The Anatomy of a CNC Machine

CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines have revolutionized the manufacturing industry since their inception in the 1940s. CNC machine anatomy includes numerous components and computer programs to control their movements, allowing for precise and accurate results. CNC machines are used in a variety of industries, from aerospace to automotive, and their ability to produce complex shapes and parts with high precision has made them an essential tool in modern manufacturing. But in order to fully understand how these machines function, it is important to learn about the anatomy of a CNC machine. Accurate Machine Tool Services explores the basic CNC machine anatomy and what drives these amazing pieces of equipment that are so vital to your machine shop. 

What Are the Primary Components of CNC Machines?

Frame and Base

The frame and base are the foundation of a CNC machine. Think of this as the body of the machine. They support all the other components and absorb the vibrations that occur during the cutting process. 

To provide maximum stability and rigidity, the frame and base are usually made of cast iron or steel.

Material Bed (Table)

A CNC material bed or table, found in vertical or horizontal machining centers, is where the material is placed and held in place with special jigs. The bed has slots and holes where these jigs can be attached. Some machines can move in two directions, but more advanced ones can move in five directions, allowing for even more precise capabilities.


The spindle is the heart of CNC machine anatomy. In machining centers, it rotates the cutting tool and performs the actual cutting. In turning centers, the spindle holds the workpiece and the tool is stationary. Spindles can vary in size and power, depending on the type of material being cut and the complexity of the cut. They can rotate at speeds of up to 30,000 RPM and can be cooled using water or air to prevent overheating.

Machine Cutting Tools

Cutting tools are used to create different parts, and they come in different types. CNC lathes and mills are two common types of these machines.

CNC lathes use tools that stay in one place, while the raw material spins and gets cut into the desired shape. CNC mills, on the other hand, use spinning tools that move around the stationary material to make cuts. Some machines are more complex and can move both the tool and the material through different axes to create more intricate parts. 

To make sure the machine has all the necessary tools, there are tool libraries, called magazines, where they are stored. These tools can be automatically changed by a tool changer, which removes one tool and replaces it with the next one needed for the job.

Axis System

The axis system is responsible for moving the cutting tool in a specific direction. CNC machines typically have three or more axes, with each axis controlling the tool’s movement in a particular direction. The X-axis controls the tool’s left and right movement, the Y-axis controls the tool’s front and back movement, and the Z-axis controls the tool’s up and down movement.

Machine Control Unit

The Machine Control Unit (MCU), which is sometimes referred to as the PC side of the control, is a crucial part of CNC machine anatomy. It’s responsible for taking the instructions (G-code) from the computer and translating them into movements that the machine can understand and execute. Essentially, it tells the machine where to move and how to move in order to create the desired product. It also makes sure that the tools and coolants are activated as needed. Overall, the MCU is like the brain of the CNC machine, controlling and coordinating all the different parts to make sure everything works together smoothly.

Control System

The control system is another component of the brain and is sometimes referred to as the NC side of the control. It is responsible for ensuring that the machine moves precisely as programmed and that the cutting tool follows the correct path. The control system consists of a computer and software that converts the design into machine-readable code. The operator inputs the design into the software, which then controls the movement of the machine.

Coolant System

The coolant system is responsible for keeping the cutting tool and material cool during the cutting process. It can use water, air, or oil to prevent overheating and to lubricate the cutting tool. The coolant system also helps to remove debris and chips from the cutting area, ensuring that the cutting tool performs optimally.

We Understand CNC Machine Anatomy

CNC machine anatomy is quite complex, but each component plays a crucial role in ensuring that the machine operates accurately and efficiently. Your expensive and intricate CNC machines require professional service and routine maintenance to keep them operating efficiently. Accurate MTS technicians understand CNC machine anatomy and how to repair your electrical and mechanical components. Contact us today to learn more about service and maintenance packages.