Differences Between CNC Milling and CNC Turning

08 August 2019

By knowing what makes CNC Milling different from CNC Turning, machine shop owners are better able to select the right subtractive cutting system, one that’ll fit a specified shop application. These are, after all, two slightly dissimilar parts manufacturing techniques, which offer equally diverse material forming features. Kicking off with CNC Turning, a length of metal is spinning in place; a sharp cutting edge approaches.

Examining CNC Turning Machines

Like the lathes of old, the gear that spun wooden pins and shaped them into elegant furniture parts, CNC Turning chucks rotate unprocessed materials. Not wood, of course, these are hardened metal shafts. With the chuck mechanism supporting the fast-spinning, featureless metal rod, the cutting tool moves forward. Controlled by CNC codes, the tool shifts incrementally forward and back. It only requires those two axial coordinates to impart an incredibly accurate component profile, for the spinning motion is providing the third forming dimension. Using this computer-guided equipment, supremely precise cylindrical outlines are cut into rounded metal workpieces. Just as a by-the-way, this equipment is so precise, so digitally targeted, that those rounded edges can easily be transformed into other geometrical profiles, including soft-edged hexagons and sharp-cornered squares.

CNC Miling Machines Spin Too

Only it’s not the workpiece that’s rotating. In Milling equipment, it’s the tool head that’s doing the spinning. A long and level table, possibly covered in an array of equispaced small-diameter openings, supports a raw piece of metal. Someone fastens a vise onto this table. Using those table apertures, the vice securely clamps down the mounted workpiece. The raw metal stays exactly where it is, but the cutting tool is spinning as it bears down on the CNC assigned incision site. This time around, instead of a barrel-like manufacturing profile, the subtractive formwork materializes as a series of linear strokes. Although, again being a computer numerical process, any number of curves and sweeping arcs can be made by the fast-spinning tool head.

Blurring the lines between the two Computer Numerical Control (CNC) techniques, multiple axes have been added to both types of machine. Rather than work from a fixed table, CNC Milling machines can move their work surfaces, and the workpiece, to accommodate a particularly intricate tooling operation. Likewise, CNC Turning machines aren’t limited to one spinning chuck and a single cutting tool. Shaving away the metal, a turret quill is used to switch out different cutting edges. Drill bits descend after a cut has been placed. Capable of laying down the most geometrically detailed workpiece outlines, both machines types deliver perfectly depth-controlled and accurate parts profiles.

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