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CNC Milling vs. CNC Turning: Precision Machining Services Compared

CNC milling and CNC turning are two precision machining processes optimized for different product types and manufacturing applications. At Superior Machining & Fabrication, we utilize both CNC mills and CNC lathe centers (including Swiss turning machines) to provide our customers with the largest degree of freedom in design possible.

For customers who may be new to the industry, we’ve put together a brief guide comparing the strengths and advantages of our CNC milling versus CNC turning services.

The Basics of CNC Milling and CNC Turning Services:

CNC Milling:

  • A stationary workpiece is machined by external milling cutters, which are robotically controlled and precisely angled relative to the workpiece within three or more axes.
  • Optimized for machining flat or sculptured surfaces as well as custom complex geometries, generally on square or rectangular workpieces.

CNC Turning:

  • The workpiece is rotated on a high-speed lathe, while stationary cutting tools are precisely pressed against the surface to perform machining operations.

  • Optimized for machining cylindrical, round, or spherical workpieces. Ideal for creating custom diameters, tapers, or complex surface features with virtually perfect symmetry.

Comparing Subtractive Manufacturing Processes

Milling and turning are the two most common forms of subtractive manufacturing used throughout the modern CNC machining industry.

CNC milling involves the removal of material from a stationary workpiece using various types of rotary cutters. The cutting tool moves within multiple axes relative to the workpiece position to create complex shapes and features on the surface, edges, or within cavities. At Superior, we utilize 5-axis milling to accurately produce extremely complex designs and intricate machining features with the highest degree of repeatability possible.

Comparatively, typical CNC turning primarily utilizes the rotation of a workpiece while a stationary cutting tool shapes it by precisely cutting away material – though live tooling options are also used, which can perform combined mill-turn operations.

In many applications, lathes only involve two axes of movement (the X and Z axis) relative to the workpiece rotation. This tends to limit the types of shapes that can be produced compared to milling – e.g. basic CNC turning services are primarily used for simple round or cylindrical components like rods and shafts (see the following section on “Workpiece Shapes”). However, utilizing our multi-tasking mill-turn machines and Swiss lathes, Superior can produce much more complex turned products.

Accommodating Different Workpiece Shapes

In the hands of our master machinists, CNC mills can reliably produce virtually any complex shape, contour, or unique machining feature. It’s therefore the better method for machining both flat and irregular surfaces, or creating intricately shaped cavities. From custom prototyping to intricate production-ready components, CNC milling services are extremely versatile.

As mentioned, CNC turning services are better suited for cylindrical or rotationally symmetrical parts, such as shafts, bolts, and other similar round profile components. Due to the simplicity of the process, these types of products can be turned relatively quickly and cost-effectively. When more complex features are required we can utilize live tooling, mill-turn machines, and/or Swiss turning services.

CNC Programming Complexity

One drawback of CNC milling is that the programming of part files is generally more difficult due to the machine’s multi-axis movement and the need to continuously control tool orientation. In comparison, CNC turning is generally simpler to program as it involves fewer axes in conjunction with the simpler rotational motion of the workpiece. This relative simplicity can further add to the quickness and cost-effectiveness of custom turning services.

Machining Process Complexity

Delving further into the complexity of the two processes, CNC turning is overall simpler than CNC milling. The programming is simpler, the lathe machines themselves are less complicated, and the overall process is generally more streamlined. This relative simplicity means that CNC turning services are often faster and cheaper than comparable CNC milling projects, and are therefore optimal for producing quick-turned parts to meet rapid turnaround requirements.

Embracing the Latest Milling and Turning Technology Since 1995

Backed by more than 25 years of quality American machining services, Superior knows what it takes to compete in today’s fast-paced market. With over 100+ CNC workcenters at our disposal integrated within our 100,000 sq.-ft facility, our company is one of the most comprehensive and state-of-the-art CNC milling and turning service providers for the Muenster, Texas region and beyond.