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What is CNC?

For starters, it is not a music genre, though the noise produced by it could be used in some music. With definitions come confusion because definitions arise from usage as well as technicalities. For example, somebody called us one day and asked, “Do you do CNC?” When we asked them to be more specific, they responded, “You know, CNC.” So, what is this ‘CNC’?

The technical definition is “Computer Numerical Control” referring to a program that controls machines. The usage is broad because in our industry CNC most often refers to Plasma Cutting, while in other industries it could refer to 3D printing or a multitude of other machines. But let me help clear up the confusion. CNC is a computer system that automatically controls machines via programming. Another definition from CNC Cookbook is: “CNC Machining is a manufacturing process where computers run programs that control how the machines will manufacture parts.” This system can be applied all over the manufacturing and construction industry because everyone has machines that need what CNC can offer.

CNC is a computer system that automatically controls machines via programming.

How CNC happens is a smart person designs and then programs the computer to operate in a specific way (down to digits), whether making cuts, welds, or holes. Whereas before CNC, a technician controlled the machines with levers or buttons or dials, now a computer controls these functions of the machine. Gerald Davis from the online magazine The Fabricator writes, “Today CNC programming is involved in many manufacturing processes. Robotics, punching, laser, waterjet, plasma, milling, lathe work, and welding are examples.”

The order of operations for CNC goes as follows:

  1. The desired product will be designed.

  2. The product’s design will be programmed into computer language.

  3. The computer program will be set up with the machine.

  4. The computer will command the machine, depending on the product, to cut or build or weld the product.

CNC machines have brought productivity and efficiency to the industries of manufacturing because of how it allows for repeated and continuous processing of products. Jacob Greenburg from ALL3DP writes, “One of the key promises with computer technology is to create accuracy, reproducibility, and flexibility through software. Computers allow simple tasks to take less time and scale to broader applications.”

The complexity and variety of products now producible by those in the industry continues to increase with technology such as CNC. Specific to our industry of metalwork, CNC comes especially to the front with decorative sheet metal. CNC allows for complex and precise designs that will really impress its onlookers.

Advancements in CNC have allowed smaller shops like us take advantage of cutting edge technology. These advancements, however, have yet to replace the fabricator who is still required to take the products of CNC processes and combine them with craftsmanship to produce a one of a kind product.

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