CNC Machine Types – The Ultimate Guide

You may be wondering which computer numerical control (CNC) machine will best suit your machining operations. Here we will discuss into detail each type of CNC machine, its benefits, limitations and applications.

What is CNC Machine?

CNC machineor a computer numerical control machine is a numerically-controlled device through an attached computer. It employs programmed instructions to precisely regulate the motions of cutting tools or the workpiece at itself.  It therefore enables the same degree of accuracy and reliability in machining the process cycle after cycle.

CNC Machine

CNC Machine

CNC machines, due to the great array of tasks they can do, are widely used in various industries. They perform jobs such as cutting, drilling, milling, turning, and shaping a wide range of materials including steel, pole, plastic, etc.

Types of CNC Machines in the Market

CNC machines can be classified in various ways including design and function, number of axes, and the control system.

CNC machines classified in terms of design and function.

CNC Milling Machines

A CNC milling machineuses various cutting tools to do away with extra material resulting into the required shape. Milling machines are available in both horizontal and vertical options.

CNC Milling Machine

CNC Milling Machine


Precision: CNC machines have been designed to work with absolute precision, with the level of accuracy ranging in thousands of inches.

Efficiency: Being equipped with both high speed and efficiency CNC milling machines accomplish short lead times with a higher level of productivity.

Versatility: Through CNC milling machines you actually handle a number of materials including wood, metal and plastic.

Complex machining capabilities: CNC milling machines can do a wide of complex machining processes such as contouring, profiling, engraving, and also thread milling.


Size Limitation: Working with a CNC milling machine may limit you when it comes to the sizes of your workpieces.

Operator Skill: As an operator, you can only handle CNC mill after acquiring a good skill set on how to operate it.

Price: Another limitation is the much money you will need to purchase and set up a CNC milling machine.


CNC mills find use in making Cabinets, Prototype models, Furniture,Signage, Musical Instruments, etc.

CNC Lathe Machines

A CNC lathe machine combines both rotation and cutting to result into the required turning operations for every given workpiece.

CNC Lathe Machine

CNC Lathe Machine


Precision: One of the best attributes of a CNC lathe machine is that they offer undoubtable precision on every workpiece touched.

Versatility: CNC lathes can work with most materials, the metals, plastics and composites being some of them.

Reduced setup times: When it comes to the installation of a CNC lathe machine, not much time is required.


Symmetrical Nature: CNC lathes have the ability to cut out but not to create asymmetric parts owing to the way in which they shape materials. Thus, they fail these tasks when their function should be non-symmetrical and relate to certain details.

High initial coast: Purchasing and setting up a CNC lathe machine takes a lot of money which may be difficult to raise for startup operations.


CNC lathe machines are necessary in different key industries for a number of applications. Some of the uses are Camshafts, Dining tables, Automobile parts, Crankshafts, Furniture legs, Musical instruments, etc.

CNC Drilling Machines

CNC drilling machines are important for making accurate and quality holes in different workpieces automatically through the use of computers.

CNC Drilling Machine

CNC Drilling Machine


Precision: One of CNC drills key features is extraordinary precision; proper position of each hole is guaranteed within the close gap.

Versatility: They deal more with the materials and types of holes to a variety of manufacturing needs. It is such a diverse range.

Reduced Errors: CNC drilling reduces the errors and has resulted in the implication of consistently high quality.

Integration: This seamless live working of the drills with other machining operations heightens the current work efficiency.


Cost: People would rather pay much for machines with computers than for the machines that rely on humans to run them.

Skills Loss: The future of trainees for the position of manual machine users will be clouded as their skills-set lose value in the market.


CNC drilling machines are found in a number of industries for applications such as Automobile manufacturing, Shipbuilding, Astronautics, Mold making, Woodworking.

CNC Grinding Machines

CNC Grinding Machine is an advanced tool or a precision machining tool which is controlled by a programmed computer numerical control (CNC). It is generally used in grinding surfaces for an accurate dimension or to produce highly complex shapes.

