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What is CNC Turning and What is it Used for?

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What Is CNC Turning?

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) turning is a subtractive manufacturing process where a bar of plastic or metal material is held in a ‘chuck’ and rotated at high speed against a cutting tool, shaving material off to create the desired shape. As the name suggests, the cutting tools are programmed and managed by a computerized manufacturing process, leaving no room for human error. This process can also be repeated as many times as desired to achieve a production run of identical parts, as fast as 4 days here at HLH.

CNC turning is commonly used for cylindrical shaped parts, however, it can be used for square or hexagonal-shaped raw materials. Unlike the more commonly used CNC milling technique, CNC turning uses one of the oldest styles and forms of manufacturing. This is because CNC turning works to the same principles as a lathe, a tool that has been used by humans as far back as Ancient Egypt.

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CNC Turning vs CNC Milling

There are various CNC processes fit for different purposes, the two most common processes being CNC milling and CNC turning. Simply put, the difference between CNC turning and milling lies within the way the machine itself or the raw material moves. In CNC milling, the block of material material is held in place while the cutting tools rotate around it, whereas, in CNC turning, the material is held in a chuck and rotated against the cutting tool.

Due to the difference in movements, some processes will be more suited to milling or turning, respectively. For instance, CNC turning is better suited for creating a rounded surface.

Factors that will affect this include:

  • Shape and size of the part
  • Quantity
  • Material in use
  • Required finish
  • Budget


In deciding which CNC machining process is suited to what design, the biggest determining factor is the shape of the part followed by the size of the project.

Why Use CNC Turning For Your Project?

CNC turning — commonly used for automotive, aerospace, medical as well as in the production of robotics and automation — can also be used in tandem with CNC turning to add design features, such as flat faces, that are impossible to achieve otherwise.

If you are looking to create fast and repeated symmetrical or cylindrical parts (from 1 to 10,000+ parts), CNC milling is an excellent choice . HLH’s CNC milling services can deliver custom machined parts, in both metal and plastic, four to five times faster than it takes using more traditional machining methods.

The Different Types of CNC Processes

Apart from CNC turning, there are several other common types of precision CNC machining processes. They include:


In order to take full advantage of the benefits of CNC turning, product designers and engineers must familiarize themselves with the process and considerations. Partnering with an on-demand digital manufacturer like HLH Rapid can be the ticket to faster, more effective design and production.

Drop us your designs today and our team of experts will create a DFM and provide suggestions on the most suitable process and how to optimize your designs.

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