Basically, CNC means computer numerical control. When applied to woodworking, it simply means marrying today’s computer technology to the age-old woodworking craft to bring it in step with the times.
Created by John Parsons and introduced in the 50s, the first CNC machines were IBM computers mounted on milling machines to manipulate command movements in a sequence. When the 60s rolled in, CNC machines were able to make different parts and with increased productivity and reduced wastage. There was no turning back.
In simple terms, today’s CNC woodworking machines use a computer to make the cutting tools move to the areas which had been pre-programmed for cutting. These new machines can perform and execute sophisticated shapes and designs, and can switch tooling automatically.
They also feature different design programs, with a built-in proviso that programmers can make changes on the fly and can install designs directly into the machine’s computer. Now, drilling, boring, and shaping are done with precision, accuracy and speed.
Complexity and sophistication
With today’s levels of complexity and sophistication dependent on the many needs (forms, designs, shapes) of today’s products (not just wood but metals and plastics as well), CNC machines today are able to answer them.
Some machines specialize in cutting at different and complex angles as well as being able to work on exotic materials with impressive amounts of power to boot. Some are small mills for smaller parts, and some are lathes that can cut whichever angle is needed.
Today, there are mills that have beds that move at programmed angles in such a way that angled cuts or drills are done according to the design, and with pinpoint precision.
This is a strong advantage over that of manual machines.
The biggest benefit CNC machines have is their being able to make parts and pieces to the exact specifications programmed into its computer. This greatly helps lighten up human fatigue caused by common human errors on projects done manually in the old traditional ways.
With no human intervention in the process (except in the pre-programming), the manufactured parts are made in exactly the same way each time. There might be tool changes, or placement of new raw material and such, but everything is done by the CNC machine.
On average, these machines have stronger engines than the manual ones. They are also more rigid, a quality that makes for more accurate cuts and drills (precision is as close as 0.0001 of an inch). This results in fewer rejects (and less waste).
Speed and accuracy makes a woodworking machine far superior than a manual one.
These machines are also equipped with automated cooling systems and specially formulated coolants for these intensive heat-producing tools and materials – both absent from the old manual ones.
On with the times
Understanding the basics of the new CNC woodworking machines, especially the advantages and benefits it offers to a manufacturer, gives a good basis for decisions and choices. Costs, speed, accuracy, uniform quality are just some of the beneficial aspects that need to be considered.