CNC Grinding Machine

CNC Grinding Machine


Exceptional Surface Quality: The CNC grinding is credible of generating an impeccable surface quality.

Repeatability: A CNC grinding machine can be programmed to repeat a given activity over many times with utmost precision once it is set for a sure assignment.

Safety: A CNC grinding center is comparatively better running operation than manual grinder.

Reduced Waste: CNC grinding works concentrate on precision and constancy which reduces waste.


Limited Flexibility: Although CNC grinding provides higher perfection and more accurate repetition, it might be less flexible compared to other processes of machining.

Noise and Vibration: CNC grinders not only emit a considerable amount of noise but also vibration, especially during high-speed running.


CNC grinding machines are of great value in selections like high precision-gear, auto parts, medically related, aerospace parts, and similar tooling.

CNC Laser Cutting Machines

CNC laser cutting machines use laser beams to precisely cut materials without getting into contact with them.


Minimal Material Distortion: Using laser cutting machines help reduce the probability of parts distortion since there is no contact with the material in question.

Less Contamination and Waste: Due to the high accuracy of CNC laser cutting, the main advantage that it reduces the amount of waste material.

Less Maintenance Required: CNC lasers tend to have less maintenance required than other mechanical cutting machines.This is for the fact that CNC lasers make use of the noncontact nature of laser beams.


Limited Thickness: Since CNC laser cutting machines don’t get in touch with the workpiece, they are not able to penetrate into thicker materials.

Technical Expertise: All classified job positions for these laser-cutting machines require highly skilled workers.

Edge Quality: Even though CNC laser cutting gives you the cutting with cleaner and precise edges, the roughness of the edges may appear.


Having a CNC laser cutting machine enables you to work with applications like making aerospace parts, automobile frames,medical equipment, etc.

CNC Plasma Cutting Machines

A CNC plasma cutting machines enable you to precisely cut or fabricate different types of materials. This type of welding uses an electric arc to ionize the air that melts the material. While it is a process of an electrical arc, it works on electrically conductive materials only.


High efficiency: Plasma cutting machines will save you time and money even for a huge number of products.

Consistent accuracy: The CNC plasma cutters are used through a specific computer program which manages the process perfectly with such a high precision.

Ease of use and reduced training: CNC plasma cutting machines can reduce the labor process both timewise and cost wise.


Limited Materials: Plasma cutting does not cut through non-metals or alloys occupied with conductivity.

Heat-Affected Zones: In plasma cutting, a hot-cutting process is carried out by heating the workpiece. The heat produces physiological impact at the front and back of the areas where cutting occurs.


With a CNC plasma cutting machine you can perform unlimited number of tasks including automobile manufacturing, salvage, scrapping, fabrication shops, etc.

CNC Waterjet Cutting Machines

A CNC waterjet cutting machine is a device that makes use of water mingled with various materials to cut a given workpiece.


There will be no fiber shedding and no mechanical stresses posed on the surface of the garment by the laundry process.

Low cost comparing with traditional manufacturing processes and easy to employ.

Extremely detailed geometry.

The machine has the ability to handle both delicate thin cuts and more substantial thick pieces.

CNC waterjet machine is environmentally safe.

Limitations of Waterjet Machines

Cutting time: The working speed of CNC water jet cutter is lower than some other similar tools.

Component Breakdown: A waterjet cutter does so by the push of jets at ultra-high pressure into the steel sheet. However, if one chooses a premium waterjet system, the only possible issue might be the cutter components failure.


CNC waterjet cutting machines can handle both thin and thick materials and is used in applications like, mining, aerospace, automotive, fabrication.

CNC 3D Printer Machines

CNC 3D printer machines are a hybrid technology of CNC and additive manufacturing. Such devices are capable of both subtractive and additive manufacturing technologies to facilitate the completion of intricate shapes.


Reduced Material Waste: With additive manufacturing processes discharges are usually less compared to that is subtractive where material is chipped or milled away.

