CNC technology revolutionized subtractive manufacturing, vastly increasing the precision and accuracy of modern machine tools. Today you’ll find CNC routers, CNC lathes, CNC mills, CNC plasma cutters, and numerous other machine shop standards.
However, CNC cutting machines are mostly referring to the family of cutting tools that are bed-based as opposed to turning machines. These include plasma-cutting machines, water jet cutting machines, CNC oxy-fuel cutting, and routers.
Industrial CNC routers are similar to milling machines, in which a cutting head is suspended on a gantry above a work piece. The router bit is lowered into the work piece and gouges or drills out a cavity, moving along the work piece according to the CNC program. Router machines are typically used on non-ferrous materials, particularly wood.
Plasma cutters use electricity to produce a stream of superheated plasma capable of cutting through metal sheets or pipes. The technique can work the pieces up to six inches thick, and cuts with a cone-shaped pattern. Plasma cutters are also referred to as burn tables.
Water jet cutting relies on a small, high-pressure jet of water to cut through a wide variety of materials. When cutting through harder material, the water might be mixed with an abrasive material such as sand or grit, which gives the high-pressure stream even more cutting power. CNC water jets are also able to cut non-ferrous materials. Plastics and polyurethane foam are just two of the materials that can be sectioned with water jets.
Manufacturing processes with CNC cutting
A typical set up of CNC manufacturing includes an uncut work piece, a CNC cutting machine, and a trained operator. Before any cutting happens, the operator will use CAD software (Computer Assisted Design) and CAM software (Computer Assisted Manufacturing) to design a cutting program for a particular part. A vector file is then exported to the CNC machine after the design stage. That vector file digitally converts the program into G-code, the language of CNC machines.
CNC Cutting Machines
Cutting systems from CNC routers to milling machines produce a huge amount of the industrial fabric of our modern lives. Plasma cutters and water jets are mainstays in labs and tool rooms, while lathes, mills, and routers are some of the primary machine tools used to make parts for major assembly lines.
Manufacturers are increasingly turning to CNC technologies to save time and effort and increase automation. Instead of require a single worker for each mill or cutting machine on a factory floor, CNC technology allows a single skilled operator to oversee several machines and a number of processes simultaneously.
With the number of different CNC cutters available, manufacturers have the ability to work with a whole range of materials. Plastics, acrylics, foams, and soft steel and other common metals can all be sectioned with the different CNC cutting tools available.
CNC Cutting and the Future of Machining
Additive machining has also been adapted to CNC technology. The rise of new technologies like 3D printing use similar programming to subtractive CNC cutting methods and provides many of the same benefits of automation and precision. The future of machining will rely on a combination of classic cutting methods and new additive processes, and CNC technology will continue to play a major role in both methods.