CNC milling is a machining process suitable for producing high accuracy, high tolerance parts in prototype, one-off, and small to medium production runs. While parts are typically produced with tolerances ranging between +/- 0.001 in. to +/- 0.005 in., some milling machines can achieve tolerances of up to and greater than +/- 0.0005 in. The versatility of the milling process allows it to be used in a wide range of industries and for a variety of part features and designs, including slots, chamfers, threads, and pockets. The most common CNC milling operations include:
Face milling refers to milling operations in which the cutting tool’s axis of rotation is perpendicular to the surface of the workpiece. The process employs face milling cutters which have teeth both on the periphery and tool face, with the peripheral teeth primarily being used for cutting and the face teeth being used for finishing applications. Generally, face milling is used to create flat surfaces and contours on the finished piece and is capable of producing higher quality finishes than other milling processes. Both vertical and horizontal milling machines support this process.
Types of face milling include end milling and side milling, which use end milling cutters and side milling cutters, respectively.
Plain milling, also known as surface or slab milling, refers to milling operations in which the cutting tool’s axis of rotation is parallel to the surface of the workpiece. The process employs plain milling cutters which have teeth on the periphery that perform the cutting operation. Depending on the specifications of the milling application, such as the depth of the cut and the size of the workpiece, both narrow and wide cutters are used. Narrow cutters allow for deeper cuts, while wider cutters are used for cutting larger surface areas. If a plain milling application requires the removal of a large amount of material from the workpiece, the operator first employs a coarse-toothed cutter, slow cutting speeds, and fast feed rates to produce the custom-designed part’s approximate geometry. Then, the operator introduces a finer toothed cutter, faster cutting speeds, and slower feed rates to produce the details of the finished part.
Angular milling, also known as angle milling, refers to milling operations in which the cutting tool’s axis of rotation is at an angle relative to the surface of the workpiece. The process employs single-angle milling cutters—angled based on the particular design being machined—to produce angular features, such as chamfers, serrations, and grooves. One common application of angular milling is the production of dovetails, which employs 45°, 50°, 55°, or 60° dovetail cutters based on the design of the dovetail.
Form milling refers to milling operations involving irregular surfaces, contours, and outlines, such as parts with curved and flat surfaces, or completely curved surfaces. The process employs formed milling cutters or fly cutters specialized for the particular application, such as convex, concave, and corner rounding cutters. Some of the common applications of form milling include producing hemispherical and semi-circular cavities, beads, and contours, as well as intricate designs and complex parts with a single machine setup.
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