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What is a CNC Machining Center

January 17, 2023 By Bill Ledger Bill Ledger ( Setco Regional Sales Manager )

A basic CNC Machining Center refers to a Computerized Numerically Controlled Milling Machine. This Machining Center will have a minimum of 3 axis, referred to as X, Y, and Z. It will incorporate a milling or drilling type tool mounted in a rotating spindle. The workpiece to be machined will be clamped or “fixtured” on the X-axis (see below) and typically does not rotate. A CNC Machining Center will also include an automatic tool changer versus a basic Milling Machine that utilizes one type of cutting tool that is manually changed.

X Y Z axis IllustrationThe rotating spindle is at the heart of every CNC Machining Center. It is mounted either in a vertical orientation, with the spindle nose / tool connection pointing downward, or in a horizontal orientation, with the spindle nose / tool connection pointing forward. The spindles are belt driven, direct coupled to a drive motor, or have an integral motor referred to as a motorized spindle. The spindle is the most critical component of the CNC Machining Center. It controls and ultimately determines the overall geometry and quality of the workpiece.  

A CNC Machining Center with a vertically mounted spindle has the spindle mounted to the Z axis. The Z-axis moves up & down. The X-axis moves left to right and mounts to the Y-axis. The Y axis moves front to rear. All three axis are independent mechanical units. A precision ball screw controlled by the CNC machine moves each axis in precise increments.

Can you picture a 3-Axis CNC Machining Center?

Over time, the CNC Machining Center has evolved into a fantastic tool with vast capabilities. Many incorporate additional features with benefits that improve the machining capabilities and manufacturing value. Some of these include;

  • A 4th and 5TH rotating axis for workpiece orientation.
  • A spindle-mounted probe system used to determine the workpiece coordinate location.
  • Fixed tool setting probe for automatically measuring and recording machining tool lengths.

CNC machining centers are one of the most widely used machine tools in today’s manufacturing industries.

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