Types of CNC Machines – The Types and How They Work

Starting a business that produces CNC parts? While funding can be the only requirement to launch a manufacturing enterprise, numerous other considerations exist. Familiarizing yourself with the types of CNC machines available for producing high-quality parts is critical. Additionally, CNC machines employ distinct materials to produce intricate and accurate parts.

If you lack knowledge about the various types of CNC machines and their operations, let’s explore the different kinds of CNC machines in detail, including their applications, components, and mechanisms.

Types of CNC machines

Types of CNC Machines – A Detailed Analysis of Their Structure and Working

Different types of CNC machines used in the production industry today have different components and working criteria. It includes the following:

CNC Milling Machines:

First, CNC milling machines use rotary cutting tools to remove material from a workpiece and make it into a shape or form that the user wants. These CNC machines help cut, shape, and drill different kinds of materials. They are often used to make precise and complicated parts.

Key Components:

  • Bed: The bed is the machine’s base and holds up all the other parts. It is usually cast iron and has a stable, flat, wide surface.
  • Spindle: The spindle holds the cutting tool, which imparts motion to it. A motor drives the blade, spinning it at high speeds to slice through the material.
  •  The tool holder, on the other hand, secures the cutting tool in position. It is commonly fastened to the spindle and can be swapped out to accommodate tools of varying sizes.
  • Worktable: The workpiece is put on the surface of the worktable. It can be moved in different ways to place the workpiece exactly where it needs to be.
  • Axis: CNC milling machines have the X, Y, and Z axes, which let them move in different directions. The worktable moves from side to side along the X-axis, forward and backward along the Y-axis, and up and down along the Z-axis.
  • Control panel: The control panel is where the operator inputs instructions and regulates the machine. It typically features a screen, keypad, and other buttons for controlling the machine.
  • Coolant system: The coolant system is used to cool the cutting tool and the object being cut and to clean the area where the cutting occurs. This keeps the cut from getting too hot and keeps its quality.

CNC Lathes:

CNC lathes are another type of CNC machine that is often used. By turning a piece of work against a cutting tool, CNC lathes can make cylindrical shapes. In particular, cutting and drilling materials help make parts and shapes with complicated shapes and sizes. CNC machines are popular in manufacturing because they are fast, accurate, and can do many jobs.

Key Components:

  • Headstock: The spindle that holds and turns the workpiece is housed in the headstock. It also has a motor that gives the spindle power.
  • Tailstock: At one end of the lathe is the headstock, while at the other is the tailstock. The tailstock is mobile along the bed and can accommodate long workpieces. It possesses a spindle capable of gripping tools.
  • Tool turret: The tool turret is the part that holds the cutting tools that are used to shape the workpiece. It is attached to the cross slide and can be turned to position different tools.
  • Chuck: During the cutting process, the chuck firmly grasps and holds the workpiece in position. Typically constructed of steel, it can be modified to accommodate pieces of various dimensions.
  • Cross slide: The cross slide moves the tools that do the cutting across the work. It is attached to the carriage and can move in two ways: perpendicular to and parallel to the lathe’s axis.
  • Carriage: The carriage holds the cross slide and tool turret up, which moves along the bed. A motor powers it, and the CNC system can tell it what to do.

The bed is another common part of this kind of CNC machine.

CNC Routers:

CNC routers carve and cut materials like wood, plastic, metal, and foam into the user’s desired shapes and forms. These types of CNC machines are often used in woodworking, sign-making, and other fields where cutting and shaping materials precisely are important.

Key Components:

  • Cutting tool: The cutting tool is affixed to the spindle and can be altered to suit diverse materials and cuts. Common cutting tools include router bits, drills, and end mills.
  • Dust collection system: The dust collection system cleans up the cutting area by removing dust and other debris. This keeps the cut from getting too hot and keeps its quality.

Apart from these, a bed, spindle, worktable, axis, and control panel are common parts of this CNC machine.

CNC Plasma Cutters:

CNC plasma cutters are amazing when cutting hard materials into shapes and parts. CNC plasma cutters use a plasma arc that is very hot to cut metal. With a plasma torch, these CNC machines cut steel and aluminum in special ways.

