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The CNC Milling process works by the machine reading coded instructions and then putting them into operation. It all starts with developing a 3D CAD file representing the final part. Once completed, the design is converted into a machine-readable format. CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) software then exports this to a CNC machine program, usually in G-code format, which acts as the instructions, directing every move that the machine makes. This replicates the CAD design in the chosen material with high accuracy and efficiency.
Using subtractive machining technology, CNC Milling can produce high and low volumes of highly complex and intricate parts. Material is removed from a blank workpiece, and the milling machine uses a rotating cylindrical tool called a milling cutter. Depending on the milling machine being used, the machine can cut in different angles and move along different axes.
The final part will have first been designed via CAD, or Computer-Aided Design, before being inputted into the milling machine for final production.
Types of CNC Milling
With vertical milling, a 3-axis milling table is the work surface, which sits below the arm, to which a spindle is attached.
The spindle can be stationary if a vertical turret mill is used. In this case, the table moved along both X and Y axes. Meanwhile, the table only moves along the X-axis if a bed vertical mill is used. The spindle travels along the length of the arm in the Y-Axis direction.
With horizontal milling, the spindle operates horizontally instead of vertically, and all other components are similar to vertical milling. Generally speaking, horizontal mills are best suited to heavier projects or longer projects. They are also suited to parts that require a large amount of material to be removed as the swarf falls away from the part and cutter.
The cutting tool’s axis of rotation is perpendicular to the surface of the workpiece.
It employs face milling cutters, with teeth both on the periphery and the tool face, the latter of which is used for finishing applications. Face milling is also used to create flat surfaces and control a finished piece. Face milling can produce higher quality finishes than other milling processes and is compatible with vertical and horizontal milling machines.
The cutting tool’s axis of rotation is parallel to the surface of the workpiece. Plain milling cutters have teeth on the periphery that perform the cutting operation. Both narrow and wide cutters are used. This allows for deeper cuts and for larger surface areas to be worked on. A course and fine-toothed cutter are both used. Slow cutting speeds and fast feed rates are used for the course cutter and vice versa for the fine-toothed cutter. This enables a more detailed final part.
This is a milling operation where the cutting tools’ axis of rotation is at an angle relative to the surface of the workpiece. Therefore, single angled milling cutters can produce more angular features, such as grooves, serrations, or chamfers.
Form milling is best used for milling operations where more irregular surfaces are involved. Contours, outlines, edges, or parts with curved, flat surfaces. It employed milling cutters or fly cutters specialised for particular applications – for example, concave cutters or corner rounding cutters. Hemispherical or semi-circular designs or other similarly intricate designs with complex parts would benefit from the form milling technique.
Benefits of CNC Milling process
- High quality and precision is guaranteed The very nature of CNC Machining as a process leaves very little room for error and high levels of accuracy and precision. This is because it operates from a computer led program, inputting 3D designs that have been developed via CAD (Computer-Aided Design). All operations are launched via a machine interface.The machine executes these instructions without the need for manual input. These automated processes allow for ultimate precision to ensure even the most finite and complex geometry can be technically managed.
- CNC Milling allows for high production output The level at which CNC Machines operate means they are capable of high levels of production due to the automated processes involved. CNC Milling is a trusted and popular option if a part needs to be produced in high volume, with every part meeting the same level of consistency in terms of quality and finish. It is particularly easy to program and operate a 3-axis machine, achieving high accuracy at a low cost.