Advantages of CNC Machining over Conventional

October 17, 2022

Computer-numerical control (CNC) machining has revolutionized the manufacturing industry. CNC machine has, in many instances, replaced operator-required equipment. Manufacturers choose CNC machining for their fabrication and manufacturing applications. It provides efficient, expedient and precise manufacturing capability, ideal for producing huge quantities of items typically produced with a shaping machine, center lathe, grinder, router or vertical miller.

The computer-numerical control also offers financial and production advantages over the conventional method. In manual lathing, for example, there must be a skilled technician for every machine, while with CNC machining, one skilled person can operate several machines. We’ll thoroughly assess the advantages of CNC. But first, let’s cover the basics.

Application and History of CNC Machining

CNC machining produces a broad range of metal and plastic elements that become a part of businesses and the general environment. Many industries need accurate, consistent, complex cuts. A few of these industries are:

  • Aerospace
  • Agriculture
  • Automotive
  • Construction
  • Dental
  • Electronics
  • Firearms
  • Hospitality
  • Manufacturing, all types
  • Metal work
  • Military
  • Production
  • Publishing
  • Transportation

The first CNC machines were developed by U.S. Air Force mechanics in the 1940s. The early machines used punched-paper technology as a driver, and that has evolved into today’s digital software. CNC machining grew popular quickly due to its ability to produce ultra-precise results in large quantities across many applications. The computerization aspect of CNC machining gives detailed, consistent results.

Fairlawn Tool is your experienced local provider of CNC Machining. Read on to learn the answers to many common questions we receive about this process:

1. What Are CNC Machines?

Computer-numerical control machining is a process used primarily by manufacturers to produce machined parts, products and items. CNC machines are what accomplish the process.

A CNC machine is a machine that uses Computer Numerical Control over machine tools such as routers, lathes, mills or grinders. Computer Numerical Control is different from typical PCs in the type of software it uses to control the machine, which is specially customized and programmed with G-Code — a specific CNC machine language that allows precise control of features like speed, location, coordination and feed rate.

Specialized software drives computerized machining. The software has customized G-code, the language that enables precise control of coordination, feed rate, location and speed, among other factors. The G-code-infused software sits within a computer that looks like a sophisticated desktop.

One programmer at the computer console can command machine work to multiple operators on lathes, shapers, grinders, mills and routers. The computerized, automated machining method can achieve reaches, holds and other actions more efficiently than human operators and conventional machines.

Manufacturing finds CNC machining especially helpful because the industry needs large quantities of plastic and metal parts, usually in intricate shapes. A variety of CNC machines offer the advantage of having multiple axes that can adjust to difficult angles and help manage hard-to-cut materials.

Basic machines have a cutting implement along X- and Y- axes, each working independently, however, simultaneously. Advanced machines may have up to five similarly performing axes with the ability to flip and turn the part. For instance, the Z-axis moves up and down.

CNC machines can automate jobs that require several cuts. A router or spindle turns the cutting implement, which usually resembles a drill bit. A true drill bit cuts only at the tip, while nearly all of a router bit cuts the material.

The programming in CNC machines incorporates all the exacting, high-speed movements needed to produce the object, and it enables detailed customization. CNC machining is becoming increasingly popular as a way to fabricate metal parts as well as plastic parts, as it allows the manufacturer to produce complex shapes that would be nearly impossible to create manually. Many industries, especially manufacturers, look to CNC machining advantages for production solutions involving metal and plastic and any number of machining processes they may need.

2. Is CNC Machining Better Than Conventional?

Conventional and CNC machining seek to achieve the same goal. They both begin with a raw fragment of metal or plastic and mold it into a part. The fundamental difference is the automation of CNC against the manual nature of conventional. Production rate, pace and precision are some of the primary benefits of CNC machining over conventional machining.

With CNC, a skilled employee programs software to cut the part. With conventional, a skilled employee takes all the steps to set up and operate the machine. In the manual circumstance, a highly trained operator must also set the gears. CNC machining does not require gears.

Conventional typically costs less and is used for small-quantity projects. CNC machining is normally used for high quantities and is not as cost-effective for smaller ones.

Imagine a hypothetical part, for example. A component needs concave and convex arcs, imperial and metric threads and two tapers of differing degrees. An automated CNC machine would use three tools to cut the part, while the conventional machine would require five tools and no doubt more time.

You will find conventional and CNC technologies available for most machining jobs. Some of these technologies include:

  • Drills: A bit spins to make contact with the material.
  • Lathes: The block of material moves against the drill bit, usually in a lateral motion.
  • Milling Machines: Rotary-cutting tools remove material from a stock unit.

Novel CNC machining technologies include the less-common types:

  • Electrical/Chemical: The material block is cut using a specific kind of machining style such as electron beam, electro-chemical, electrical discharge, photochemical and ultrasonic.
  • Other: Less commonly found methods of CNC machining involve such cutting media as oxy fuel, plasma, water jets and laser.

