What Is CNC Engraving?

Jordan Weagly
Jordan Weagly

Engraving is the process of making a design on a hard, usually flat surface using a variety of special cutting tools. Computer numerical control (CNC) is the automation of machinery using a computer program. CNC engraving, then, is process of making designs on some material using computer programming to control the machines. There are many types of CNC engraving machines and materials, many designed for specific applications and all hooked to computer. Workpieces are often created using computer-assisted design and the engraver’s internal mechanisms, a process that has some major benefits.

CNC engraving is especially useful for custom engraving, hobbyist engraving and industrial engraving. Items such as name plaques, car parts and electronics can all benefit from the uniformity of CNC engraving, though hand engraving is still practiced in many professions and specialty fields. Large engraving machines might be used for mass production or large quantities of custom orders, and smaller benches might be used for home shops. The variety of engraving machines is the result of the many possibilities of this technology.

In general, CNC engraving is useful for industrial, commercial or hobbyist-level applications, and engraver designs can vary widely. For instance, large industrial engravers can take up an entire room, but the small engravers used to make pet name tags can fit right inside a store. Many hobbyists choose to make their own engraving machines, because the software and hardware required can be assembled by consumers. A wide range of materials also helps ensure a wide variety of CNC engraving machine designs.

Materials that can be engraved include metal, wood, glass and plastic. Different machines and tools are often needed for these materials. For example, metal and wood often have very different temperature requirements, which means that they require unique cutting tools and speeds. There often are restrictions on what sort of designs can be engraved in a material without distorting or ruining the workpiece. Many of these factors are, at some point, processed by the computer and folded into the engraving process.

Designing a workpiece on a computer and allowing it to create the design on the workpiece offers some advantages. For instance, each time CNC engraving occurs using the same design, the end result should be the same. Variation in tools and materials might alter the design slightly but usually much less than if the same design were engraved by hand. CNC engraving also makes mass production easier, because each piece can follow one design, with little variation between products.

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