Curious to know the process and what CNC machining is and how they cut pinball playfields? Then keep on reading!

What Is CNC Machining?

Computer numerical control (CNC) is a method for automating control of machine tools through the use of software embedded in a microcomputer attached to the tool. It is commonly used in manufacturing for machining metal and plastic parts.

CNC machining is a manufacturing process in which pre-programmed computer software dictates the movement of factory tools and machinery. The process can be used to control a range of complex machinery, from grinders and lathes to mills and routers. With CNC machining, three-dimensional cutting tasks can be accomplished in a single set of prompts. Under CNC Machining, machine tools function through numerical control. A computer program is customized for an object and the machines are programmed with CNC machining language (called G-code) that essentially controls all features like feed rate, coordination, location and speeds. With CNC machining, the computer can control exact positioning and velocity.

CNC MILL & CNC ROUTER: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

The CNC mill and CNC router are terms often used interchangeably. In actuality, they are two distinct machines with specific purposes.

CNC Router

A CNC router is mostly used for cutting wood, plastic, model foam or other soft materials. With some routers you can also machine aluminum, but this is mostly for engraving purpose.

The spindle of a CNC router can rotate up to 20,000 Rpm, a necessity in order to experience low torque when cutting into the material. Typically the frame and bearings of a CNC router are not configured for high stiffness. The upside of this high-speed low torque cutting is that a CNC router can do its work quickly, compared to slow CNC mills.

Another benefit of the CNC router is that they broadly tend to offer more working space in the X- and Y- axes, with a shallow Z-axis movement when  compared to the CNC mill.

Despite being generally less stiff than a CNC mill, the stiffness and quality of a CNC router depends on the price tagv

CNC Mill

Perhaps the most noticable difference between the CNC mill and CNC router is cost. A decent CNC mill can costs in the range of $10,000, and that’s before factoring in maintenance and tools.

The upside of such an expensive machine however, is that a CNC mill is capable of machining all kinds of metals such as (cast) steel, aluminum alloys and precious metals.

To do so, the spindle of a CNC mill runs at around 1,000 Rpm — much slower than a CNC router. Paired with a stiff frame and sturdy bearings, it’s possible to precisely cut to a tenth of a millimeter, though this of course depends on the quality of your tools, talent and machine

.Ben Heckendorn on Twitter: "Was tired of waiting for Spooky Pinball so decided to just CNC rout my unreleased pinball game myself.… "

Get To Grips With Software

All CNC machines use computer software to control their tools—hence the acronym: computer numerical control. The software is essentially a three-step process. The part is drawn in a CAD program (computer-aided design) before a CAM program (computer-aided manufacturing) converts the drawing into a code called g-code. The machine reads the g-code and makes the part. Some machinists write g-code straight into the machine, but most rely on the CAM program.

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