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  1. Types of CNC Machines

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    CNC machining—shorthand for computer numerical control (CNC) machining—refers to subtractive manufacturing processes that rely on computerized controls to automate part production operations. These processes are used to create a wide range of parts and products from various materials, including metal, plastic, composites, glass, wood, and foam, for industrial and commercial applications.

    The various pieces of equipment utilized in CNC machining operations are referred to as CNC machines. However, the term “CNC machine” can also be applied to any manufacturing machine that relies on computerized controls to guide their movement, regardless of whether they perform machining operations. The following article provides an overview of the various types of CNC machines available.

    Types of CNC Machines

    There are numerous CNC machines available, each of which is suitable for different part production applications. Some of the most common include:

    CNC Milling Machines

    CNC milling machines utilize rotating cutting tools to remove precise sections of material from the workpiece to form the desired component. They can process workpieces in three to six axes, depending on their configuration, making them suitable for producing a variety of parts and products. Face milling operations are used to produce flat and shallow design elements, while peripheral milling operations are used to create deeper design elements.

    CNC Lathe Machines

    CNC lathe machines employ stationary cutting tools to remove precise sections of material from a rotating workpiece. They are generally used to produce symmetrical parts with conical, spherical, cylindrical, or otherwise contoured shapes. Examples of typical design features on CNC turned components include internal or external grooves, tapers, and threads.

    CNC Punching Machines

    CNC punching machines offer greater precision, accuracy, and speed than conventional punch presses. They allow industry professionals to create simple to complex punched designs and patterns on sheet metal.

    CNC Forming Machines

    CNC forming machines manipulate metal through the use of brakes, rolls, tubes, turrets, or other machine presses. The use of computerized controls enables industry professionals to maintain better control over the shaping process, resulting in more precise and accurate shapes and less material waste.

    Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMMs)

    During CNC machining operations, coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) are employed to measure the geometric characteristics of a solid part. This information is then used to determine or verify whether the part conforms to the pre-established specifications. It can also be utilized to create a digital model of a prototype or sample part, which can then be used to generate the foundational code needed to program the production equipment.

    Advanced CNC Machines

    Over the years, new manufacturing technology has been developed and adopted to accommodate increasingly demanding customer specifications. Some of the most recent CNC manufacturing technologies include:

    • CNC electrical discharge machines. CNC electrical discharge machines (EDMs) utilize high-frequency electrical sparks to gradually wear away material from the workpiece. EDM processes can be used to machine a variety of conductive materials, such as aluminum to carbide.
    • CNC laser cutting machines. CNC laser cutting machines rely on high-powered laser beams to generate the necessary cuts on the workpiece. They are used to cut out a variety of complex and intricate components from larger pieces of material. Compared to conventional cutting technologies, they enable industry professionals to achieve better cutting precision and accuracy.
    • CNC plasma cutting machines. CNC plasma cutting machines utilize superheated, ionized gas (i.e., plasma) to cut into electrically conductive material. Compared to standard cutting technologies, they offer faster cutting speeds and a lower risk of mechanical warping.
    • CNC waterjet cutting machines. Waterjet cutting machines employ high-pressure waterjets to cut through materials. Water-only jets are used for soft materials (e.g., rubber), while water mixed with abrasives are used for harder materials (e.g., metal).

    CNC Machining Services at Pro-Type Industries

    In the manufacturing sector, CNC machines are used to produce a variety of components made from a broad selection of materials and for a wide range of industries. Compared to conventional manufacturing technologies, they offer a number of advantages, such as better precision and accuracy, faster processing speed, and lower risk of error.

    At Pro-Type Industries, we are well-aware of the benefits of CNC machining technology. We use state-of-the-art CNC machines to produce high-quality metal components. Whether a customer needs a single prototype or full-production quantities, we’ve got them covered.

    For additional information about our CNC machining capabilities, check out our CNC Machining service page. To discuss your project requirements with one of our experts, request a quote today.

