Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A brief explanation of CNC:

CNC-anything (typically a term used in milling) is referring to a Computer Numerically Controlled device.

The idea is that if you have several motors (or other electromechanical devices) that are precisely controlled by computer outputs and sensor inputs (typically coupled with proprietary software), you can take anything that you create in Computer Assisted Design software (Solidworks, CATIA, and the like) and turn it into something tangible.

I have access to a 3-axis CNC mill that has a bitset suitable for machining wood, but the results aren't anything spectacular. It's relatively small-scale and doesn't work that quickly.

On the other hand, I also have access to a (pretty much amazing) CNC Plasma Cutter, produced by the guys over at [ ]. The software is proprietary, but the options cover most of the things I've had to do in-shop.

With the cutter, the robotics team that I work with for FRC [ ] can drastically reduce manufacture times by speedily producing the sheet-metal frame which we can then bend/fold into shape.

It also permits the creation of neat yard-art sorts of things, if you're into that.

Using CNC removes one of the human elements- this can be good, or bad, depending on what you're going for. Manufacturing with automated processes removes the human capability for error whilst cutting small pieces- but it also means that if the human controller isn't precise enough or issues incorrect commands, the computer will perform exactly as ordered, even if this means doing the opposite of what you requested.

Neat stuff, this is. (Make sure to wear eye protection, plasma's BRIGHT )


  1. Sounds really cool. If you could set up everything perfectly that is. I look forward to seeing what kind of designs you come up with.

  2. Wow dude, that sounds pretty cool. Yeah I cant wait to see what you make with it. Can the plasma cutter only cut in two dimensions or 3? If you got a 3-axis metal cutter that would be awesome.

  3. ooh a plasma cutter sounds like fun, i want one now. good info, now following.


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