Prior to today, manually-operated machines have been used to work on different types of metals. A lot of processes done on metals – fabrication, metal removal, etc. – have been operated by hands. Now, these machines processes are addressed as protracted and inexact because an advancement in machinery has provided us with a more efficient and highly precise manufacturing method.

What is CNC?

This is an acronym for computer numerical control.” CNC is a new advancement in machinery, which makes used of computer programming to control the industrial operations of any manufacturing tools or machines.

The CNC machines are directed or controlled using a programming language called g-code. The CNC is programmed to follow a syntax, which is why CNC machines can provide you with amazing precision, accuracy, efficiency, and neatness.

The code was developed in the late 1950s, to instruct the CNC machine to perform any operation until you obtain a finished desired product: cutting, grinding, molding, shaping, melting materials (metal, plastic, etc.), and others. These operations will be carried out without a direct intervention of a human.

Furthermore, there is great application for the birth of these machines in the manufacturing industries: mining industry, automobile industry, and metal fabrication industry.

Groups of CNC Machines

For decades now, there has been consistency in technological advancements making CNC machine perform more operations without direct human intervening. This has brought about different CNC machines capable of performing specific operations in the manufacturing industries.

They are grouped into two namely –

  • Retrofitted Machines
  • Custom-Built Machines

Retrofitted Machines: – the machines classified as retrofitted machines are built using technology before the existence of CNC technology (very old technology), but have undergone a few modification to be able to work with CNC programming. This was done so, these machines can have an increased efficiency, and functionality.

Common examples of retrofitted machines

  • Milling machines
  • Lathes
  • Grinders

Custom-Built Machines

This machine differs from retrofitted machines. They are constructed primarily with an interface to interact with CNC programming. Customized machines are new, very expensive, efficient, and have a sleek design. Most manufacturing industries make use of customized machines to perform their industrial process.

There is common example of Custom-Built Machines, which are:

  • CNC routers
  • 3-D printers
  • Metrology machines
  • Laser and plasma cutters
  • Pick and place machines

We will now discuss in details the various type of this machines that exist today.

CNC Milling Machine

CNC milling machine is one of the most widely used retrofitted CNC machines today. These milling machines are only operated in either drill or turn different metals. These machines are already programmed to control tools like the cutters and many other. If the milling machine controls the cutters to cut metals pieces into shapes and size, it does that obeying a pre-programmed manner set by the operators.

CNC milling machine also exists in many different types which differs depending on the numbers of axes each one of them has.

CNC Lathe Machines

Traditional lathe machine (manually operated) are now outdated and no longer in use. CNC lathe machines have now been generally accepted in the manufacturing industry. It has numerous advantages over the traditional lathes machine: accuracy, precision, repeatability, efficiency, and ease when operating.

CNC Lathe machine is better version of the old, traditional lathe machine because it is automated. They are programmed to follow a regular syntax like changing tools automatically.

Lathes machines are applicable in producing 3D shapes and molds of different materials: plastic, wood, and metals.

CNC Routers

CNC routers are more automated than any of the above CNC machines. It requires more automation because of its need to produce more precise and accuracy desired products. CNC routers are used to work on more complex shapes and produce a prototype of plastics, metal sheets and wood.

There are different types of routers, classified based on the axis and are applicable in the different aspect in the manufacturing industries:

  • 3-axis router
  • 5-axis router
  • 6-axis router

These routers are knowing for its precision and accuracy on working on highly complex and technical jobs.

CNC Plasma Cutters

CNC Plasma cutters have similar characteristics as the CNC routers mention above. However, one of the differences between them is CNC routers always need much powerful setup than plasma cutters.  This machine also produces shapes in 2D and molds of metals using plasma to get you your desired products.

In addition, you should be aware that there are five states of matter, with the fourth being plasma. This state of matter can be achieved by heating up a gas or exposing gas to a strong magnetic field. Plasma is really important to state of matter, it is used to melt metal sheet before you can start cutting desired shapes out of the molten metal.

CNC Laser Cutter

Laser cutter and plasma cutter are both very similar especially, in their mode of operation. However, they also differ, CNC laser cutter is mostly used for the cutting of the molten metal rather than plasma torch.

Both cutters are good cutters. They cut metals, plastic, and wood with high precision. The laser cutter is always used for most cutting because you can easily change the strength of the laser depending on the thickness and hardness of the material you want to cut.

Read here for the best laser cutter for small business.

3D Printer

This is an innovative modern machine. It is quite similar to the two machines discussed above: CNC router, and CNC laser cutter. Although they are quite similar is operation but, they differ – 3D printer does additive machining while both laser and plasma cutter does subtractive machining. Subtractive machining chip off part of a material bit-by-bit until it attains the desired product. While additive machining has to do with the machine building the desired output on a black canvas using metal bits layer-by-layer.

3D printer achieves this using two methods – a laser which fast solidifies a liquid or powder or extruder which makes use of a tiny nozzle to push the materials out.


In a nutshell, these machines occur in various types. They are designed to making the certain industrial process easy and perfect in the manufacturing industry. These machines have now replaced human with CNC machines