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A Brief Guide to CNC Machine Basics

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A Brief Guide to CNC Machine Basics

Publish: Modify: Apr 29, 2020Author: Views: 1589From: STYLECNC
You will Learn NC Basics, CNC Basics, CNC Machine Basics, Cartesian Coordinate System, Computer Numerical Control, CNC Machine Types, and How Does a CNC Machine Work?

NC Basics

The term numerical control is a widely accepted and commonly used term in the machine tool industry. Numerical control (NC) enables an operator to communicate with machine tools through a series of numbers and symbols.

CNC Basics

NC which quickly became Computer Numerical Control (CNC) has brought tremendous changes to the industrial manufacturing. New machine tools in CNC have enabled industry to consistently produce parts to accuracies undreamed of only a few years ago. The same part can be reproduced to the same degree of accuracy any number of times if the CNC program has been properly prepared and the computer properly programmed. The operating commands which control the machine tool are executed automatically with amazing speed, accuracy, efficiency, and repeatability.

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The ever-increasing use of CNC in industry has created a need for personnel who are knowledgeable about and capable of preparing the programs which guide the machine tools to produce parts to the required shape and accuracy. With this in mind, the authors have prepared this textbook to take the mystery out of CNC - to put it into a logical sequence and express it in simple language that everyone can understand. The preparation of a program is explained in a logical step-by-step procedure, with practical examples to guide the user.

How Does A CNC machine Work?

Cartesian Coordinate System


Almost everything that can be produced on a conventional machine tool can be produced on a computer numerical control machine tool, with its many advantages. The machine tool movements used in producing a product are of two basic types: point-to-point (straight-line movements) and continuous path (contouring movements).


The Cartesian, or rectangular, coordinate system was devised by the French mathematician and philosopher Rene’ Descartes. With this system, any specific point can be described in mathematical terms from any other point along three perpendicular axis. This concept fits machine tools perfectly since their construction is generally based on three axis of motion (X, Y, Z) plus an axis of rotation. On a plain vertical milling machine, the X axis is the horizontal movement (right or left) of the table, the Y axis is the table cross movement (toward or away from the column), and the Z axis is the vertical movement of the knee or the spindle. CNC systems rely heavily on the use of rectangular coordinates because the programmer can locate every point on a job precisely. When points are located on a workpiece, two straight intersecting lines, one vertical and one horizontal, are used. These lines must be at right angles to each other, and the point where they cross is called the origin, or zero point (Fig. 1)

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Fig. 1 Intersecting lines form right angles and establish the zero point.

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Fig. 2 The three-dimensional coordinate planes (axis) used in CNC.


The three-dimensional coordinate planes are shown in Fig. 2. The X and Y planes (axis) are horizontal and represent horizontal machine table motions. The Z plane or axis represents the vertical tool motion. The plus (+) and minus (-) signs indicate the direction from the zero point (origin) along the axis of movement. The four quadrants formed when the XY axis cross are numbered in a counterclockwise direction (Fig. 3). All positions located in quadrant 1 would be positive (X+) and positive (Y+). In the second quadrant, all positions would be negative X (X-) and positive (Y+). In the third quadrant, all locations would be negative X (X-) and negative (Y-). In the fourth quadrant, all locations would be positive X (X+) and negative Y (Y-).

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Fig. 3 The quadrants formed when the X and Y axis cross are used to accurately locate points from the X/Y zero, or origin point.


In Fig. 3 , point A would be 2 units to the right of the Y axis and 2 units above the X axis. Assume that each unit equals 1.000. The location of point A would be X + 2.000 and Y + 2.000. For point B, the location would be X + 1.000 and Y - 2.000. In CNC programming it is not necessary to indicate plus (+) values since these are assumed. However, the minus (-) values must be indicated. For example, the locations of both A and B would be indicated as follows:


A X2.000 Y2.000

B X1.000 Y-2.000


A computer system is connected to the machine comprising of sensors and electrical drives. The program controls the machine axis' movements.

CNC Machine Types

Early machine tools were designed so that the operator was standing in front of the machine while operating the controls. This design is no longer necessary, since in CNC the operator no longer controls the machine tool movements. On conventional machine tools, only about 20 percent of the time was spent removing material. With the addition of electronic controls, actual time spent removing metal has increased to 80 percent and even higher. It has also reduced the amount of time required to bring the cutting tool into each machining position.


There are five different types of CNC machines that present in a variety of industries.


CNC milling machine

CNC router machine

CNC laser machine

CNC lathe machine

CNC plasma cutting machine

Related Tags: cnc machineCNC

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