Among the first things to happen with CNC machining is the use of computer-aided design or manufacturing (CAD or CAM) software to produce a two- or three-dimensional model of the final component. The prototype image of that component is then fed into the software, which operates through the computer to command the machining tools to produce items identical to the model.

Once the computer has loaded in a new image for CNC machining, it can pull that model up again and again to produce more of what it is, which is another of the CNC machine advantages. The technology is designed to achieve high machining accuracy.

3. What Level of Skill Is Required to Operate CNC Machines?

Operating CNC machines requires knowledge of the CNC machine itself and the CNC program. Having knowledge of the particular industry it relevant, as well. Operating CNC machines requires you to understand the mechanical aspects. This is relevant in producing quality products, both aesthetically and structurally. Knowledge in calibration, tooling, feed speeds and safe operation is also vital.

Understanding CNC programming, on the other hand, requires comprehension of G-code and CAM. The software is relatively easy to use — the CAM automatically writes the G-code. Learning the G-code itself is an added advantage.

4. What Materials Can Be Used in CNC Machining?

Conventional and unconventional methods of CNC machining are employed for a plethora of jobs that may involve a variety of materials:

  • Aluminum
  • Brass
  • Copper
  • Foam
  • Fiberglass
  • Plastic
  • Polypropylene
  • Steel
  • Titanium
  • Wood

5. What Are the Typical CNC Projects?

You’d be hard-pressed to describe a typical project since businesses have different needs, but these are 20 cutting chores frequently completed by CNC machining:

  • Punch
  • Engrave
  • Turn
  • Drill
  • Face
  • Grind
  • Shear
  • Groove
  • Knurl
  • Lathe
  • Cut
  • Mill
  • Thread
  • Shape
  • Tap
  • Texture
  • Contour
  • Stamp
  • Bore
  • Weld

This list is not exhaustive, but it is clear that CNC machines have several advantages. The only obvious situation where a CNC machine may not be right is if you have a small operation that needs simple metal shapes. In that case, the CNC machine may not confer a huge cost advantage.

6. CNC Machining vs. Manual Machining

The main difference between CNC machining and manual machining is the hands-on time requirement. Since CNC machining uses automation, a single skilled operator could potentially run several machining centers. Manual processes are almost entirely hands-on, so this type of machining requires that you have one trained worker to operate every machine.

CNC machining equips a shop to move faster with fewer team members, yielding a significant advantage. Nonetheless, there are unique benefits to both CNC machining and manual machining.

CNC Machining

A few examples of CNC machines include mills, lathes, presses and saws, allowing shops to automate a multitude of different processes. There are a number of significant advantages to CNC machining:

  • Uniformity: The programming of the machine allows it to deliver precision results within the allotted time frame again and again.
  • Production volume: CNC machining is an ideal solution for large orders since it can manufacture hundreds to thousands of parts in short periods so your business can scale quickly.
  • Worker safety: Most CNC machines have a guard as well as a closed door with transparent glass. This design allows workers to supervise the processes with minimal risk of serious injury.
  • Automation: CNC machines can decrease your workforce requirements since they require little management to complete parts on their own.

Manual Machining

CNC machining is currently one of the most popular options for businesses, but there are still scenarios where manual machining offers the best approach:

  • Turnaround: CNC methods require more steps to complete a process. Manual machining allows a skilled worker to get raw stock on the machine and begin working more quickly.
  • Economy: Manual machines cost less than CNC equipment, so new and small businesses have an easier time fitting this technology into their budgets.
  • Programming: A manual machine requires no programming skills, allowing operations to eliminate this role from the payroll.
  • Backup method: Even operations that have CNC capabilities often choose manual machining for small-scale, one-time orders that don’t merit the time required to draft and prove out a CNC program.

7. What Is CNC Machining Accuracy?

The accuracy of CNC machining is the difference between the actual measurements and the CNC system’s measurement. This accuracy directly impacts the product’s performance. Under CNC machine tools, there are several types of accuracy. These include:

  • Geometric
  • Positioning
  • Interpolation
  • Volumetric
  • Production
  • Working

8. What Are the Advantages of CNC Machining?

Anyone responsible for planning the manufacturing of metal parts and components would want to know what benefits they gain using CNC machining. While the type of businesses and products differ, the CNC advantages are clear.

