An Introduction to CNC Machining Processes, Setups, Tooling and Components
CNC machining can produce parts with a high degree of accuracy and precision from metal, plastic, and other materials, from prototype to mass production, but how does it work exactly? CNC machining is a collection of manufacturing processes that utilize Computer Numerical Control (CNC) to create finished parts by removing material. In this blog post, we will discuss CNC machining processes, setups, and machine components in detail!
CNC milling is a subtractive manufacturing process that uses a rotary cutter to remove material from a workpiece. The workpiece is typically held in place by clamps or vices and the cutter is guided along three or more axes (x, y, z, and rotary axes) to create the desired shape. CNC mills can be configured with various types of cutting tools, including drills, end mills, reamers, taps, and more.
CNC lathes are used to create cylindrical or tapered shapes by turning bars of material into objects like shafts, rings, and baseball bats. CNC turning is a machining technique that employs a single-point cutting tool to remove material from a rotating workpiece. The workpiece is typically held in place by collets or chuck jaws, and the cutter is guided along two axes (x and z) to create the desired shape. CNC lathes can be configured with various types of cutting tools including turning, facing, threading, boring, and parting tools, among others.
There are several types of CNC cutting machines including laser, plasma cutters, and waterjet machines. The type of cutting machine used largely depends on the type of material being cut, and the desired precision and finish. CNC lasers are typically used to cut thin materials such as sheet metal and plastics, and can also be used for engraving. CNC plasma cutters are used to cut thicker materials and are limited to metals only but are relatively inexpensive to buy and operate. CNC waterjet machines can cut a variety of materials, including metals, plastics, composites, and more.
Other CNC Processes
In general, if there is a manual version of a machine tool, there is a good chance that a CNC version exists. This includes processes like drilling, grinding, sawing, and more! Other manufacturing techniques like electro-discharge machining, routing, punching, bending, grinding and more can also be CNC controlled.
We offer a broad range of CNC machining processes including CNC milling, turning, cutting, and more, and would be happy to help with your manufacturing needs.
CNC Machining Setups
Successful CNC machining operations start with a well-documented, repeatable, and optimized setup. The three most important components of CNC machine setups are tooling, work holding, and, most importantly, the process!
CNC machines are typically fitted with a variety of tooling, including drills, end mills, taps, and more. It is important to select the correct tooling for the job since each material machines differently, and the type of tooling affects the CNC machining finish, total cost, and process efficiency. There are many types of CNC tooling available, and the type of tooling used largely depends on the CNC process and material being machined. Tooling can be made from high-speed steel, carbide, ceramics, and even include special coatings like TiAlN and diamond to remove material at a high rate or increase tool life.
In order to set up a CNC machine, the workpiece must be properly clamped or mounted in place with a fixture. There are standard work holding devices like vices and chucks, and custom fixtures can be created to hold odd-shaped or delicate parts. For high-volume machine applications, fixtures with many cavities can be used to hold multiple parts in a single setup, and a pallet changer can be used to quick-change fixtures loaded offline with minimal downtime.
The process is perhaps the most important part of the CNC setup. The process tells the CNC machine how to machine the part and the CNC machine operator how to set up and run the machine. A well-defined process will help to achieve the desired results repeatedly, while a poorly defined process can lead to poor quality parts and scrap, high cost, and unhappy customers.
The CNC machining process includes at a minimum a machine program created using CAM software to translate the desired part geometry and machine specifications into machine-readable G-code. Work instructions and setup sheets are also typically included in the process to help guide the CNC machine operator through the setup and operation of the machine.
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Components of a CNC Machine
CNC Machines are highly engineered to be repeatable, accurate, and durable over many years of making high-precision parts, and contain many systems and components. We’ll discuss the most important components of CNC machines in this section, and a few of the many available options for machine add-ons.
The controller is the computer that runs the CNC machine program and sends instructions to the motors, drives, and other devices on the CNC machine. The controller typically runs on G-code, a machine-readable language of tool and machine codes and part-feature coordinates.
The spindle is the part of the CNC machine that rotates and holds either the cutting tool (milling), or the workpiece (turning). Spindles come in a variety of types, speeds, and power ratings depending on the application.
A tool changer is a device that allows multiple tools to be mounted on the CNC machine and quickly switch between them. On a CNC mill, the tool changer is typically a collection of tool holders with various rotary cutting tools held in a carousel, and an arm to quickly change out tool holders between the spindle and tool holder. On a CNC lathe, a turret holds numerous turning tools and moves along the length of the workpiece to remove material.
The drive is what moves the CNC machine axes. There are typically one or more drives for each axis on the CNC machine. The drive converts the electrical signals from the controller into motion, and there are typically one or more drives for each axis on a CNC machine.
A CNC machine is not just a big metal box. There are many systems and devices that support the CNC process, including coolant systems, power supply, chip removal systems, automated material handling equipment like bar feeders and robots, workpiece measurement systems, and more.
Whether you need to produce small, intricate parts or large-scale components, we have the capabilities and capacity to support your CNC machining needs from one-off prototypes to high-volume production.
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