Comparing CNC Machining vs Manual Machining: Which Technique Is Best

CNC machining or computer numerical control has emerged as a faster and more efficient manufacturing strategy. This method creates the required parts with software-controlled milling, turning, or EDM machines that remove layers of material from a workpiece. While manual machining should be operated by hand and by experienced or highly trained machinists. The advantages of CNC machining seem noticeably boundless by the ultimate comparison of CNC machining vs manual machining.

However, there are some manufacturers that rely on manual machining tools to produce prototyping parts. In particular, manual machining has a prominent place in the industry and for low-volume rapid prototypes. 

A good selection of manufacturing techniques leads to a successful project. If you’re choosing which method to use for your business, here’s a detailed comparison between CNC machining vs Manual machining to help you make the best choice for your custom prototypes and end-use production parts.

Principles of CNC and manual machining

Comparing CNC vs manual machining can start with learning their working principles.

CNC machining principles

Automatic CNC machining requires digital files with cutting and tooling instructions. Thus, the CNC machine process requires various tools to fabricate machined parts, and engineers and machinists build digital tool libraries to interface with CNC machines.

These machines can be operated automatically by applying digital instructions and designing starts in CAD software (computer-aided design). The 3D model created by the software determines the final part’s required properties and dimensions. 

Since CAD-CAM packages come bundled with some of these software programs, the production can continue in the same programs. And there will be no need for file translation if both CAD and CAM software manufacture the same product family. Otherwise, you need to import the CAD file.

Manual machining principles

Manual machines are controlled by hand, including any traditional machines such as bandsaws, drill presses, grinders, endmills, and lathes. With these manual machines, machinists can create a vast number of prototyping items for various purposes. However, compared with CNC machining that’s controlled by automation or a computer, manual machining takes more time and more attention to perform any function.

What are the pros of CNC machining vs manual machining?

You can also compare and contrast manual machining and CNC machining by understanding the advantages of each.

The advantages of CNC machining

Some of the main benefits of CNC machining services are as follows:

1. Versatility & consistency

One prominent feature of CNC machining is its versatility and precision. Various industries use CNC machining to fabricate parts and components due to its precise parts fabrication, profitable production, efficiency, and consistent cuts. And using CNC machines and technology can also produce a wide range of custom metals. CNC machining is used for cutting material and for large-scale parts production. One skilled engineer easily operates several CNC machines.

2. Reliability & efficiency

CNC machining is controlled by computers, and this process has no chance for human error. Computer operation makes CNC machining a more reliable and fast method than manual machining. In short, CNC machining is more accurate, and it takes less time for manufacturing.

3. Less human labour & low maintenance requirement

CNC machines don’t need large numbers of experienced operators for the manufacturing process. That is to say, only one skilled machinist can execute the production tasks. And the CNC machines just need low maintenance and care than manual machines although they run all day long. They just require occasional maintenance.

4. Design uniformity & safety

One of the advantages of CNC is that it can manufacture the same design repeatedly as dimensions and programming are the same for some components. So it is a method of increasing profits without increasing efforts and rates. In addition, it’s safe to operate CNC machines. Operators are far away from machines and don’t have physical attachments with CNC machining.

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The advantages of manual machining

Although CNC machining has a cutting-edge facility to produce precision machining parts, there is value in manual machining.  Here are the pros of manual machining.

1. Less costly for small production

Manual machining can also be used to produce plastic and metal parts and achieve the same end. It proves less costly for small production projects and low-budget operations.  

2. Good choice for metal shapes

Manual machines require more tools and more time for completing the manufacturing procedure. So you can use this process for small operations and parts fabrication. The conventional/manual machining method is recommended for simple metal shapes as it proves less costly than other methods.  

The benefits of CNC machines for prototyping

Here are three CNC machines to discuss as you evaluate CNC machining vs Manual machining.

CNC mill machine

CNC milling is a universal method used for complex parts manufacturing. It utilizes a rotating cylindrical tool to remove material from a solid block and realize custom-designed parts. And the cutting tools of CNC mills have the ability to move along multiple axes to mill the part and rotate in X, Y, Z directions. To sum up, CNC milling machines are best for high-quality and high-precision manufacturing for various industries.

CNC mill machine

CNC mills can translate specific commands to automatically control their movements by the numerical controller, but manual milling doesn’t have the ability. You may finally get a part with large errors with a manual mill. Besides, manual milling machines require human assistance and attachment and prove slow when breaking down materials.

