Comparing CNC Machining vs Manual Machining: Which Technique Is Best

Comparing CNC Machining vs Manual Machining

CNC machining, which can also be referred to as “computerized digital control”, has become a faster and more efficient way of manufacturing. It is a type of machining that is controlled by a program. A software-controlled milling, turning, or EDM tool removes layers of material from the workpiece to create the desired part. Manual machining, on the other hand, can only be done manually by a skilled machinist. Finally, when comparing CNC machining to manual machining, the benefits of CNC machining seem endless.

However, there are some companies that only use manual machining tools to create prototype parts. Hand machining is important, especially in the commercial sector and when making small quantities of rapid prototypes.

For a project to be successful, you need to choose the right machining production method. Below is a comprehensive comparison of CNC machining versus manual machining to help you decide which method is best for your business. It will help you make the best choice for custom prototypes and final production parts.

Table of Contents

Basics of CNC vs. Manual Machining

If you want to compare CNC machining and manual machining, you should first understand how both work. You can only understand the differences between the two types of machining if you understand the principles.

Basic Principles of CNC Machining

To automate CNC machining, digital files containing instructions for cutting and tool use are required. To create parts, CNC machining requires many different tools. To connect CNC machines, engineers and machinists need to create digital tool libraries.

Computer-aided design (CAD) tools and digital instructions can be used to set up these machines to work on their own. In between machining to create prototypes, 3D models can be created by software. These 3D models will tell you what attributes and dimensions the finished part needs to have.

Since some of these software programs include CAD-CAM packages, the work can be done in the same program. If the CAD and CAM tools make the same series of products, no translation of files is required. If not, the CAD files need to be introduced.

Precision machined aluminum engine block with complex internal structures and smooth finish

Principles of Manual Machining

Any conventional machine tool, such as band saws, drill presses, grinders, end mills and lathes, are manual machines. These manual machines require manual operation by skilled labor. A machinist can use these manually operated tools to produce a large number of prototypes for different purposes. However, it takes longer and more effort to accomplish any task using manual machining than CNC machining controlled by technology or computers.

What Are the Advantages of CNC Machining Over Manual Machining?

To compare traditional and CNC machining, you can also look at the advantages and disadvantages of both.

Advantages of CNC machining

CNC machining has many additional advantages over manual machining. Following are some of the advantages of CNC machining process:

Close-up of a high-precision machined aluminum component with threaded hole and milled slot.

Versatility and Consistency

One of the biggest advantages of CNC machining is its versatility and precision. CNC machining is used by many industries to manufacture parts. This is because it produces accurate parts, is efficient, and cuts consistently. Using CNC machines and technology, it is also possible to produce many different metals to order. CNC machining can be used to cut and manufacture a large number of parts at once. A skilled engineer can easily operate multiple CNC machines.

Reliability and Efficiency

CNC machining is controlled by a computer that controls the entire process, making it virtually impossible for errors to occur. Compared to manual machining, CNC machining is faster and more reliable because it is controlled by a computer. Manufacturing parts using CNC machining is more efficient and takes less time to manufacture.

Less Staffing Needs and Less Maintenance Required

For manufacturing, CNC machines do not require many knowledgeable operators. In other words, production work can be done by only one skilled machinist. Even though CNC machines work all day long, they don’t require as much maintenance and upkeep as manual machines. They only need to be repaired at regular intervals.

Aluminum machined part with polished finish featuring precise bearing housing and structural supports for industrial machinery

Safety and Design Uniformity

One of the benefits of a CNC machine is that it can perform the same design over and over again. This is because some parts are measured and programmed the same way. This is a way to make more profit without increasing the workload or raising the charges. In addition, there is no risk associated with the use of CNC machines. This is because when CNC machining is performed, the operator is away from the machine and has no physical contact with it.

Benefits of Manual Machining

Although CNC machining is the most advanced method of manufacturing accurate parts, manual machining still has its uses. Some of the benefits of performing manual machining are listed below:

Cheaper to Make Small Quantities of Parts

For producing metal and plastic parts, manual machining can make the same thing. It is rather cheaper for smaller production projects and small businesses with smaller budgets.

Optimal Choice of Metal Shapes

More tools and time are needed when making with manual machines. This means that this method can be used for smaller tasks and production items. When working with simple metal shapes, traditional or manual machining methods work best and cost the least.

Why CNC Machining Is Better for Prototyping

When comparing CNC machining to manual machining, the following three CNC machines are worth mentioning.

CNC Milling Machines

CNC machining is a method that can be used to make any complex part. It uses a rotating cylindrical tool that cuts material from a solid block to create parts customized just for the user. The cutting tool on a CNC milling machine can move along more than one axis and rotate in the X, Y, and Z directions to mill the part. In short, CNC milling machines are the best way for many companies to manufacture high-quality, high-precision products.

