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Pros and Cons of CNC precision machining

Pros and Cons
Pros and Cons

CNC precision machining is a specialized type of machining equipment that uses computer software to plot coordinates and cut items precisely according to the plotted coordinates. Because the cutting machinery is moved to the same exact coordinates in the exact order time after timer, each machined product is made precisely the same way. Whether you need to make a few identical items or thousands of them, CNC precision machining results in fast, consistent components. With numerous advantages, CNC precision machining is a popular choice. However, there are a few disadvantages you should be aware of.

The Pros of Using CNC Precision Machining

Precise results - Each produced component is made to the same exact specifications, resulting in identical parts with minimal variations. While a skilled engineer can produce multiple components off of a single design, it's impossible to produce exact matches the way that CNC precision machining can. Manual production often involves unacceptable variations and inconsistencies.

  • Less skilled labor - Because a computer controls machining, you don't need as many skilled engineers to run milling machines and manual lathes. In fact, a single trained operator can supervise multiple CNC machines running at once.
  • On demand prototyping - CNC precision machining makes it possible to design and produce a prototype on demand. This can slash your prototyping and modeling costs.
  • 24/7 operation - CNC machining can take place 24/7 with minimal downtime for maintenance. In contrast, manual machining requires highly skilled labor, frequent breaks, and shift work.
  • Complex production - Advanced CNC software makes it possible to machine complex parts that are impractical, if not impossible, to produce using manual labor.

The Cons of Using CNC Precision Machining

Manually operated lathes and milling machines have a tried-and-true history, but they are at a disadvantage when compared to CNC precision machining equipment. Or are they? Some of the disadvantages of CNC precision machining are helping to ensure that manually operated equipment doesn't become completely obsolete. For example:

  • CNC precision machining equipment is not cheap. It is much more expensive to purchase CNC equipment than manually operated machines.
  • Because fewer skilled engineers are required to run more CNC machines, moving to a CNC machined environment often means a reduction in your workforce. Though some business owners see this as a plus, others such as those who value their employees see it as a disadvantage.
  • As manual equipment becomes less commonly used, fewer students are taught manual machining skills. While this makes sense on one level, i.e., why train people to use equipment that's no longer widely used, it can also discourage students from learning other engineering skills.

Both CNC precision machining and manual machining have their place. CNC machine is by far the more precise technology with numerous advantages over manual processes. However, the equipment is more expensive and investments in CNC machining often lead to unemployment. At the same time, components can be made to exact specifications, one after another, without variances. Plus, components can be produced 24/7. All said and done, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Adrian Thomas has experience working with plastic manufacturers such as Acrylic Art and has gathered sources from to write this article.

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