The advantages of CNC machines include:

  • Precision Components: CNC machines are autonomous and adopt a digital template, which practically eliminates human error, translating into high accuracy. The software provides an end-to-end process, enabling it to produce repetitive actions flawlessly.
  • Reliable Endurance: CNC machines work around-the-clock daily, weekends and holidays. They only stop for needed maintenance or repair.
  • Scalability: CNC machines consistently execute the desired quantities and offer flexible scalability once you input the design parameters and specifications.
  • More Capability: CNC machines create outputs that cannot be reproduced by manual machines when used in tandem with advanced design software. The machines can produce a variety of sizes, textures and shapes.
  • Faster and Efficient Production: CNC machines deliver quick results, making it simpler to meet high demands. They operate day and night, producing accurate outputs for industries. It helps industries increase their overall productivity.
  • Quicker Assembly: CNC machines move human resources down the assembly line. This makes it possible for workers to manage high-production settings, which requires the specialized skills lacking in machine production. CNC machines produce seamless fitting parts, which allows the assembly line to flow freely.
  • Low Energy Consumption: CNC machining is beneficial to industries engaged in automotive, oil and gas, aerospace and others known to be energy intensive. CNC machining reduces energy loss and decreases labor, providing a more sustainable alternative.
  • Minimal Labor: CNC machining requires less personnel to execute the production tasks. One skilled operator can run several of the autonomous CNC machines, and one programmer can get them loaded with the needed designs. A manual machine requires at least one skilled operator per machine plus usually a supervisor for the group. What you save on manpower can be passed along to customers, helping you achieve a competitive advantage.
  • Uniformity: CNC machines assure uniformity in all outputs. Even the most competent engineers on a conventional machine will produce components that vary slightly. With CNC machines, each part is a perfect match to the prototype’s exact specifications.
  • Lower Costs: The collective result of efficiency, speed, specialization, precision and less labor hours benefits your business. The lower costs, in turn, can be used to create a competitive advantage and business re-investment. Saving money or making more money is one of the popular benefits of CNC machining.
  • Fewer Headaches: Manual machining serves many good purposes, but it remains forever susceptible to the human element. You’re probably familiar with the financial and cultural headaches it can cause when there are periods when you’re short-staffed, have people out sick or on vacation and operators who don’t perform to expectations. CNC machining nearly eliminates those concerning issues.
  • Better Safety: Along with an expedient production process and consistent pieces comes a safer environment. While there are operators involved in operating CNC machines, it’s at a distance from the sharp tools, whereas the operators of conventional-manual lathes, drills, punches and other tools come into direct contact with the implement.
  • Design Retention: Once a design has been loaded into the CNC machining software and a perfect prototype has been created, the program can easily retrieve the design to run it and create the object again. Regardless of external factors, such as machine-operator changes, the master file ensures the CNC machining process always produces a spot-on match. Additionally, there is no need to keep up with versions of the design that may exist on paper, a flash drive, a disk, another computer or elsewhere.
  • Low Maintenance: The G-code-based software will automatically update itself when needed, and CNC machines generally do not require much service other than to change the cutting implements at the proper interval and do some light cleaning. None of the regular maintenance requires professional service, which saves money.
  • Less Extensive Skill Required: Conventional machines require manual experience and skill to execute tasks accurately. CNC does require some expertise to operate, as well. However, industries can produce high-quality products with relatively less skill in terms of actual parts creation.
  • Increased Production Options: CNC machining relies on advanced software, which makes it possible for manufacturers to produce items beyond their level of expertise. You can update the software to make add more operations and improve its functionality. You can use the same machine to execute several tasks, including emerging operations.
  • No Prototype Required: The CNC software allows you to manufacture products without necessarily creating a prototype first. This reduces cost and saves time. With CNC machining, you can also manufacture without recreating revisions to the prototype.

  • Suitability for modern demands: Contemporary production requires precision, high production and better efficiency, and that’s what CNC machining offers. CNC machines take over the human aspects of the production line susceptible to errors. This makes it possible to achieve the quality outcome modern industries demand.
  • Lighter Products and Complex Designs: Humans can only do so much, but CNC goes beyond. The machines enable manufacturers to produce items they could only dream of previously. Additionally, the adoption of complex geometry in CNC machining can make products lighter and stronger.
  • Versatility: CNC machining itself creates virtually any component you can imagine. Some of the models include special features and accessories that further expedite and simplify the production process, like touch screens and automated tool changers.

A woodworking association surveyed its members, which include cabinet makers, architectural wood producers and others. A majority of them agreed on CNC benefits and advantages within their industry:

  • Improves accuracy
  • Enables sophisticated tasks
  • Establishes flexibility
  • Improves safety
  • Increases the volume of production
  • Reduces setup-changeover time

If you haven’t looked into how your metal parts are fabricated, it could pay to find out if you are using CNC machining or not. There are a great many advantages to using CNC machines. If your business has a manufacturer that is not using them, you may want to find out why and consider a change.

9. What Are the Disadvantages of CNC?

CNC machining is relatively more costly, which you may initially see as a disadvantage. However, the long-term benefits are encouraging. Investing in CNC saves you money, offers efficiency, improves client retention and creates a reputation for quality and reliability.