Key Components:

  • Plasma torch: The plasma torch is the main tool used to cut through metal by utilizing the plasma arc. It is connected to the Z-axis and moves up and down to control the cutting depth.
  • Power source: The power source gives the plasma arc the necessary electricity. Usually, a high-frequency generator makes a current that ionizes the gas inside the torch to make plasma.
  • Gas delivery system: The gas, usually compressed air or nitrogen, comes into the torch through the gas delivery system. The gas helps to keep the plasma arc steady and blows the hot metal away.
  • Cutting table: The metal being cut is put on the table. It is mostly made of something that doesn’t conduct electricity, like steel slats or a water table.
  • CNC software: The program that controls how the machine moves and cuts are called CNC software. It lets the operator make and change cutting patterns and control the speed and depth of the machine.
  • Exhaust system: The exhaust system eliminates the smoke and fumes that come from cutting. It usually has a fan and ductwork to move fumes away from the area where the cutting is done.

Apart from all these, a control panel is another common part of these types of CNC machines.

CNC EDM Machines:

CNC EDM (Electrical Discharge Machining) machines are used to cut hard metals like titanium and hardened steel with great accuracy. These types of CNC machines use electrical discharges to shape and form metal.

Key Components:

  • EDM tool: The cutting tool used in the process is the EDM tool. It comprises a thin, charged wire or electrode to create the electrical discharge that removes material from the workpiece.
  • Power supply: The power supply gives the EDM tool and the workpiece the electricity they need to create an electrical discharge. It controls the discharge’s voltage, current, and the number of pulses per second.
  • Dielectric fluid system: The dielectric fluid system uses a liquid medium, usually deionized water, to cool the tool and workpiece and flush away the debris made during the cutting process. The dielectric fluid also acts as an electrical insulator and helps make the electrical discharge happen.

Worktables, control panels, and CNC software are other common parts of these machines.

CNC Waterjet Cutters:

A CNC waterjet cutter is another common type of CNC machine that you can buy. CNC waterjet cutters use high-pressure water and abrasive materials to cut metal, stone, plastics, and glass, among other things.

Key Components:

  • High-pressure pump: The high-pressure pump generates the necessary water pressure for cutting. It can generate pressures as high as 90,000 psi and is typically powered by either an electric motor or a diesel engine.
  • Waterjet nozzle: The waterjet nozzle is responsible for expelling water and abrasive particles at high pressure. Typically composed of hard materials such as diamond or sapphire, it can withstand the rigors of the cutting process and the elevated pressures involved.
  • Abrasive delivery system: The abrasive delivery system sends the abrasive particles to the waterjet nozzle, which is mixed with the high-pressure water stream. Usually, the system comprises a hopper for the abrasive, a feed tube, and a control valve to control how fast the abrasive flows through the system.
  • X-Y motion system: The waterjet nozzle moves across the workpiece with the help of the X-Y motion system. This system has motors, drive systems, and control software that lets it cut accurately and precisely.
  • CNC controller: The CNC controller is the brain of the machine. It takes instructions from the operator and controls how the X-Y motion system and other parts move.

Adding more to its components, a cutting table is another common part of this kind of CNC machine.

CNC Laser Cutters:

CNC laser cutters are the last thing we have. CNC laser cutters use a powerful laser beam to cut and shape metal, plastic, and wood, among other things.

Key Components:

  • Laser generator: The laser generator makes the laser beam used to cut things. It usually comprises a gas or solid-state laser that makes a strong light beam.
  • Laser optics: Laser optics are a set of mirrors that direct the laser beam to the head that does the cutting. The optics also make the laser beam focus into a small point to cut accurately.
  • Cutting head: The part that sends the laser beam to the workpiece is the cutting head. Usually, it has a lens that focuses the laser beam and a nozzle that sends assist gas to the cutting zone.
  • Assist gas delivery system: The assist gas delivery system sends gas to the cutting zone to help clear away molten material and improve the quality of the cut. Oxygen and nitrogen are the two most common helper gases that help process such types of CNC machines.
  • X-Y motion system: The cutting head is moved across the workpiece by the X-Y motion system.

Apart from these, a work table and a CNC controller are common parts of these CNC machines.


Before investing in a CNC machine for your manufacturing business or choosing a machine that fits your business’s part manufacturing demands, it’s important to understand the different types of CNC machines and how they work.

Considering the above guide, you can know the design, components, working, and manufacturing of different types of CNC machines and make a better investment decision. Good Luck!

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