Types of CNC machines

CNC (computer numerical control) machines come in a range of forms with varying functions. These machines work through pre-programming directions which dictate the machines movements. Here is a list of some of the types of CNC machines that many companies that offer CNC services use.


Lathes are usually used for smooth shapes of symmetry such as spheres, cylinders or cones. They work by introducing a tool, usually a carving apparatus, to the chosen material, which is spun rapidly on a spindle in order to sculpt it.

CNC Milling Machines

These work using rotary cutters with which a range of materials can be used. The directions received from the CNC programming help to dictate the variables of the cut such as angle, depth, direction, etc. Many companies offer CNC services for people to create products.

Retrofitted Machines

These machines were constructed with technology which pre-dates CNC, but were since updated in order to function with CNC programming, providing improved functionality and efficacy. Familiar examples would be the aforementioned milling machines and lathes.


Grinders tend to be the most simple to programme due to the greatly diminished precision level needed for its projects. Materials are filed down by an abrasive spinning tool to wear them down into the desired form.

Laser and Plasma Cutters

Where other machines would not suffice, these machines utilise laser beams and plasma torches to cut into materials with a high level precision. The capabilities of these machines are immense with a wide range of suitable materials and agility levels which allow for myriad shapes and designs from all sorts of angles which other machines cannot mirror.

Custom Built Machines

Unlike retrofitted machines, custom built machines were designed specifically to be compatible with CNC programming. These newer machines tend to be on the pricier side than their predecessors but their more efficient performance redeems them. Examples of custom built machines are CNC routers, 3D printers and laser and plasma cutters to mention a few.

CNC Routers

CNC routers function on an X, Y, Z axis and cut sheets of plastic, metal or wood. There are also 3D CNC routers with more axes allowing for more intricate work. This simpler version, however, is used for 2D designs and is the most common router.

Pick and Place Machines

As the name would suggest, these machines relocate components. They do these using small, automated nozzles, which lift and move electrical parts to the desired location. Usually, these are used in the creation of circuit boards, resistors and capacitors.

3D Printers

These machines project melted material, layer by layer, to slowly build a pre-programmed shape. This differs from other types of computerised machining as rather than removing parts of the material, it builds them. These two different machining types are called additive (3D printing) or subtractive (laser cutter) machining.