When tight tolerances are essential, we turn to CNC machining, a computer-assisted technology that’s revolutionized manufacturing, enhancing the efforts of human workers by using pre-programmed computer software to operate factory tools and machinery at the highest precision levels possible.
Learn how CNC machining can automate the creation of precision parts from The Federal Group.
What is CNC Machining?
CNC, or Computer Numerical Control, machining is a subtractive manufacturing process that takes human error out of the equation, using computerized lathe machine tools to make custom-designed parts. Automation is often implemented throughout the process, which can save the client time and cost on completing projects.
The CNC process relies on digital instructions made using computer-aided manufacturing software that writes code with numerical values that CNC machines can read to execute processes from beginning to end. CNC machines use that computer-aided design to automate, monitor, and control a machine’s movements.
Or, in more concrete terms, a computer can use programming codes to direct machine tools to whittle away at the material using milling and turning until the part is formed.
Unlike additive manufacturing processes like 3D printing and injection molding, CNC machining is subtractive, meaning it removes material until you are left with a finished product.
Read on to learn what to expect when working with a CNC machining partner.
A CNC Machine for Every Application
CNC machining technology has become an indispensable part of the modern manufacturing landscape, and it’s used in a variety of industries ranging from agriculture to healthcare.
There are different types of CNC machines and they can be divided into groups based on their complexity, ranging from simple 2-axis machines to machines capable of working on five axes. A 3-axis machine, for example, keeps the part in a stationary position while a cutting tool moves on XYZ planes, ideal for milling slots, cutting sharp edges, and drilling holes.
At The Federal Group, we use state-of-the-art 3-axis milling machines, 4-axis machines, and 5-axis machines to create high-quality products that match our clients’ desired specs. The technique lends itself to precise and intricate parts made from various materials.
Above: A custom spline shaft machined by TFG USA.
As your metal parts experts, we specialize in metal CNC machining.
CNC Machining Materials
CNC machining involves the precise removal of material from a workpiece to create intricate shapes and components. Various materials are commonly used in CNC machining, each with its unique properties that cater to specific applications.
Metals such as aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium are popular choices due to their durability, machinability, and resistance to corrosion. The selection of materials in CNC machining is critical, considering factors such as hardness, thermal conductivity, and the desired end-use of the product. This diversity in material options allows CNC machining to be a versatile and widely applicable manufacturing process across various industries.
Including low-, medium-, and high-carbon steel.
Composed of various combinations of iron-based alloys and particularly well-suited to be made into tools and tooling.
One of the fastest machining steels currently being produced. Widely used in high-speed screw machining applications.
A type of steel alloyed with several elements in addition to carbon, resulting in improved hardness, toughness, fatigue, and wear resistance.
A copper and zinc alloy with strong corrosion resistance and high conductivity, used in applications from electrical to antimicrobial.
A nickel-based superalloy developed for the aerospace industry and used for aircraft engine components.
A nickel-based superalloy often used to make marine engineering equipment.
A soft and malleable metal commonly used in manufacturing electrical equipment.
A metallurgic stainless steel offering corrosion resistance for use in harsh environments.
A lightweight, malleable, and durable option for many applications.
A strong, corrosion-resistant metal commonly used in aerospace, automotive, and medical industries.
A very strong alloy that’s resistant to corrosion, easy to clean and sterilize, making it especially useful for medical equipment.
The CNC Machining Process
The CNC machining process is a subtractive manufacturing technique that involves the use of computer numerical control (CNC) machines to remove material from a workpiece and shape it into a desired form. The process typically includes the following steps:
- The process begins with the creation of a digital 3D model or CAD (Computer-Aided Design) file. This design serves as the blueprint for the final product, specifying dimensions, tolerances, and other details.
- The CAD file is then translated into CNC machine code (typically g-code or m-code) by a programmer using CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) software. This CNC programming code contains instructions for the CNC machine on how to move and position the cutting tools to achieve the desired part geometry.
- Workpiece Setup:
- The raw material, known as the workpiece, is secured in the CNC machine. This may involve clamping it in a vice, chuck, or other holding device depending on the machine type.
- Tool Selection:
- Appropriate cutting tools are selected based on the material of the workpiece and the features required in the final product. Different tools may be used for milling, turning, drilling, or other operations.
- Machine Calibration:
- The CNC lathe undergoes a calibration process to ensure accuracy in its movements. This calibration includes setting the zero points and reference positions for each axis.