Shorter Lead Times: The CNC 3D printers have the ability to substantially cut down the lead time for both the development of mockups and the finishing process.

Customization and Personalization: It is additive manufacturing that makes production of parts with any customized or personalized specifications to be a straightforward thing.


Material Selection: Lack in material output range processing capacity in a CNC 3D printer machine is one of the machines limitations.

Build Volume: CNC 3D printer devices may have smaller build volume when compared with large machining units.

Material Properties: Parts, which are manufactured by additive systems have other mechanical properties compared to parts produced by traditional processes.


CNC 3D printers are needed in Prototyping, Manufacturing, Customization, Rapid Tooling, Art and Sculpture, Education and Research, Dental and Medical.

CNC Routing Machines

CNC Routing Machines, belong to the class of computer-assisted cutting machines designed for producing 3D shapes, basically from wood, plastic, foam, metals.


Waste reduction: CNC routing machines are designed and built to be extremely precise hence giving maximum shapes and sizes with minimum waste.

Scalability: CNC routers are scalable machines that are capable of achieving various production volumes and many other different requirements.

Safety: CNC routers are equipped with safety features like automatic tool detection, collision detection, emergency stop button- all aimed at ensuring safe operation and causing less accidents.


High noise levels: CNC routers are basically comprised of a spindle, extraction system, and vacuum system as the fundamental piece. Overall operation of the machine which has a high noise level may be described in this regard.

Residual dust: A CNC router is operated in an environment where there is a great deal of wood or metal saw dust.


Since CNC router machines can create intricate shapes,they are needed for applications like carved wood furniture, signage, moldings, door carvings, interior and exterior decorations, musical instruments.

CNC Electrical Discharge Machines (EDM)

The CNC electrical discharged machining (EDM), or EDM machining or spark erosion machines, are the EDM precision machining tools. They the metal parts by material removal through electrical discharge.

Benefits of EDM

Complex shapes: With an EDM you can achieve very complicated shapes that may not be possible with other methods.

Harder materials: if you are working with the hardest materials and may be wondering which CNC machine to use, EDM is a good option.

Smaller workpieces: EDM is capable of working on smaller delicate without creating any kind of distortion.

No finishing: EDM produces parts that are clean with no need for post-finishing.


Efficiency: EDM offer several benefits but it is a slower process compared to other methods.

Trained operators: To operate an EDM and create the needed parts, you need to understand the machine.

Material Constraints: In terms of material selection, if EDM is the machine you have chosen, then you can only work with conductive materials.


Having an EDM machine allows you to work in applications such as blanking punches, prototyping, die casting, or injection molds.

Tool Changer CNC Machines

CNC tool changer machines tend to combine bits of each existing CNC machine to be able to perform its functions. Using an automatic tool changer machine means the possibility of rapidly changing cutting tools with no downtimes.


Increased safety: An operator has no business handling or getting into contact with the cutting tools since the machine is automated.

Process repeatability and high product quality: You are actually capable of performing the same process for various parts and with high accuracy.

Reduced labor costs: The high level of automation in tool changer machine tend to eliminate manual workers hence reduced costs.


Programming complexity: Compared to other CNC machines, tool changer CNC machines are more complex in terms of programming procedures.

Tool carrier capacity: You may be hoping that a tool changer machine will be able to accommodate all the cutting tools you have. Unfortunately, it has a limited tool accommodation capacity.

High initial cost: You will need a higher amount of money to be able to acquire and install a tool changer machine.


CNC tool changer machines are useful or recommended for production machining, die or mold making, prototyping, precision machining and engraving.

CNC machines classified in terms of the number of axes involved

2-Axis Machine

2-axis CNC machines or 2-axis milling machines, are types of computer numerical control (CNC) machines that operate along two axes. Through these, we usually plot the X-axis and the Y-axis.


Simplicity and Ease of Use: The first variations within this area are the two-axis CNC machines. They stand out and are simplistic in design and operation compared to the rest of the CNC machines.

