Computers are powerful devices that control much of the technology in our world. While the average citizen may be more familiar with the standard computers on which they browse the internet, computers can also be programmed to control many different machines, including CNC machines. What is a CNC machine, and how does it work? Find out in this article.
What Is a CNC Machine Tool?
A CNC machine tool, or a “computer numerical controlled” machine, is a type of fabrication tool that fabricates through subtractive processes. These machines are controlled by computers that determine the way the heads of these machines move, how quickly they operate, and how other aspects of the machines’ movement work. CNC machines are known for being very precise and having high repeatability. Typically, this is due in part to the inclusion of a ball screw in these industrial machines, which allows for smoother motion and higher efficiency in CNC machines. CNC machines are usually designed for use on metal, but they can also be used on other materials such as wood or plastic. A few common examples of CNC machine tools include:
- Milling Machines
- Laser Cutters
- Plasma Cutters
- Drilling Machines
How Do They Work?
For the most part, CNC machine tools are fully automated—the computers controlling them will just need to be properly coded to specify the way the material will be cut or tooled. CNC machines come in a variety of types, but all CNC machines will have at least one axis of motion, and most will usually have at least two. The movement of the machines can be linear, rotational, or a combination of both. A 2-axis CNC machine tool will move on the x-axis and y-axis, operating two-dimensionally. A 3-axis machine adds a z-axis, allowing the machine to work three-dimensionally. A machine with more than four axes incorporates rotational motion into the machine’s function. Using its range of motion in accordance with the instructions provided by the computer, a CNC machine is able to carry out a design and repeat it over and over in exactly the same way.
Next time you see a fabricated object created by a machine (and you likely see these every day without realizing it), your knowledge of what a CNC machine is and how it works will help you appreciate the technology that went into the creation of these items.