What can a CNC machine make?

James Abbott - MD Challenge Engineering

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines are used in the manufacture of a wide variety of items and parts. Before taking a detailed look at the products that can be made on a CNC machine, let’s take a quick look at what they do and how they work.

What is a CNC machine?

CNC machines use computer controls to automate machine tools such as drills, lathes, routers, and saws.

A basic CNC setup uses a computer console attached to the machine that can be programmed with a sequence of control commands that create the desired effect on the chosen material.

More advanced modern systems have made the process even more efficient by allowing CAD drawings to be fed into the computer, which is then converted into instructions for the Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software. The machine automatically shapes the material to the dimensions given in the CAD drawing.

The main benefit of using a CNC machine is the added precision, compared to using hand tools or manually operated machinery. As long as the tools are kept sharp and within calibration, the results are highly accurate.

The improved accuracy is due to the fact that the material is positioned very precisely within a 3D-coordinate system, and the tools are very tightly controlled, even when there is some backlash from harder materials.

Another advantage of using a CNC machine is that they can handle complex shapes more easily. If you want to manufacture a metal part that has a lot of acute angles (below 90 degrees), for example, then CNC machines are ideal. You will get results that would be impossible from traditional forging and tooling methods.

The main disadvantage of CNC machining is that it can take more time than just using a mould in a forge that can produce dozens of identical items, in the time it takes to make just one or two in a CNC machine. However, this is only an advantage for huge runs which are typically not required in Australia.

Industries that use CNC machined components


The aerospace industry demands high precision parts that often have unique or complex designs. For example, a modern jet engine contains many different size and shape rotors, cogs, and intricately designed parts, making them ideal for CNC manufacture.

The strength and accuracy of the manufactured parts is paramount in an industry that is highly safety critical.


Precision is an important factor in the medical equipment industry. The medical industry also uses many unique, complex parts that aren’t for mass production in items such as diagnostic instruments, surgical equipment, and treatment devices.

Oil and energy

These industries need heavy-duty parts, usually made from high strength metals such as steel alloys or titanium. CNC machining is the ideal solution to manufacture hard-wearing complex parts.


Mechanical parts of various designs can be made easily in a CNC machine, ideal for the automotive industry that has a high demand for customised parts.

Research and Development/Education

CNC machines are ideal for training or research purposes in schools, colleges, and universities. They can be used to experiment with prototype parts for instance or to create individual parts to use in larger research projects.


The armed forces use a lot of heavy-duty equipment, machinery, and vehicles. CNC machining is ideal to manufacture parts for tanks or armoured vehicles for instance.


Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) can be made using a CNC machine, as an alternative to etching them using chemicals.

This process is normally used in situations where the hazardous chemicals used in etching may be too risky. For instance, schools and colleges often use CNC machines to allow students to safely create their own PCBs.

What other products can be manufactured on a CNC machine?

As well as the examples mentioned in the previous section, there are a wide variety of products and parts that can be made on a CNC machine. Metal parts aren’t the only thing that can be machined by CNC. Wood and plastic can also be shaped using CNC machines.

Here are a few more examples: • Fixings and fasteners such as screws, nuts and bolts, clasps, etc. • Plastic parts for kitchen appliances, televisions, or other plastic household items. • Wooden furniture such as chairs with ornamental features.

Almost anything that is made of wood, plastic or metal can be manipulated in some way in a CNC machine. Depending on the material, you could use tools such as a CNC high-pressure water jet or plasma cutter.

In addition, you can now buy small CNC mills that can be used at home or in a small workshop, which are ideal for hobbyists or people running small manufacturing businesses.

At Challenge Engineering, in Sydney Australia, we machine custom metal and plastic components, and pride ourselves on great customer service. We can manufacture and deliver anywhere in Australia. Please contact us and find out how we can assist your business.Sign up to Challenge Engineering’s blog, send through a Request A Quote form, email us or phone (02) 9632 0010.

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