Cost-Effectiveness:By nature, the 2-axis CNC machines are a bit cheap compared to the mills with higher numbers of axes.


Limited complexity: 2-axis machines handle 2D machining processes with a lot of ease. However, they may struggle with complex 3D contours and geometries.

Semi-automation: This type produces quality results, especially in simple cutting and drilling tasks. However, these machines are used in parallel with manual operations if more faceted features or multiple planes are needed.


Drilling: Making openings in the workpieces having specified clearance and sizes.

Milling: Cutting, flattening, and shaping irregular surfaces, calves, and bovine boots.

Engraving: Printing pictures, names and logo together with a decoration on the body finishes.

3-Axis Machine

A 3-axis CNC machine is a type of computer numerical control (CNC) machine that operates along three primary axes. The length-ways, the as-the-crow-flies, and the height-wise.


Versatility: They are capable of producing components with vast variability in size and level of complexity. They meet the needs for both small-series development tests and production manufacturing.

Ease of Use: These machines are in a way more complicated than 2-axis CNC because of their familiarity and expertise in programing.

Accuracy and Precision: 3 axis CNC unit can be fabricated to exact requirements and granted tolerances minimizing component defects.


Limited functionality: The 3-axis automated machining multitasking operation has a limit when manufacturing complex 3D forms with steeper inclines in undercuts.


3D milling: Create and mold complex three dimensional shapes into careful and precise contours.

Profiling: Discarding workpieces with unnecessary shapes and corners to within the desired range of planes by limiting mass and volume.

Engraving: The use of text, logos, or decorative patterns on surfaces with blunt remains an option not limited to flat surfaces (dimensionally).

These machines often applied for usage in aerospace, automotive, metal making, jewelry making, and in general machining.

4-Axis Machine

A 4-axis CNC machine is a type of computer numerical control (CNC) machine that operates along four primary axes. The X-axis, the Y-axis, the Z-alias, and an additional rotary axis (commonly known as the A-axis).


Complexity and Versatility: 4-axis CNC machines allow for more complex machining operations, compared to 3-axis ones, and increase versatility by enabling different part geometries.


Limited performance: Unfortunately, these multiple task capable machines are still not able to make full complex geometrical shapes and tolerances regarding undercuts.

More space: The 4-axis machine may have a need for more space in the manufacturing floor due to the double rotary axes.


Rotary milling: Workpieces are directed manually in the necessary axis using machining ways, and their contoured areas are machined by the circular motion.

Indexing: Working with the workpiece, as you change the features by just rotating the piece on all sides.

Helical milling: Machine tool increased rapidly by winding or curving the trajectory vertically along the full height of an article.

5-Axis Machine

A 5 axis CNC machine is a type of computer numerical control (CNC) machine that operates along five primary axes. The X-axis, the Y-axis, the Z-axis, and two further rotary poles (mostly assigned as the A-axis and the B-axis).


Complexity and Versatility: 5-Axis CNC machines provide a cutting-edge versatility and flexibility, allowing sequential milling of complex parts through multiple angles in one operation.

Precision and Accuracy: Latest control systems also computer controlled with software applications having optimized path for tooling. This moves down the basic voids and machining errors.


Limited weight capacity: They tend to have some limitations in processing the large and heavy parts because the weight and size are the constraints.

Investing in 5-axis CNC machines is obviously more expensive and eats up more floor space than machines having lower-axis capability.


Contouring: Ability in expressing complicated details of 3D geometrical designs which include curves and even angles.

Trimming: Machining of progressed composite materials for aero and automotive manufacturing operations jobs.

Sculpting: Developing fine arts by doing impressive works on walls, ceilings and sculptures as well.

Turbine blade machining: Cutting the blades of turbine and impeller to be of complicated aerodynamic structure.


Usually these are the most common CNC machines that you would find in the market. Based on the discussion above, you should find it much easier to pick one to fit your production lines. In addition, the CNC machines are also divided according to the control system and servo control mode that are being used.