CNC Milling and Turning: Are There Any Differences?

25 May 2020

Custom machining services provide valuable resource to businesses and industries such as defence, optics, pharmaceutical, machinery, automotive. The skilled craftsmen at machine shops use hand crafting and computer-controlled machines to fabricate replacement parts, customized designs, and perform maintenance and repair on various pieces of equipment from lawn mowers to ice houses to heavy equipment used on farms.

CNC Machining is a process used in the manufacturing sector that involves the use of computers to control machine tools. Tools that can be controlled in this manner include lathes, mills, routers and grinders. The CNC in CNC Machining stands for Computer Numerical Control.

Milling is a cutting process that uses a milling cutter to remove the surface of the material by advancing in a direction at an angle. CNC milling machines are controlled in one of two ways: by computer or via manual override. Computer programming allows the machine to make the precise cuts required but the manual override allows a CNC machine operator to slow down or speed up or tweak the process if necessary.

Turning is a slightly different process compared to CNC milling. CNC turning relies upon computer-controlled machines, but creates a different end product. The process uses a single-point cutting tool that is inserted parallel to the material that will be cut.

CNC turning can be used on the outside of material to create a tubular shape, such as a decorative brass shoulder bolt or nautical drive shaft, or it can be used on the inside of material to create a tubular cavity within the chosen material. Below are more of their differences.

CNC Milling

When a part does not have crucial cylindrical features, a milling operation will most likely be used. The work piece is held stationary while a rotating cutter manoeuvres around the piece removing material. On a 2 or 3 axis CNC milling machine the work piece will need to be manually rotated to machine the different faces. A 4 or 5 axis machine can rotate the work piece or spindle automatically to machine complex contours and shapes

CNC Turning

When it comes to creating parts that have symmetrical and cylindrical features, a turning process is often used.  The material (typically bar stock) is held in a chuck and rotated at high speeds while a single point cutting tool is positioned against the rotating work piece to remove material. Turning operations on a CNC lathe can be very efficient for high volume runs. The addition of a bar feeder can help automate the process and minimise manual activity by the machinist.

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