CNC machining in the traditional context is outdated. With manufacturing continuing to evolve in 2022, your tools should evolve along with it.  Put an end to your frustration with faulty procedures and data management in your CNC software and focus on what you do best.

cnc machining

What is CNC machining?

CNC is an abbreviation that stands for computer numerical control. CNC machines come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and they are frequently used as the first stage in the process of fabricating a component or part by removing material. As soon as a part has been developed in CAD software, CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) software is used to generate toolpaths, which are instructions for a CNC machine on how to move the part during manufacture.

CAM software, such as Autodesk Fusion 360, is used to create a digital file (NC program) that contains all of the instructions necessary to control how the machine will function. The CAM software is used to define the entire machining process and often uses a digital twin of the machine, cutting tools, and work-holding that will be used. 

cnc machining

Fusion 360 is a CAD/CAM system for CNC machining

Platforms such as Autodesk Fusion 360 integrate CAD and CAM to keep design and manufacturing processes as connected as possible because when creating a design, engineers must keep the manufacturing process in mind from the beginning of the process. Once the CNC machine is prepared by loading in stock material, the piece is sent to be cut, as well as any tools that might be used during the machining process. Finally, the toolpaths are turned into G-code, which is used to control the machine movements and generate the finished product at the end of the process. The manufacturing workspace in Fusion 360 is responsible for interpreting toolpaths and exporting them as G-code for usage by a CNC machine.

The 4 most common CNC machining methods


    The first step in many CNC machining operations is to remove as much material as possible. See how Autodesk's Adaptive Clearing helps.


    Learn how 2 axis milling compares to 3 axis, and the advantages that 3 axis CNC machining has to offer.


    Positional 5-axis, or 3+2, can offer many of the advantages of simultaneous 5-axis without the additional complexity or high cost.


    Turning, while still CNC machining, is quite different from milling. Find out how.

The four most common CNC milling techniques

CNC machines are broadly classified based on the number of axes involved and the way they move.

  • 2.5 axis cnc machine

    2.5 AXIS

    2.5-axis milling creates prismatic features at distinct Z levels. Even though the machine is only moving in 2 axes simultaneously, the CAM software is still used as the shapes created can be complex and high precision.

  • 3 axis cnc machine

    3 AXIS

    3-axis milling uses all three axes simultaneously. Software is used to generate these toolpaths since the surfaces are often complex.

  • 4 axis cnc machine

    4 AXIS

    4-axis milling adds one rotational axis to 3-axis milling. This is useful when parts are near cylindrical and can be used to create complex geometry or access multiple parts around workholding like a tombstone.

  • 5 axis cnc machine

    5 AXIS

    Simultaneous 5-axis machining uses all 5 axes at the same time to allow milling of complex shapes at high precision. CAM software is all but required to program these CNC machines, as the motion is very complicated.

CAM software for CNC machining

Start making today. Autodesk Fusion 360 CAD/CAM software does more than just manage CNC machines on a shop floor; it ties together software, machines, processes, and people to develop and build high-quality goods on time and the first time, without the need for further hardware or software upgrades.

CNC machining for beginners

Bridge the gap between your technical education and what you need to know to begin using CNC machine tools.

Fundamentals of CNC machining practical guide

In this guide, you will learn everything you need to know about types of parts, materials, and CNC machining operations that engineers, innovators and niche manufacturers often use.

CNC mill buyer’s guide

Learn more about various CNC machine designs in our Types of CNC Mill Buyer’s eBook. This eBook also includes descriptions of CNC machine components & programming and non-milling machines.

Modernizing machining preparation survey

The 2020 Product Development IT Ecosystem Study conducted by Lifecycle Insights examined the impact of adopting more advanced IT ecosystems over traditional ones, including those for machining methods.

  • CAD + CAM integration for CNC machinists with Haas machines

    Fusion 360 works with Haas CNC machines due the library of Haas CNC post processors and the integrated Haas Tooling database directly within Fusion 360's manufacturing workspace.

    Learn more

How customers use Fusion 360 as their CNC machining software solution

  • MJK Performance customer story video

    MJK Performance

    MJK Performance designs and manufactures high quality, precision CNC machined motorcycle parts.