CNC lathe machine

CNC lathe machines mostly operate for manufacturing parts by using precise design instructions. In lathe machines, material clamps and rotate with spindle are used for metalworking, thermal spraying, and woodturning.  The CNC lathe machine can also produce cylindrical, conical, or flat surface shapes. Additionally, they can alter surface roughness, weak resistance, chamfer features, and visual properties of machined products.

CNC lathe machine

CNC lathe reduces the chance of human errors and increases the production of precise round shapes. Manual lathes can only develop prototyping with the need to manually switch machines. Although manual laths can also achieve high precision with careful cutting, the process will take more of your time and attention. By the comparison of manual lathe vs CNC lathe, the CNC lathe makes the process faster and more accurate.

EDM (Electric Discharge Machine)

EDM manufacturing is a method for removing the workpiece material by using thermal energy. Machinists don’t have to put mechanical force during the process. EDM processes its function with a cutting tool and mostly applies for manufacturing and shaping intricate parts. Moreover, it can make manufacturing parts that a manual machine and a milling machine can’t produce.

Electric discharge machine

EDM proves the most suitable and efficient method than manual machining. The technique can fabricate more precise and high-quality parts with EDM machines. The overall benefits of this process lessen its high price to some extent.

What’s the cost difference between CNC machining and manual machining?

This part will show you the cost difference between CNC machining vs manual machining,  Major cost differences are as follows:

Cutting metals using CNC machining

1. Less overall cost than manual machining

Many factors would affect the cost of the machining process, such as scrap rate, labor cost, maintenance charges, and production of total parts.  After making a deep summary between CNC vs manual, you may find the overall cost of CNC machining is less than manual machining.

2. Low scrap & maintenance issues

The CNC machining process is more accurate and precise and has less scrape rate than manual machining per production. Labor cost and maintenance requirements are more for manual machining, making it more costly and limited.

3. More demand in industry

Manual machining waste rate, labor cost, and more maintenance make this method costly. High precise parts and low scrape rates increase the demand for CNC machining parts all over the world.

If you want to know some tips about calculating CNC machining cost, click the link.

Applications of CNC machining

Some primary industries that use CNC machining are:

1. Consumer Electronics

Electronics manufacturers often use CNC machining to manufacture housings, fixtures, PCBs, and jigs for the electronics industries.  The most famous market is mobile phones and microphones.

2. Automotive Industry

The automotive industry uses CNC machines for one-off custom parts and prototyping. They manufacture gearboxes, axles, valves, and cylindrical blocks with extruding metal and plastic manufacturing parts, including gas gauges and dashboard panels. No minimum part quantity require for this process.

3. Oil & Gas Industry

The oil and gas industry uses CNC milling machines to manufacture rods, pins, and pistons. This industry needs tight tolerance and precision machining parts, so CNC machining is the best method for producing such components.

4. Medical Industry

The medical industry requires uncompromising parts quality, complex surfaces, and high precision. So CNC machining is the best-applied method for the medical industry. Complex medical equipment, including X-rays monitors, surgical instruments, and MPI scanners are needed in the medical industry.


There is simply a comparison between CNC machining vs manual machining. It is unreasonable to expect that manual machining will offer you the result that CNC machining provides.

Accurate, precise, and safe CNC machining controlled by CAD and CAM software achieves efficiency, and great production at less price, and most importantly, provide safety measures than manual machining.

Don’t rely on manual machining for the prototyping of parts anymore? Well, you can pick up the custom online CNC machining services provided by RapidDirecrt. Our platform gives you instant CNC machining quotes and custom machined parts, provides you full dimensional reports inspection and free DFM feedback. Click the button below and upload your files to get an instant quote!


How can we differentiate between a manual Lathe vs CNC Lathe?

The main difference between a manual lathe and CNC machining is accuracy and time consumption. With careful cutting, you can get high accuracy on a manual lathe, while CNC machining offers extreme accuracy and precise parts in less time and price. You can operate and do complex machining with no experience on CNC lathe, while a manual lathe requires much experience to perform machining.

What are the disadvantages of CNC machining?

Although CNC machining has a lot of advantages, there are drawbacks to this technique. CNC machines actually are more expensive than manual machines though now the price associated with running the CNC machining is slowly coming down.  And no extra skills and knowledge is required to operate CNC machining.  It means we will lose skills and experienced personnel. Less labor is also required for CNC machining, which can be a reason for unemployment and decline in the engineering field. 

Which is safer, the manufacturing process CNC machining or manual machining?

You have to operate manual machines by touching and handing them. It may be more dangerous to operate manual machines. On the contrary, CNC machines are automatic, and you don’t need to handle them physically. They are far from the workers, and the operating process is completed in a safe room or behind a safe door. So CNC machining proves a safer and more effective method than manual machining.

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