CNC machining has become one of the most popular methods of cutting and producing parts and components in the manufacturing industry, as the computer-controlled processes can perform quickly and accurately while offering significant cost savings compared to traditional machining processes. However, there are many different types of CNC machines, including machines that mill, drill, and turn. Some of these machines are also based on the types of cutting methods used, such as tools, laser, plasma, and electric discharge. It can be challenging for shop owners and fabricators to know which CNC machine they should use for their specific industry.
In this article, we explain the applications and limitations of each type of CNC machine to help you decide which will be the best fit for your machining requirements.
Types of CNC Machines
CNC machines can be divided into two main categories: 3-axis CNC machines and multi-axis CNC machines.
A 3-axis CNC machine can be used for either milling or turning, while a multi-axis CNC machine has three different classifications:
- Indexed CNC machining 3+2 axis
- Continuous 5-axis CNC machine
3-Axis CNC Machines
These are the most common types of CNC machines found in workshops. These machines allow the tool to move relative to the workpiece in three different directions: X, Y, and Z-axis. The basic nomenclature of these axes are as follows:
- X-axis: left-right
- Y-axis: back-forth
- Z-axis: up-down
There are two types of 3-axis CNC machines: milling machines and turning machines.
CNC Milling Machines
In this case, the workpiece is held stationary over the vice, and materials are removed out of it using special cutting tools. These cutting tools are attached to a spindle that rotates at a very high speed along three linear axes: X, Y, and Z.
- Relatively easy to program
- Operates better than other configurations
- Good for producing standard geometries
- Not suitable for applications where two or more combinations of the axes are required to produce the required shape
CNC Turning Machines (Lathe Machines)
CNC turning machines can produce more volumes of work at a lesser cost per piece than the milling machine. In this case, the workpiece is held stationary on a spindle while a cutting tool machines its external and internal perimeter to attain the required shape. The lathe machine can also drill holes in the center of the workpiece with center drills and internal cutting tools.
- Low cost per unit
- Excellent accuracy
- Useful for producing screw threads, plane surfaces, or three-dimensional, complex products
- Can only produce parts in the cylindrical form
5-Axis CNC Machine
A 5-axis CNC machine easily overcomes the limitations of a CNC turning machine. As the name suggests, this CNC type rotates in five directions; X, Y, Z, A, and B. The A-axis is termed the fourth axis and denotes rotation around the bed, or the X-axis. Similarly, the B-axis is the fifth axis and denotes rotation around the tool head, or the Y-axis.
- Easy to design complex geometries faster due to compound angle positioning
- Lower cycle time to optimize machining costs
- Improved dimensional stability
- Parts involving complex shapes and minute clearances like impellers, turbines, intake ports, etc.
- Requires a costly setup and expert operators
It is worth knowing that there are two types of 5-axis CNC machines: the indexed type and the continuous type. The continuous type allows simultaneous movement of all five axes at the same time, whereas the indexed type does not offer a continuous contact around the A and B-axis. It rotates around them, remains stationary during operation, and reorients again for the new cutting location.
Mill Turning CNC Center
Mill turning CNC centers are equivalent to CNC turning machines yet have milling capabilities. Thus, it becomes relatively easier to remove materials from the workpiece. The spindle holds the workpiece and can rotate like a lathe machine to achieve higher productivity. Mill turning CNC centers can aim for complex geometrical flexibility like a 5-axis CNC milling machine.
- Reduces clamping times
- Lowers procurement costs
- Saves tool changing time
- Increases process efficiency
- Useful to create round parts requiring milling or drilling
- Rotation around the z-axis is not possible
7-Axis CNC Machine
Sometimes, designing complex topographies for aerospace and military parts requires rotation around the workpiece or rotation of the tool head. These functions are not available in 5-axis CNC machines. This is where 7-axis CNC machines become imperative. In addition to all the axes of a 5-axis machine, they offer movement along the Z-axis and rotation of the arm to save time on transferring the workpiece to another machine.
- Rotation around the workpiece
- Saves time on changing machines
- Improves processing speed
- Used for designing complex aerospace and military components
- More expensive than 5-axis machines
12-Axis CNC machines
Among all of the types of CNC machines available, 12-axis CNC machines are the most advanced. These machines offer great machining autonomy without requiring any human intervention. They can perform milling, drilling, and cutting operations on light alloys such as aluminum. The best part is that these CNC machines come with two heads: a vertical machining center (VMC) and a horizontal machining center (HMC). Thus, they can achieve precision in 12 different angles, as shown in the figure below.
- Unparalleled design flexibility
- Quick setup changes
- Ideal for most challenging machining processes
- Requires a highly sophisticated setup and expert operators
Purchase CNC-Ready Materials from a Reliable Supplier
Industrial Metal Service supplies a wide range of metals commonly used for CNC machining, such as aluminum, titanium, and stainless steel, while our metal sawing services ensure your materials are cut to size to save your valuable production time and reduce material waste. Our MetlSaw NF12-T12 is capable of cutting 12-inch-thick aluminum plates up to 12 feet long and 12 feet wide, while our Amada PCSAW 530 X band saw with pulse cutting technology can quickly and precisely cut tough titanium alloys.