CNC milling machines can translate specific commands so that the CNC can automatically control their movements. This is not possible with manual milling machines. If you use a manual milling machine, you may end up with a part that has a large margin of error. In addition, manual milling machines are difficult to use and slow to machine. This is because they need to be operated with the assistance of more than one person.

CNC milling machine in operation for CNC machining

CNC Lathe

CNC lathes are mainly used to manufacture parts as per detailed design instructions. The material in the lathe tool clamps the spindle and rotates with it for machining metals, thermal spraying, and turning wood. CNC lathes can also produce flat, cylindrical, or conical shapes. They can also change surface roughness, weak groups, chamfer features, and the appearance of machined items.

CNC lathes make it easier to create precisely round products and reduce the chances of making mistakes by hand. Manual lathes can only produce prototypes by manually switching tools. Manual lathes can also be highly accurate, but require more time and effort. When comparing a manual lathe to a CNC lathe, the CNC lathe is superior. This is because it works faster and is more accurate.

Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM)

EDM manufacturing is a machining process that uses heat to remove material from a workpiece. The machinist does not need to use mechanical force to complete the machining. EDM uses cutting tools and is mainly used to fabricate and shape complex parts. It can also make industrial parts that cannot be made by milling machines or hand-operated machines.

EDM is the best and most efficient method of machining as compared to manual machining. Through this method, EDM machines can produce more accurate and higher-quality parts. The general advantages of this process make up for its partly high cost.

What Is the Difference in Price Between CNC and Manual Machining?

You will see the price differences between CNC and manual machining in this section. The main price differences are listed below:

The Overall Cost of CNC Machining Is Lower than Manual Machining

The cost of machining depends on many things. Such as how much scrap is made, labor costs, maintenance costs, and how many parts are made in total. When you make an in-depth comparison between CNC machining and manual machining, you may find that CNC machining is less expensive in the long run.

Low Scrap and Maintenance Issues

In terms of production, CNC machining is more accurate and precise. And because there are fewer scrapes, CNC machining is cheaper. Whereas manual machining has higher labor and maintenance costs, which limits its use and makes it more costly.

Increased Industrial Demand

Manual machining is a bit more expensive because this type of machining has a higher scrap rate, high labor costs, and requires more maintenance. The demand for CNC machined parts is increasing all over the world because the parts are more accurate and have a lower scrap rate.

Applications of CNC Machining

The multiple advantages of CNC machining have led to an increase in the number of industries using parts manufactured using this machining process. Some of the major areas where CNC machining is used are:

Consumer Electronics

Companies that manufacture electronics often use CNC machining to create PCBs, housings, and fixtures for the electronics industry. Cell phones and microphones are some of the most well-known products in this market.


The automotive industry uses CNC machines to create prototypes and one-of-a-kind parts. They use extruded metals and plastics to make parts such as gas gauges and instrument panels, as well as gears, axles, valves, and cylinder blocks.

Oil and Gas Operations

The oil and gas industry uses CNC milling machines to manufacture rods, pins, and pistons. CNC machining is the best way to manufacture parts for this industry. This is because the industry requires tight tolerances and precision machined parts.

Medical Field

In the medical field, parts must be of the highest quality, have complex functionality, and have very high precision. In the medical field, CNC machining is the best choice. The medical field requires a large number of complex medical tools such as X-ray monitors, surgical instruments, and MPI scanners.


There is a big difference between CNC machining and manual machining. CNC machining is faster and more accurate than manual machining. You cannot expect the same results from manual machining as you can from CNC machining.

CNC machining is controlled by CAD and CAM software, which is more accurate, precise, and safe. CNC machining is faster, produces a better product, costs less, and is safer than manual machining.

No longer using manual machining to prototype parts? You can utilize Yonglihao Machinery’s unique CNC machining services. You can get instant quotes for CNC machining and custom-machined parts on our website. You can also get free DFM feedback and a full-dimensional report for review. Contact us and send us your files for instant pricing!


In terms of precision and time, manual lathes are inferior to CNC machines. With careful cutting, manual lathes can provide you with high precision. However, CNC lathes can produce more accurate parts in less time and at a lower cost. CNC lathes are easy to use and require no experience to perform difficult machining. In contrast, machining with a manual lathe requires extensive experience.

Although there are many advantages to CNC machining, there are also some disadvantages. Although CNC machines were once more expensive than conventional machines, the cost of running CNC machines is slowly coming down. And using CNC machining does not require any special skills or information. This means that we are losing people with skills and knowledge. For CNC machining, the amount of work required will also be reduced, which may lead to unemployment and brain drain in the engineering field.

Manual machines must be touched and operated to make them work. Some manual machines can be more dangerous to use. CNC tools, on the other hand, are automated so you don’t have to touch them. They are not near workers and the work takes place in a safe room or behind a safe door. This shows that CNC machining is safer and more efficient than manual machining.

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