are fed into the workpieces in a linear motion. Material is removed around the circumference of the workpiece until the desired diameter and/or features are achieved. 

Swiss turning is a subtype of turning. It uses a specialized lathe, known as a Swiss lathe, which offers better support to the workpiece. As a result, the workpiece experiences less bending stress throughout the machining operation, and the final component is made to tighter tolerances. 

CNC turned components are generally cylindrical. They can have a variety of internal and external features, such as bores, broaches, holes, slots, tapers, and threads. Components made on Swiss lathes are typically small in diameter and made in medium to high volumes. 

CNC Milling

CNC milling is a manufacturing process in which the cutting tool is rotated and moved around a stationary workpiece. It utilizes equipment referred to as a mill or a machining center to remove material and create the desired component. It is suitable for making large objects with highly complex geometries. 

CNC Laser Machining 

CNC laser machining is a manufacturing process that utilizes a high-powered laser to cut, etch, or engrave materials. The laser heats the surface of the material, causing the targeted section to melt or vaporize. As it moves across the surface, it creates the desired cut, etching, or engraving. 

CNC EDM (Electrical Discharge Machining)

CNC electrical discharge machining (EDM) is a manufacturing process that uses controlled electrical sparks to shape the workpiece. The sparks generate heat (up to 21,000° F), which melts targeted areas of the workpiece to achieve the desired form or feature. Typical elements found in parts and products made using EDM include micro holes, slots, and tapered or angled features.

CNC Plasma Cutting

CNC plasma cutting is a manufacturing process that employs superheated, ionized gas (i.e., plasma) to cut electrically conductive material. The plasma is funneled through a torch controlled by a computer. It can achieve temperatures up to 50,000° F, which is high enough to melt through a variety of materials in various thicknesses, including aluminum, brass, copper, stainless steel, and steel. 

Advantages of CNC Machining

There are many advantages to choosing CNC machining methods over conventional machining methods. Since CNC machining operations use computers rather than human operators to control the movement and action of the machine tools, they generally offer greater speed, accuracy, and precision than conventional machining operations, regardless of the process performed (e.g., turning, milling, cutting, etc.) CNC machining equipment can consistently produce components with simple to highly complex geometries to tight tolerances (typically ±.0002 to ±.0005 inches) even in high volumes. Additionally, CNC machined components tend to have finer (i.e., smoother) surface finishes than conventionally machined ones. 

Typical Industrial Applications of CNC Machined Components

While CNC machining is used to create components for nearly every industry, the growing demand for small components made to tight tolerances has led to a significant rise in the popularity of CNC Swiss machining among industrial manufacturers. The process enables pieces to be manufactured with a high degree of precision and accuracy, which is essential for parts and products whose form and function depend on high-accuracy, high-precision components.

 Some of the industries that use CNC Swiss machined components include: 

  • Aerospace
  • Electronics
  • Robotics

Quality Machining Solutions From Buell Automatics

Want to learn more about precision CNC machining? Ask the experts at Buell Automatics! Armed with over five decades of experience in the design and manufacture of small, precision machined components, we have what it takes to answer or address any questions or concerns you may have about the topic. 

Additionally, if you’re looking for a machining partner for your next project, we are here to help! Our team can deliver custom solutions that fully meet your specific industry and application needs. Request a quote to get started. 



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