It costs more initially to have CNC services done for you. Many companies rely on a trusted vendor to do their CNC machining services for them, which works well for many businesses across a lot of industries. The first production run will be more expensive than subsequent ones.

Another disadvantage some machinists perceive with the CNC method is that it works toward making conventionally manual skills obsolete. Along with them go the math and science skills developed by those who learn through years of training to operate lathes, mills, drills and more by hand.

While CNC machining has created tremendous new opportunities for all kinds of businesses, it has also led to less conventional machining and ultimately, some unemployment. However, most experts do not agree that manual skills will become obsolete. In fact, some think conventional machining will thrive through small and specialty projects.

10. Is CNC Machining Right for Me?

CNC machining is one of two common methods of creating a prototype from a digital file, and it is often used in manufacturing as well as other industries. The other way to make a prototype is 3D printing technology, which uses fused-deposition modeling (FDM) to create the part or product. Besides FDM, 3D printing technology could also include stereolithography-SLA, selective-laser sintering-SLS and selective-laser melting-SLM.

You may wonder about 3D printing technology and if it has advantages over CNC machining. The answer depends on several factors and leads to a few questions:

  • What kind of object are you producing?
  • How complex is the piece you need to make?
  • Which material is involved in making the product?
  • What is the quantity expected?
  • What kind of timeline are you working on?

Generally speaking, 3D printing is used to produce prototypes and has relatively low speed compared to CNC machining. Because of this, it is not efficient for producing large quantities.

FDM technology constructs from the bottom up, while CNC machining works by cutting and drilling pieces away from a block of material into its shape.

FDM has no limitations due to axes angles, but CNC has no limitations on the kind of materials it can handle. CNC machining can create nearly any shape, while the capabilities of 3D printing are limited to the materials that have been adapted into feasible filaments.

Both technologies will continue to evolve and improve, but even 3D printing companies acknowledge that the two will co-exist and complement each other as part of the manufacturing process.

CNC machining delivers exceptional accuracy, precision and speed for large quantities of product, making it the right option in most cases. Businesses in competitive industries have an edge through consistency, precision and efficiency.

CNC machining automates fabrication processes so you don’t have to worry about worker negligence, time off or errors slowing down your operation. You can continuously produce complex, multi-dimensional metal and plastic parts of all shapes and sizes.

You can perform machining tasks faster and more cleanly with CNC machining than with any other method, and that benefits the long-term bottom line, since you and your customers can rely on the expected quality getting delivered.

CNC machining caters to a majority of companies using such universal things as fasteners, plates, nozzles, valves and panels while also being able to customize designs exclusive to each business’ needs. The automated technique does millions of kinds of projects. For a few examples:

  • Dental implants
  • Textured handrails
  • Military defense
  • Automotive shafts
  • Parts of electronics such as cell phones
  • Firearm pieces
  • Printing stamped in metal
  • Punched holes.

Each business will have its own bullet list of different projects that probably make CNC machining the right thing for savings, quality and efficiency.

If speed, accuracy or precision in your metal fabricated parts are important to you, a CNC machine is right for you. If having your metal fabrication processes automated so you don’t have to worry about worker negligence, time off or errors slowing down your operation, a CNC machine is right for you. If you need to make complex metal shapes for your business, especially three-dimensional shapes, a CNC machine is right for you.

The only obvious situation where a CNC machine may not be right is if you are a very small operation that needs very simple metal shapes, where the CNC machine would not confer a huge advantage relative to the cost. For competitive industries, however, CNC machines are usually best.

Partner With Excellence

Among the advice experts give about CNC machining is to pick and work with a good shop. With more than six decades of metal-fabrication experience, Fairlawn Tool, Inc. offers excellent solutions and service. We serve a full range of needs for high-quality CNC machining, from individual parts to fully assembled pieces. We’d be happy to help you examine CNC machine advantages and disadvantages.

Our machining specialties include a complete suite of turret-punching capabilities for perforated sheets and single pieces, as well as metal stamping, robotic and manual welding, metal forming and bending, tube fabrication and bending and precision metal sheet fabrication. We’re also one of the few companies in the USA that uses the Crippa Tube Bending Machine for our CNC tube bending projects. This unique machine allows us to create close shapes within a single cycle, ensuring your tube bends meet your specifications time after time.

Our in-house capabilities mean that you get all the skills, equipment and expertise needed to execute projects in multiple industries. We serve many companies as an American-based contract manufacturer able to fulfill large orders and provide assistance across the range of machines, industries and tasks.

We serve the East Coast and beyond with choices that save money, expedite production and result in a consistent, accurate product. We can’t wait to discuss with you soon how we can work together to complete your next project. Contact us today for more information on CNC vs. conventional machining. Make sure to ask for a free, no-obligation estimate!

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