  • Matsuura customer story video


    Matsuura is winning the profit game, gaining competitive advantage by using generative design to automatically create custom workpiece-holding fixtures, and printing them in high-strength polymer overnight.

  • Saunders Machine Works customer story video

    Saunders Machine Works

    Saunders Machine Works uses Fusion 360 and specializes in CNC metal machining, prototype machining, fabrication, and design-for-manufacturing consulting.

Are your CAM software choices consistent with your aspirations for success?

Equip yourself with the necessary tools to realize endless opportunities for your business. Fusion 360 extensions enhance Fusion 360's functionality by enabling sophisticated machining, additive manufacturing, generative design, nesting, and fabrication capabilities. Explore Fusion 360 extensions.

Best CNC machining software free download

If you're in the manufacturing business, now more than ever, you need new tools. Utilize the most cost-effective CAD/CAM solution available in the market to streamline your production processes.


For professional designers, engineers and machinists. Fusion 360 is the new home for all your CAD/CAM requirements.


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Resources for CNC machining

Get started with CNC machining with these tutorials, guides, tips, and tricks.

  • Get quick answers to common manufacturing questions. Learn the fundamentals of milling, and how to create 3+2 toolpaths.

  • This course teaches you how to save common, recurring toolpaths and recall them as needed for similar projects.

  • Learn how to take a part from an assembly into the CAM workspace, and prepare it for multi-axis operations.

  • This lecture covers how to use WCS probing to reduce setup time while accurately locating the stock in the CNC machine.

  • Advanced manufacturing extension in Fusion 360 delivers a bundle of sophisticated Autodesk manufacturing technologies.

  • Read this article for a complete introduction to CNC programming using computer-aided manufacturing (CAM).

FAQs on CNC Machining

Find answers to frequently asked questions about CNC machining software.

Typically, one of the largest costs associated with CNC machining is the CNC machine itself. Entry level machines start around $5,000 with high end machines reaching upwards of $500,000. The cost depends on factors like size, power, spindle speed, multi-axis capabilities, and accuracy. Once you have a machine, you will need to purchase cutting tools to machine parts. To generate the instructions required for CNC machining, it’s common to subscribe to a computer aided manufacturing (CAM) software as well. So, while there’s no one size fits all answer, CNC machining requires some up-front investment to get started.

Milling is one style of CNC machining. CNC machining is any process where a part is manufactured by a machine that is controlled by a computer. In milling, a cutting tool spins at high speeds and advances into or across the work piece to remove material. Other types of CNC machining include turning, routing, plasma cutting, and water jetting. Turning and milling can be combined into a single machine, as can additive and subtractive operations, creating even more complex styles of CNC machining.

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is the process of depositing layers of material to build up the desired geometry. Generally speaking, CNC machining is used to refer to subtractive processes, where material is removed from the work piece, resulting in the desired geometry. While 3D printing processes can create more complex geometry like internal latticing, parts must also be supported during the printing process to prevent failure. CNC machining generally produces more accurate parts and can be significantly faster, especially when manufacturing single parts.

CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control, which means that a computer controls what the machine does, including but not limited to the spindle speed, feed rate, position. In order to program the computer, often called a control, a person can use computer aided manufacturing (CAM) software. CAM software generates a series of instructions called toolpaths and then generally uses a post processor to translate that toolpath data into code the machine can read. Then a person would transfer that code onto the machine and run it to produce their final part.

Yes! Fusion 360 includes a powerful and easy to use CAM solution that can control a wide variety of CNC machines including mills, lathes, routers, mill/turn machines, plasma cutters, water jets, and lasers. Fusion 360 also integrates CAD, CAE, and ECAD along with CAM into a single solution to reduce data loss and improve process reliability for CNC machining and other downstream processes.

Fusion 360 costs $495 /year. A Fusion 360 license gives you access to integrated 3D CAD, CAM, CAE, PCB, collaboration, and data management tools in a single platform. Fusion 360 subscriptions also include EAGLE Premium, HSMWorks, Team Participant, and access to generative design, cloud simulation, and cloud rendering.

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