What is CNC Turning?


CNC turning is a fabrication process in which a piece of material (such as metal, plastic, or foam) is moved or rotated against a stationary cutting tool in order to remove unwanted material and achieve a specially designed manufactured shape. CNC machines, which stand for computer numerical control machines, employ the precision inherent in computer software systems to move the material at the precisely correct axis or angle to achieve near-perfect uniformity between each piece produced. CNC turning is a valuable tool to use when creating prototypes. It provides a single point for continuous cutting, which makes it particularly efficient at creating round parts or pieces that have circular features or are cylindrical or cone-shaped. By moving the material closer to the cutting mechanism, unique grooves, curves, or valleys can be carved into the material. PFI maintains CNC turning machines in our arsenal and has significant experience using these tools to create fully customized and unique parts for our clients.

What is CNC Milling?

CNC milling is similar to CNC turning with one key difference. In CNC milling, the cutting tool moves and rotates around the material, while the material itself stays stationary. The goal is still generally the same – CNC milling removes unwanted material from the source in order to achieve a specific design or shape and employs computer software to obtain precise and identical pieces. However, there are times in which CNC milling is a preferred machining method. For example, CNC milling offers multi-point cutting making it better suited for creating either flat or even irregular surfaces. Unlike CNC turning, which maintains constant contact with the raw material, CNC milling can use intermittent cutting, meaning that the cutting tool can move from one area of the raw material to another without removing the material in between. Consequently, the CNC milling process can create an endless array of complex three-dimensional shapes, including shapes that lack any sense of symmetry or regularity.

Machines that Utilize Both Turning and Milling

There are pros and cons to cutting a material using a CNC turning process vs a CNC milling process. CNC turning can create beautiful, uniform cylindrical or spherical products at an exceptional rate of speed. On the other hand, CNC milling moves the cutting tool around the raw materials to create either pristine flat surfaces or incredibly complex irregular shapes. Though these two activities employ distinct processes to subtract material from the raw source, many machines today, including the Okuma machine used by PFI, can perform both functions. The benefit of using a dual-purposed machine is that it increases the versatility of the machine and the types of products that can be manufactured using it. It also saves time, costs, and space. Having one fewer machine on the floor offers a roomier working space, and removes the costs of maintaining two separate machines. Furthermore, complicated parts that require both milling and turning can be produced on the same device. This can cut production time as the manufacturer does not have to install the raw material in two different machines or upload cutting instructions on multiple devices.

What Does a CNC Turner Do?

At its core, a CNC turning machine takes raw materials and cuts them down into uniquely designed shapes by rotating or moving the material against a stationary cutting tool. CNC turning machines are the ideal machine to use when creating uniform spherical, cylindrical or conical shapes – even if those shapes feature distinct grooves or curves. While raw material that is shaped into a round bar is the most common stock used in a CNC turner, products can also be cut from square or even hexagonal stock. The raw materials that can be cut using a CNC turner are expansive and consists of a wide range of plastics, metals, and even foams. Our depth of knowledge about these materials and the mechanics needed to create precision cuts informs the decisions we make regarding the speed of the movement of the raw material and the sharpness of the cutting tools. With that knowledge, we can create high-performing products every time.

PFI: A CNC Turned Parts Manufacturer

At PFI, we love the challenge of creating parts and machine pieces that ultimately make our client’s vision a reality. For this reason, we employ a wide variety of cutting and machining tools so that no design specification is out of our reach, including CNC turning machines. We use our Okuma Machining tools to generate reliable and uniform products that keep our customers satisfied. Not only does this machine offer the longest horizontal range on the marker, which allows us to make larger pieces, but it also is one of the safest and easiest to use devices available, which keeps our employees protected as well. For all these reasons, we want to be your turned parts manufacturer, and can’t wait to start working with you. Contact PFI today!

Brian Schubel

Brian Schubel is an accomplished Shop Manager and Machinist who began his career in 1985 with Albert Seisler Machine Corp. In January 2006, PFI acquired the Seisler business, and Brian became a PFI employee. In his 38+ years tenure in the shop he has be known as “the Mayor,” Brian has always been the go-to guy for all issues related to machining, fabrication and assembly. Other employees have relied on Brian’s knowledge and experience to guide them in their daily activities.