CNC or computer numerical control is referred to as a computerized or automated manufacturing process. It operates by using computer design programs such as CAD (computer-aided design) or CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) to design parts or prepare them for machining.
In other words, CNC technology involves controlling machines through the use of pre-programmed software and code controls to enable the production equipment to work. Moreover, CNC machines make traditional manufacturing processes easier because it reduces manual labor, saves time, and produces efficient results. This technology is also typically used in manufacturing and processing metal and plastic components.
If you’re thinking of incorporating CNC technology into your manufacturing process, you’ve come to the right place. Today, we will be taking a look at two CNC machines — the CNC router and CNC milling machines to know more about their differences, similarities, benefits, and drawbacks to guide you on which one you should get.
What is a CNC router?
A CNC router is an advanced tooling method that utilizes a computerized process to control the movement of the machine. It is a subtractive manufacturing process that is used to cut, shape, or engrave any kind of material such as plastic, wood, composites, foam, acrylic, different kinds of metal, and fiberglass at a high speed and precision.
For prototyping parts, 3D printing and CNC router may also both be seen as workable options. However, it’s always worth noting that these two are different as the former is a form of additive manufacturing, while the latter is a form of subtractive manufacturing.
What is CNC milling?
CNC milling is a manufacturing process that uses computerized controlled tools for cutting wood, metal, glass, plastic, and other custom-designed parts. It involves CAD files to help with the design of the prototypes as well as a cutting tool that’s mounted on a rotating spindle to carefully remove the material from a chunk of raw substrate. Manufacturing, aerospace, automotive, robotics, and medical are among the industries that can manufacture and prototype parts using CNC milling machines.
CNC router vs. CNC milling
One of the differences between a CNC router and a CNC milling machine is the materials that you can use on them. So before getting either of them, you will have to consider the kind of materials you’ll mostly be working with.
For instance, soft materials such as wood, foam, and plastic materials can be used on either of these machines, but it works better on CNC routers than on mills. If you will be working mostly on metal, though CNC routers can also be used to cut metals, it would be more suitable for CNC milling machines since it is essentially built for cutting hard, sturdy, and thick materials.
Despite a CNC router’s capability for fast production, it is not as accurate as CNC milling when it comes to cutting materials. CNC milling works well with complex cuts and shapes, whereas, CNC routers also provide precise cuts, but they are more suitable for basic cuts and soft materials.
When it comes to cost, CNC milling machines are normally more expensive than CNC routers given its accuracy and capability to work even with complex cuts and parts that are hard to produce. There are also expensive CNC routers, but not as much as CNC mills. This is no surprise since the higher the quality and bigger set of capabilities, the more expensive it will be.
In looking for a manufacturing machine, speed should always be considered since it will also help determine how many parts you will be able to produce in a given time frame. A CNC router is designed to handle soft materials, hence why it is also able to move at a faster speed compared to CNC milling machines. So if you’re particular about the machining speed, a CNC router would be an advisable option since CNC milling machines pay much attention to accuracy, making the cutting process a bit longer than CNC routers.
- Works on CAD Software
These CNC machines both work on CAD or computer-aided design — and with this software, it reduces human error from the conventional way of cutting materials. Having CAD and CAM as part of today’s modern manufacturing also enhances machining capabilities, time, cost-efficiency, and lessens material wastage.
- Consistent Results
The CNC router and CNC milling machine are both designed to provide consistent and quality results that are fitting to their user’s preferences and needs.
- Standard Safety Practices
Both the CNC router and CNC milling machine will need to always include standard safety practices when operating with either of them since it can get loud and the dust from the machine can fly from all over the place, which can cause some irritations, allergic reactions, or hearing issues when exposed too much. See to it that you wear a PPE or personal protective equipment.
- Less labor and production cost
- Can work with various materials
- Precise cuts
- Fast production
- Greater accuracy and precision
- Wide array of materials to use
- Low labor and production cost
- Ability to replicate parts
- May tend to be loud
- Leaves residual dust
- Few skilled operators
- May require different tools for cutting materials with different thickness
- Cost and affordability
- Not enough CNC milling operators
- May have the tendency to produce material wastage compared to 3D printing
Both the CNC router and CNC milling machine may seem similar given that they share almost the same functions, benefits, and even drawbacks. However, their differences may also have some weight on your decision-making. At the end of the day, it all boils down to which one best suits your preferences and needs.