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Comparing the Different Types of CNC Machines

Computer numerical control (CNC) machines are used extensively in the manufacturing industry. Defined as machining system that’s controlled via a computer, they allow manufacturers to automate many manufacturing processes that would otherwise have to be performed manually. As a result, CNC driven machines increase productivity, reduce waste and even reduce or eliminate the risk of human error. But there are several different types of CNC machines, each of which has their own unique functions.

CNC Milling Machine

One of the most common types, milling CNC machines feature built-in tools for drilling and cutting. Materials are placed inside the milling CNC machine, after which the computer will guide the tools to drill or cut it. Most milling CNC machines are available in three- to six-axis configurations.

CNC Plasma-Cutting Machine

Like milling CNC machines, plasma-cutting CNC machines are also used to cut materials. However, they differ from their milling counterparts by performing this operation using a plasma torch. Plasma-cutting CNC machines feature a high-powered torch that’s able to cut through rough materials like metal. While electric welding yields temperatures of up to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, plasma torches achieve temperatures of up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

CNC Lathe Machine

Lathe CNC machines are characterized by their ability to rotate materials while in operation. They usually have a fewer number of axes than milling CNC machines, making them smaller and more compact. Lathe CNC machines feature a lathe in the center that manipulates and moves the material into the position as programmed on the computer.

CNC Laser-Cutting Machine

Not to be confused with plasma-cutting CNC machines, laser-cutting CNC machines are designed to cut through tough materials, though they use a laser to perform this task rather than a plasma torch. Lasers tend to offer a higher level of cutting accuracy, but they aren’t quite as strong as plasma torches. Laser-cutting CNC machines generally use one of three types of lasers: CO2, neodymium (Nd) or yytrium-aluminum-garnet (Nd:YAG).

CNC Electric Discharge Machine

An electric discharge CNC machine, also known as a spark CNC machine, is a special type of CNC machine that uses electrical sparks to manipulate materials into a desired shape. Electrical discharge has an erosive effect, meaning it can deform materials to which it’s exposed. Electric discharge CNC machines take advantage of this by producing controlled sparks to reshape materials. Materials are placed between a top and bottom electrode, after which the computer dictates how much electrical discharge the electrodes produce.

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