How Does CNC Routing Work?

CNC routing is a process that uses a computer to control the movement of a cutting tool. This allows you to create precise, complex shapes and designs in materials like composites, rigid polymers, or metal.

Here we'll take a closer look at how CNC routing works and some of the benefits it offers. By the end you’ll have all the information you need to know whether or not CNC routing is the right fit for your project.

CNC Routing – Explained

Routing is the process of hollowing out an area in a material (like composites, polymers, and soft metal) to cut various shapes in the material. A router is the power tool that is used in the process.

With the birth of computer technology came CNC routers. CNC is short for Computer Numerical Control. It is the automated control of machining tools by means of a computer.

Computer Numerical Control automates the path of the router. The machine follows specific sets of computer instructions in processing the material. Thus, CNC routers process more accurate cuts than manual routers.

CNC Routing Applications

A CNC router can be used to cut designs on different types of materials. These include:

·   Composites

·   Plastic (including acrylic, polycarbonate, PVC, LDPE, HDPE, etc.)

·   Synthetic rubber (silicone neoprene, urethane, etc.)

·   Foams

·   Aluminium

·   GRP

·   Phenolics

Components of a CNC Router

The CNC router consists of four components:

Cutting bed - It is the flat surface that supports the material to be processed. You place the material you want to cut on the flat cutting bed and hold it in place using clamps, screws, adhesives or a vacuum.

Spindle - It is the rotating blade that extends beyond the flat surface of the machine. The spindle is the part of the machine that does the cutting. It cuts by rotating its cutting bit at different speeds.

Drive system - The drive system is made up of the parts of the CNC routing machine that allows it to move in the three axes (x, y, and z) when cutting. A single drive system typically consists of a motor, a bearing, and a means mechanism for moving (like a rack and pinion set up).

Controller - It is essentially the brain of the CNC machine. The controller is the computer that directs the drive system. When you have a design to cut onto a material, you load it onto the controller, using a post-processor that translates the file into a geometric code (g-code). The controller then uses the g-code to move the drive system, and execute the cutting on the material.

Process Cuts In 3 Directions

Usually, CNC routers can cut along three directions: X-axis, Y-axis, and Z-axis.

The X-axis - This is the longest axis, and it runs from front to back

The Y-axis - This is the left and right direction

The Z-axis - This is the up and down direction

Given that the spindle can move and cut in these directions, the CNC router is able to cut very complex designs and shapes than a human-controlled router.

How the CNC Router Works

To use the CNC router to process a material, do the following:

·   Use the CAD (computer assisted design) software that comes with the machine to draw what you want to cut.

·   Switch to the toolpath program that comes with the machine to generate cutting instructions for the machine.

·   Secure the material to the cutting bed. The best way to secure a material depends on its type and size. 

·   Install the correct bit. There are different types of CNC router bits, depending on the type of cutting you want. These include:

·   Spiral rounded bits - they are used for cutting wood laterally

·   Straight-toothed bits - they are used for chamfering and butt end or board side finishing

·   Elongated knife head bits - they are used for slicing materials

·   Start the routing process. The spindle moves according to the programmed cutting directions. It’ll move in the three axes to execute interesting cuts.

Advantages of CNC Routing

The CNC router is a computer-operated alternative to a hand-held router. It has many benefits that include:

Cutting is automatic - The machine is operated by a computer and does not need a manual operator, thereby reducing manpower cost

Flawless cutting accuracy - Following set instructions, CNC routing can cut to a high level of accuracy.

CNC routing is capable of cutting very complex designs - Because the CNC router can move in three directions, it can cut intricate details.

Fast production - CNC routing processes materials very quickly. You can have a full sheet of plywood now, and a few minutes later, you’ll have fine cabinet parts complete with decorative grooving, holes for shelving pins, etc.

Little to no waste - CNC routing is very efficient, as it leaves very little waste compared to using a hand-held router.

Improves safety - Since the CNC router does not require manual control when cutting, it improves personal safety. 

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, a basic understanding of how CNC routing works. We hope that this article has helped demystify the process and shown you just how versatile this technology can be.

Categories: Knowledge base How To