So what is CNC?

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) was developed for the automation of machine tools. This removes the manual element of a human turning a handle and replaces it with an actuator which can be accurately controlled.

When CNC technology came about in the 1940’s they adapted existing machines, modifying them to fit motors which would move the controls. At this time they used punched tape to program the movements of the machine.

Over the years as technology has evolved so have CNC machines. As computers became more powerful, the options for CNC began to grow and grow. Accuracy and control became tighter, faster, more easy to program and the ability to do complex machining became a reality. It revolutionized machining processes.

What does this all really mean for you?

CNC began its life as an incredibly expensive and difficult technology and was only used in very large companies. Over the years with the constant and exponential growth of computing power CNC machines are now in reach for every day DIY’ers (like myself).

For some CNC is a business, for others it is a hobby. Some look at CNC’s as a way to create products, prototype models, and some even look at them as a way to create art. Chances are you’re here because you’ve heard or seen of a CNC machine doing something amazing.

What can CNC machines do?

A better question would be what can’t they do? CNC machines come in all shapes and sizes for all variety of tasks. Milling machines for cutting metals, lathes for shaping round stock, routers for cutting large pieces of material like wood, sheet metal and plastic. 3D printers for building three-dimensional models layer by layer – these are all forms of CNC machines.

Given the fact that we have many different types of machines that CNC technology can be applied to and the many, many types of materials we can cut/carve/print/burn there is almost limitless potential for what a CNC can do.

Some of the main things you might see people using CNC machines for are:

  • Furniture
  • Musical Instruments
  • Carving or Engraving
  • Prototyping
  • Remote Control Vehicles (Cars, boats, planes, helicopters)
  • Isolation routed Printed Circuit Boards (PCB’s)
  • Milling metal components for vehicles or engines
  • 3D Printing

There are so many more things CNC’s are used for, you only have to search “CNC” on YouTube and see for yourself.