CNC stands for “Computer Numerical Controlled” and it is a term used to define shaping machines that is controlled by a computer that has been programmed to perform specific operation with the right order. CNC routers belong to this family of automated machines.
A standard CNC router cuts the materials moving along 3 axes. It can move along one single axis at a time but there is also the possibility to move along all three axes simultaneously. There are also 5-axis CNC routers that can work along a rotary axis and created tilted cuts in various angles. CNC routers can be used to shape many different materials, ranging from hard ones like steel, composites, aluminum, other hard metals, to soft ones like wood, plastic, foam and other synthetic materials.
There are different types and sized of CNC routers, but they all share a few basic parts. The workspace table is the area where the raw material is put, in order to be shaped. When the machine moves along the X and Y axes, it moves along the length and width of the table. The spindle motors and servo motors are the ones responsible for the turning of the spindle. The CNC controller is the “brain” of the machine. This is where the code is loaded. From the controller the operator can often adjust the position of the router and make sure it is properly centered and aligned. He or she can also change parameters and do similar jobs without the need of a new code to be written by the CNC programmer.
There are two main ways to program a CNC router to perform a new task: the manual and the computer-aided way. The more complex one is manual programming. This can be time consuming and in some case it is not even possible to achieve the same end product quality as one could achieve using a combination of CAD and CAM software. CAD is short for Computer Aided Design. This is a type of software where the machinist designs the product that needs to be produced. The output is 2D or 3D drawings. Then, these designs are being “translated” with the help of a Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software program into G-code, which the CNC router understands. The advantage of CAD/CAM programming over the manual programming is that it is more time-efficient and it gives control over subtle movements, which would be too complex to do with manual programming.
By taking the time to properly program a CNC router, a company can save many hours of work by producing items that are traditionally hand-crafted, by using a router. Wooden panels with cut-outs, embossed images on different materials, advertising signs with intricate fonts, curved surfaces, complex molds can all be done using a router in much less time. Additionally, the risk of injuries is reduced for the workers, as they are involved in loading the machine with the stock material and occasionally maintaining it. No hands go near the machine while it is working. Fewer injuries translate into a smooth work flow. And of course, careful programming can lead to a significantly reduced waste of raw materials.