  2. CNC Machining vs. 3D Printing

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    While both are computerized fabrication processes, CNC machining and 3D printing differ significantly in terms of processes, materials, production capabilities, and final product outcome. Though the two processes may occasionally produce similar results in specific applications, they achieve those results quite differently.

    CNC machining is a subtractive manufacturing method that uses pre-programmed cutting tools to shape parts and components from a piece of stock material. Conversely, 3D printing uses additive measures to create pre-programmed shapes from melted plastic, resin, and metal. Both methods are automated and highly dependent on computer software, but they are fundamentally different processes.

    Additive Manufacturing vs. Subtractive Machining

    CNC Machining vs 3D Printing

    To understand the basic difference between CNC machining and 3D printing, it is important to understand the difference between additive and subtractive manufacturing processes.

    • Additive manufacturing, as its name implies, is based on the addition of material to create a part or component. In most cases, such as 3D printing, parts are created from a melted material which is layered and shaped in accordance with pre-programmed specifications.
    • Subtractive machining begins with a larger stock of raw material, which is then cut or milled away in fine amounts, thereby producing the final desired shape. Unlike additive processes, subtractive machining does not require melting and curing of raw materials and as a result can be used on a greater variety of materials.

    Materials Utilized for CNC Machining & 3D Printing

    Due to their different fundamental fabrication methods, CNC machining and 3D printing have different material capabilities. Specifically, additive 3D printing has more functional limitations than subtractive CNC machining.

    CNC Machining Materials

    CNC machining can be used to create parts and components from a wide range of materials, including:

    • Thermoplastics
    • Acrylic
    • Fiber in-layered composites
    • Machining wax
    • Modeling foam
    • Metals and metal alloys
    • Wood
    • Graphite
    • Glass

    3D Printing Materials

    3D printing is much more limited in its range since the material must be able to melt into a liquid state in order to be printed to the required specifications. The vast majority of 3D printing uses plastic resins, though the latest developments in the technology have expanded material options for certain printer types.

    Materials available for 3D printing include:

    • Thermoplastics
    • Nylon
    • Wood filaments
    • Metal filaments (carbon, titanium, steel)
    • Photopolymers
    • Wax

    Although 3D printing can produce some metal- or wood-based products, the end products have a reduced durability and temperature resistances than their extruded and machined equivalents.

    Benefits of CNC Machining & 3D Printing

    CNC machining and 3D printing are very different processes and each method offers its own particular benefits, depending on the application.

    3D Printing Benefits

    • Fast turn-around.3D printed parts have very little set up and custom programming to operate and as such a small batch of parts can ship within 2-3 business days.
    • Cleaner production.3D printing is an overall cleaner process than CNC machining.
    • Reduced waste.Since it is an additive process, 3D printing produces notably less energy and material waste. Most of which comes from supportive materials used in the printing process.
    • 3D printing can create extremely complex parts. Since complicated geometries are built in rather than cut out no tooling needs to reach internal features expanding the potential complexity of printed parts.

    CNC Machining Benefits

    • Quick production.CNC machining is a much faster production process than 3D printing, especially for higher-volume production.
    • Material versatility. CNC machining can be used to fabricate parts from a much wider range of materials.
    • Part durability.Material versatility means that CNC machining can produce parts from much stronger and more durable materials.
    • Superior precision. CNC machining offers exceptional precision and accuracy when compared with 3D printing.
    • CNC machining is easily customized for special parts and components.

    While 3D printing may be useful for small batches, prototypes, or parts that do not require a great deal of precision or strength, CNC machining remains a superior manufacturing method for most production runs. The CNC machining process is faster, more versatile, more precise, and more easily customized than 3D printing.

    Pro-Type Industries CNC Machining Services

    At Pro-Type Industries, we provide high-quality CNC machining services for a wide variety of industries and applications. With almost 50 years of experience in fabrication and manufacturing, Pro-Type has built an international reputation for superior manufacturing. For more information on our exceptional CNC machining capabilities, contact us today.

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