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Understanding CNC Terminology

A Look at Basic CNC Terminology

Understanding some terms associated with the CNC industry can be confusing at times. If you are new to this field or if you are looking for a quick reference guide, please read on.


We have put together a quick list of some common phrases as well as their definitions.

Automatic Tool Changer

Otherwise know by the abbreviation ATC, an automatic tool change system provides machine automation to the cutter or tool change process. This allows lights out manufacturing and vastly improves machine usage efficiency. The provision for automatic changing of the tool allows for fully autonomous processing of product with a variety of tools without the need for operator interaction with the machine tool. Not only does this save a great deal of time, but it also reduces the chances that the operator could be injured when completing a project.

Computer-Aided Design (CAD)

Computer-aided design is an automated software package intended to provide the user and the machine with a detailed map of what needs to take place during the production of a product. CAD systems are powerful ways to design and formalised part shapes and geometries as well as complete system assemblies digitally. Once drawn digitally parts can then move to the next phase of programming preparation for the CNC machine tool.

Computer Aided Manufacture (CAM)

Computer aided manufacture (CAM) is software used to translate the digial parts drawn up in the CAD process, and to convert this geometry into a language the CNC machine controller can accept and process. A good CAM package is essential to allow high quality product to be manufactured from the initial CAD daa.


Milling is one of the most common tasks associated with CNC machining. Interestingly enough, milling often represents a combination of drilling and cutting. It employs a sharpened cylindrical blade that rotates at an extremely high speed. While this blade can certainly drill into a hard surface (such as a block of acrylic or aluminium), it is also able to form detailed shapes and to cut objects to extremely accurate dimensions. It is very easy to create a nearly endless number of slots, shapes and holes. This is why milling is the important process of any CNC machine.


An axis simply refers to a plane of motion when speaking of CNC machining. Most units will work with three axes:

  • The x-axis.
  • The y-axis.
  • The z-axis.

The x-axis is horizontal and parallel to the surface that holds the object in place. The y-axis is at a right angle to the x axis (representing height). The z-axis is associated with the primary spindle of the CNC machine. The movement of the tool mounted within this spindle is able to provide a three-dimensional sense of cutting motion.

These are only four examples of the numerous terms associated with CNC machining. Please contact Stoney CNC to learn more or to appreciate the client-centred services that we are happy to offer.

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