3 Trends in CNC Manufacturing You Need to Know

Industry 4.0 is a current trend of combining digital technologies and big data and physical manufacturing production. With Industry 4.0 moving forward into the manufacturing industry, CNC manufacturing has been shifting its directions gradually as well. Here are 3 trends in CNC manufacturing that is worth exploring.

6-axis Machines

First, while the 5-axis CNC milling machines are still dominant in the market, a newer version of CNC milling machines, 6-axis milling machine, has emerged. What makes the 6-axis milling machines stand out is their additional rotation axis, which is usually the z-axis. The 6-axis CNC milling machines are able to perform faster than the standard 5-axis milling machines, reducing the time by up to 75%.

Other than achieving higher efficiency, 6-axis CNC machines are also capable of executing more complicated tasks thanks to the additional rotation axis of it. The advantages of 6-axis machines are especially highlighted when it comes to craving out products with complex structures and when at least 5 axes of machining freedom are required.

Another asset of 6-axis machines is their excellent capability to finish the assigned tasks with little mistakes, which effectively reduces the need to make any fixture and other additional actions that ensure the products’ quality.

Collaboration with 3D printing

Besides the traditional subtractive process of CNC milling machines, additive manufacturing process, such as 3D printing, has also been under the spotlight. While both CNC milling and 3D printing are manufacturing processes, these two fabrication techniques are destined to coexist instead of obsoleting each other due to the distinctive characteristics of theirs.

First, while the material choices available for CNC milling is are broader, 3D printing produces fewer wastes because of its additive producing nature.

Second, compared to 3D printing, CNC milling is way more labor-intensive, since most of its process needs to be operated or supervised by operators. This high demand for labor results in higher costs, thus 3D printing can sometimes be more economical than CNC manufacturing.

Third, 3D printing and CNC manufacturing have their own advantage when it comes to fabricating different volumes of products. The unit cost of 3D printing does not vary as the number of products goes up. However, for CNC manufacturing, while the unit cost of making a small quantity of product is expensive, the cost goes down as the quantity rises.

In addition, another reason why CNC manufacturing can hardly be replaced by 3D printing is its excellent repeatability. CNC manufacturing is able to produce a large number of products that are basically identical. However, the products manufactured by 3D printing can vary a little among each other.

Lights-out Manufacture

The third huge trend of CNC manufacturing is called the “Lights-out manufacture”. In Lights-out manufacture, CNC machines perform tasks without relying on human intervention. There are several reasons why Lights-out manufacturing has become more and more popular among CNC shops.

First, Lights-out manufacturing reduces labor costs. With the machines running smoothly without requiring operators’ presence, Lights-out manufacturing effectively saves a large cost of human labor. Second, Lights-out manufacturing efficaciously increases production since it can work overnight on its own while the staff is off shifts. Such extra working hours can greatly expand the shops’ capacity without having to purchase more machines.

Despite having a few minor issues such as limited ability to deal with emergencies flexibly, the mentioned advantages brought by Lights-out manufacture certainly makes it one of the trends in CNC manufacturing.


In general, under the influence of Industry 4.0, new trends in CNC manufacturing have emerged. Progressive machines such as 6-axis milling machines are entering the market as they can perform more complicated tasks as well as improving accuracy. In addition to more advanced CNC technology and machines, other manufacturing processes are introduced to cooperate with CNC manufacturing as well. Some CNC shops are adopting both the subtractive CNC producing fashion and the additive 3D printing fabricating method simultaneously to fulfill more manufacturing needs. Moreover, the methodology of Lights-out manufacturing has become more and more widespread for its ability to save costs and expand production.

For people who need a medium or high production volume of CNC parts, tasks can be well finished with the help of a professional manufacturing company. RapidDirect is an industry-leading designer and manufacturer of rapid prototyping services, whose CNC machining and 3D printing service features streamlining the manufacturing process with automation, wide range of compatible materials, a high degree of accuracy and precision and rapid manufacturing for medium to high production volumes.