Computer Numerical Control, usually just called CNC, has been around since the 60s. But if you don’t go back that far, or just want a quick lesson on this powerful and widely used manufacturing technology, you’ve come to the right page.
What it is
As you’d guess from its name, CNC uses a computer to control tools such as routers, grinders, mills, and lathes in a wide variety of manufacturing environments. To use CNC, Computer Aided Design (CAD) is first used to design the part to be machined. Then G-Code, a special programming language developed at the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is put to work. G-code tells the machine tool how fast to run, where and how to position the tool, what feed rate is right for the job and everything else it needs to know how to manufacture a part.
CNC machines are compatible with almost any material used in manufacturing. Non-ferrous metals such as aluminum, copper and bronze, many types of wood, and plastics and resins such as polycarbonate, ABS and PTFE are all machined with CNC control and tools.
What it does
CNC manufacturing revolutionized the way parts and the products they became were made. Remember, CNC machined parts are designed with CAD software. So their dimensions are very, very precise. Then CNC matches that precision. Its series of commands allow the machine tool to deliver once impossible shapes, specifications and tolerances. Put simply, CNC manufacturing is more accurate than anything that came before it.
But there’s more good news, too. CNC manufacturing means that every part you make is made the same way. This consistency is formally called repeatability. What it means is the one-thousandth part your tool makes will have the same quality and precise dimensions as the first one. With CNC, it’s as easy as, well, ABC.