The Ultimate Guide to CNC Machines & Their Uses

The Ultimate Guide to CNC Machines & Their Uses

What do a cell phone, Boeing 777X, prosthetic leg, and topographical map of the Smoky Mountains have in common? They all utilize a CNC machine in their creation to some extent.

The computer numerical control device is a single piece of technology with countless applications. But with technology as adaptable as this, it’s essential to know its capabilities to use it to its full potential. That’s why we have compiled the ultimate guide to CNC machines and their uses.

A Review of CNC Machining and Its Origins

It’s useful to understand what CNC technology is and where it comes from to understand it fully. CNC machining uses a computer-automated machine to shape materials, such as car parts or sculpted signs.

John T. Parsons first used this technology in 1949 to create helicopter blades for a research project for the Air Force. These early machines didn’t use a computer, but they fed the punched tape used in telecommunications manually through a tape reader.

As digital technology rose in the decades following, computer automation replaced the tape. This made the process far more precise and efficient.

Components of CNC Machines

There are many CNC machines, but they all work on the same principles. Because of that, they largely have the same components. The primary components include:

  • An input device where you put a code into the system
  • A machine control unit (MCU) that interprets and converts the code into instructions that you can transmit to the machine.
  • A drive system that takes data from the MCU, augments the signal, and communicates both speed and position of the access to the machine.
  • A machine tool that performs the action
  • A feedback system that takes in positional data to send back to the MCU to adjust the tool.

Thanks to the closed-loop nature of the system, the machinery constantly gives the tool instruction and adjusting it for maximum precision.

Types of CNC Machines and Their Uses

Milling Machines

Also known as cutting machines, milling machines remain one of the most common types of CNC machines because of their wide range of uses. Users can use milling machines for a wide range of functions, from cutting out a cog from a sheet of metal to engraving words on a sign.

Router Machine

Router machines work on the same principle as milling machines in that they shape materials into a wide variety of shapes using cutting. However, where you primarily use milling machines with hard metals like steel, you’ll use softer materials with routing machines, such as:

  • Plastic
  • Wood
  • Foam
  • Acrylic
  • Aluminum and other soft metals

Lathe Machines

While milling machines cut a piece of metal while it’s lying on a flat surface, some operations require you to rotate the piece while shaping it. This is especially true for long, thin, or cylindrical materials, such as car drive shafts or baseball bats.

CNC lathe machines can rotate materials at high speeds while using their feedback technology to shape the pieces at the same time.

Drilling Machines

As the name suggests, a user will use drilling machines when they need to drill holes into their materials. Because their functions mostly surround a rotating motion, these machines typically favor spindle drives over servo.

Industries That Utilize CNC Machining

It’s one thing to understand what the different machines can do physically, but no guide to CNC machines and their uses is complete without recognizing their real-world applications.


Because CNC machinery creates things, it only makes sense that they are most at home in manufacturing. This kind of machinery offers a number of benefits to the manufacturing industry, such as:

  • Precision
  • Repeatability
  • Efficiency
  • Low-cost
  • Flexibility

Flexibility is especially beneficial in manufacturing. Any factory or plant may have to create hundreds of shapes and designs using a wide range of materials. There are CNC machines available to work with almost all of them, from plastic casings to printed circuit boards.


When hospitals prescribe the use of a prosthetic limb to an amputee, the patient must have the prosthetic custom designed for their size, weight, and amputation type. Prosthetists often use CNC machinery to shape the individual parts of a prosthetic limb based on measurements taken from the patient.

But prosthetics are not the only medical part that needs customization for the patient. Implants, such as hip replacements, stents, or even dental veneers, all need individual shaping, or medical professionals risk causing complications. CNC machines can help create these implants quickly and accurately.


There are approximately 30,000 parts in the average car, from the engine block to screws holding it in place. Any irregularity in any of those pieces can result in a car that isn’t functional or falls apart. Automotive manufacturers need a process to create the machines accurately that they can repeat for the millions of vehicles built every year.


If we need accuracy to keep the cars on the road from falling apart, how much more do we need for aircraft flying seven miles above the air? And given that you must make an aircraft with a mixture of metal and lightweight, high-performance plastics, creating parts requires both precision and flexibility.

This is one scenario where you can utilize almost every type of CNC machine: milling machines for the metal components, routers for the plastic components, lathes for pistons and drive shafts, and drills to help keep different components together.


After building cars, planes, and prosthetics, it can seem almost silly to use CNC machining for something like home décor. But the fact that CNC machines are well-suited to engrave various designs on many materials makes them able to create a range of artistic additions to a space, such as:

  • Signs
  • Sculptures
  • Woodwork
  • Doorposts
  • Light fixtures

CNC machining is truly a marvel in our modern world. At Industrial Automation, we want to ensure your machinery works at full capacity, whether you’re making airplanes or cell phones. Our collection of industrial electronics parts are sure to have the parts you need for your CNC machines.

The Ultimate Guide to CNC Machines & Their Uses