- CNC Machining Operations:
- The CNC machine executes the programmed toolpaths, which involve precise movements of the cutting tools in relation to the workpiece. This can include milling, turning, drilling, or a combination of these operations.
- Material Removal:
- During machining, material is gradually removed from the workpiece according to the programmed instructions. The cutting tools create the desired shapes, features, and surface finishes.
- Quality Control:
- Periodic checks may be performed by machinists to verify the dimensions and tolerances of the machined features. This ensures that the final product meets the specified requirements.
- Finishing Operations:
- After the primary machining operations, additional processes like deburring, polishing, or heat treating may be applied to improve the final product’s aesthetics and functionality.
- Once the machining process is complete, the finished part is removed from the CNC machine. Depending on the complexity of the project, multiple setups or operations may be required to achieve the final product.
CNC machining is widely used across various industries due to its precision, efficiency, and versatility in producing complex parts with tight tolerances. It is applicable to a range of materials, including metals, plastics, and composites.
Advantages of CNC Machining
CNC machine tools can make quick, complicated cuts unmatched by other machinery. Using a computer-driven cutting tool to transform raw materials into a final product gives the client consistent product quality, better accuracy, and increased production speed. Depending on the part geometry, CNC machining can be ideal for prototyping.
Plus, the optimization greatly reduces defects. Inputs remain unchanged during the entire production process, cycle after cycle—and as long as they’re maintained and overseen by a trained machinist, machines can operate for long hours without compromising the quality of the product.
CNC machining is distinguished by built-in efficiencies, seamless scalability, and reduced energy consumption, all without compromises to the process or quality. All of this adds up to a process that can produce precision parts at a massively reduced cost of production.
What is the difference between CNC machining, milling, and turning?
CNC machining is a broad term that encompasses various manufacturing processes, including CNC milling and CNC turning. Here are the key differences between CNC machining, CNC milling, and CNC turning:
- CNC Machining:
- Definition: CNC machining is a general term for computer numerical control processes that involve the removal of material from a workpiece to achieve a desired shape.
- Processes: It includes a range of operations such as milling, turning, drilling, and other techniques performed with the assistance of computer-controlled machines.
- CNC Milling:
- Definition: CNC milling specifically refers to the process of using rotary cutters to remove material from a workpiece to create a specific shape.
- Operation: In CNC milling, the workpiece remains stationary while the cutting tool rotates, allowing for precise and controlled material removal. This process is ideal for creating complex shapes and features on a variety of materials.
- CNC Turning:
- Definition: CNC turning involves the rotation of a workpiece while a cutting tool moves in a linear fashion to shape the material.
- Operation: In CNC turning, the material is typically held in a chuck and rotated, and a cutting tool is applied to create cylindrical shapes such as tubes, shafts, and other symmetrical components. It is particularly effective for producing parts with rotational symmetry.
In summary, CNC machining is the overarching term that encompasses various manufacturing processes, while CNC milling and CNC turning are specific techniques within CNC machining. CNC milling involves rotary cutters and stationary workpieces, while CNC turning revolves around rotating workpieces and linearly moving cutting tools. Each technique is chosen based on the specific requirements of the desired end product.
What is the difference between Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM) and CNC machining?
- CNC Machining: CNC machining is a subtractive manufacturing process that involves removing material from a workpiece using cutting tools such as drills, mills, or lathes. The cutting tools physically remove material through various cutting actions.
- EDM: Electrical Discharge Machining, on the other hand, is a non-traditional machining process that relies on electrical discharges (sparks) to remove material. EDM doesn’t involve direct contact between the tool and the workpiece; instead, material is eroded through a series of controlled electrical discharges.
The Federal Group’s CNC Machining Services
When it comes to turning machines, CNC technology continues to evolve and innovate. At TFG, we design special machines that can be committed to long-term part programs. Our sales engineers will will make sure your CNC machined parts are manufactured to-print.
And as we look to continue to maximize efficiency with CNC machining, we’ve been creating robotic cells to optimize production flow. These robotic machines are programmed to complete coordinated and rapid movements, creating what amounts to an automated assembly line.
Start a CNC Machining Project Today
CNC machining has revolutionized the manufacturing industry—and we’d love to discuss the ways automation can revolutionize your next custom parts project. The finished product will meet your standards.
The Federal Group prides itself on our unparalleled engineering expertise in CNC machining. We’ve been providing precision CNC machining to clients since 1980, serving a wide range of industries, from small to large CNC machining projects. Our machine shop has the capacity to work on machined parts with tight tolerances and large volume productions.
Contact us today to get started on a custom project quote.
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