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The Most Common Types of CNC Machines and Their Uses

Featured image by Dmitry Kalinovsky

Computer numerical control machines, or CNC machines, are slowly but surely reaching every part of the manufacturing industry.

The impressive capabilities of these powerful machines are motivating more and more manufacturers to upgrade their equipment and enjoy the countless benefits CNC machines can bring.

Whether you’re planning on purchasing a new or used CNC machine, you’re undoubtedly interested in learning more about this advanced technological tool.

In this post, we made sure to cover all the essentials. From a detailed explanation of what a CNC machine is to its numerous uses, you’ll find all the information you need regarding Computer Numerical Control machinery.

What Are CNC Machines?

A computer numerical control machine, also known as a CNC machine, is a computer-controlled machine mainly used in the manufacturing industry. CNC machining incorporates pre-programmed computer software that determines the movements of machinery and tools in a factory.

CNC machines can control a wide range of machinery. This includes drills, mills, lathes, routers, water jet cutters, and so on. Almost any tool that manufactures computer-controlled parts can qualify as a CNC machine.

Of course, CNC machines come in a wide selection of shapes and sizes. This means anyone can find a CNC machine at an accessible price point. Whether you need a multi-purpose CNC machine for your enterprise or a basic one for your weekend activities, you can choose from numerous CNC machine builds. The market is overflowing with them.

Thanks to advanced technology, CNC machines range from elementary tools for do-it-yourselfers to their expensive industrial counterparts.

The Programming Behind a CNC Machine

As we already mentioned, CNC machines are computer-controlled. This means they run on installed software programs. The language used in these programs is mainly known as G-code. Of course, a manufacturer can decide to use a unique language during the installation.

The programs in CNC machines specify which object they will control and how. Therefore, CNC programming focuses on several behaviors necessary for the control. These factors include speed, coordination, and feed rate.

Once the CNC machine programming is set, it’s easy to pre-program various functions and run them in predictable, repetitive cycles. The process requires minimal human interference and is largely automated. Therefore, CNC machines have replaced most older devices that rely heavily on human intervention.

For example, the open/closed-loop machining system allows CNC controllers to receive helpful feedback that makes error correction quick and straightforward. With it, the controllers can regulate irregularities in position and velocity in the blink of an eye.

Furthermore, pre-programmed solutions enable the automation of most CNC protocols. Many newer machines combine several functions into one cell. Or they use robotic hands that transfer parts from one station to another. As each step of both processes is automated, replicating the same level of effectiveness and productivity through manual work is next to impossible.


Types of CNC Machines

Since CNC machines have various use cases, it’s completely understandable there are several types of CNC machines available. Although these machines were largely manual at first, the technological advancements led to the rise of CNC machining.

Today, CNC machines include the latest technology. Plus, you can use them for different CNC-operated processes, including ultrasonic welding, laser cutting, hole-punching, and more. The most popular types of CNC machines include the following.

CNC Mills

CNC mills typically run on programs whose prompts are based on numbers and letters. Most programs of CNC mill machines are based on G-code or another language a particular programming team has developed.

Although all CNC mills have a three-axis system (X, Y, and Z), newer designs also have three additional axes.

CNC Lathes

CNC lathe machines have pieces cut in a circular direction and indexable tools. You can make all cuts with high velocity and accuracy with CNC lathes. Since they produce complex designs, it’s impossible to copy them manually.

CNC lathes have pretty similar functions to CNC mills, but they consist of a two-axis system (X and Z) instead of a three-axis one.

CNC Plasma Cutters

With CNC plasma cutters, you use a plasma torch to cut the material. The process primarily serves to cut metal materials, but it works great on other surfaces. Using electrical arcs and compressed-air gas ensures plasma can generate the heat and speed necessary to cut metal.

CNC Water Jet Cutters

Besides CNC plasma cutters, CNC water jet cutters are another excellent choice for handling hard materials such as metal and granite. Essentially, CNC water jet cutters use high water pressure to cut these materials. You can add sand or some other abrasive substance to strengthen the effects.

CNC water jet cutters are an ideal alternative to CNC plasma cutters when you don’t want to risk heat changing or causing damage to the original material.

CNC Electric Discharge Machines

With electric-discharge machining (EDM), you can mold pieces into desired shapes with the help of electrical sparks.

How does it work?

Well, current discharges can fill the space between two electrodes. When this space becomes smaller, the electric field strengthens, thus creating powerful current discharges. As a result, the current passes between the electrodes, slowly removing particles from the whole piece.

The Purpose of CNC Machines

CNC machines equip the manufacturing industry with numerous benefits, so more and more manufacturers use them. Let’s go over some of the most notable advantages.


Due to their high level of efficiency and productivity, the primary benefit of CNC machines lies in their ability to make large quantities of the same product in record time.


CNC machines can tackle various tasks. They are flexible solutions that can make different products and components without a hitch.

You don’t have to invest in several heavy pieces of equipment when you have a CNC in your toolbox. A CNC machine features all the necessary functions for making complete products, saving you time and money.


Because of their impressive levels of automation, CNC machines minimize the risk of failures and errors the human factor often causes. They’re incredibly reliable and offer outstanding results, leaving you time to focus on other tasks that require craftsmanship and artistry.

Other Uses of CNC Machines

Besides creating detailed metal pieces to use as parts of the industrial hardware products, CNC machines have other uses. These applications include other materials, such as steel, wood, and even plastic. Namely, you can use them for:

  • Aerospace parts
  • Automotive components
  • Wooden decorations
  • Consumer products

Naturally, different CNC products have diverse requirements. That’s why manufacturers frequently use CNC machines with other components and tools. For instance, you can combine CNC machinery with:

  • 3D printers
  • Laser cutters
  • Glass cutters
  • Foam cutters
  • Wood routers
  • Turret punchers
  • Cylindrical grinders
  • Embroidery machines
  • Wire-bending machines


Final Thoughts

Manufacturers worldwide are introducing CNC machinery into their manufacturing processes due to the countless benefits this piece of equipment offers. It can help you cut various materials quickly and accurately without a manual operator directly controlling the process.

Thanks to productivity, flexibility, and reliability as its main features, a CNC machine can be valuable regardless of what you’re manufacturing, as long as the correct computer code dictates the movement.

Make sure you find a CNC machine you like today and transform your manufacturing processes forever.