Five Surprising New Innovations in CNC

Updated Oct 4, 2023
Scan2CAD Featured Image

It might be tempting to think of CNC as an ‘old’ technology – early forms of CNC were developed in the early 1950s, and by the seventies, CNC machining had become widespread throughout the manufacturing industry. But despite the saying, you can teach an old dog new tricks – at least, when it comes to CNC.

In recent years, 3D printing has been the one grabbing most of the headlines, especially with the advent of multi-material, multicolor 3D printing. But don’t be fooled: CNC is far from dead. To prove it, here’s a list of a 5 new innovative ways in which CNC is now being used – some of them will definitely surprise you

It takes two (images) to CNC

The basis of CNC is G-code, a programming language that takes your vector drawings and converts them into a set of instructions that CNC machines can understand and execute. This G-code must normally be created by importing a vector image file into a CAM program – this acts as the bridge between the computer model and the real-life end product.

But what if you could eliminate the need for this step? A team of researchers from the Kobe University Graduate School of Engineering believe they’ve done just that. The research group, led by Professor Keiichi Shirase, say they’ve created a world-first: a machine that only needs the start and finish geometry, and does the rest itself.

The machine works by drawing on a database of machining information, and is able to ‘make decisions’ about the optimal process to use. It was created with the goal of resolving problems related to metal manufacturing, and could aid in the creation of custom dental implants and artificial bones.

More broadly, the technology promises to save huge amounts of labor currently spent creating the necessary code; allow the machine to detect problems in the machining process; reduce costs; and speed up production times. Exciting stuff – but can it live up to the hype? Only time will tell, and here at Scan2CAD, we’ll keep up with all the latest developments in our news section.

3D on the Rocks

If you’re familiar with CNC machining, then you’ll know that you can use this technique with a wide range of different materials, from plywood to plexiglas to plastic. But did you know that one innovative company is now using CNC to machine ice? Believe it or not, it’s true!

Japanese whiskey firm Suntory have decided to do away with the familiar ice cube and replace it with a whole array of miniature ice masterpieces – from the Statue of Liberty and Michelangelo’s David to guitars, high heels, and sharks. All this is created by converting vector information into G-Code, then milling the ice with a CNC machine. These little sculptures are so beautiful, it seems a shame to use them in a drink… well, almost. Check out the full range at 3D on the Rocks.

A whisky glass with a miniature ice sculpture of Kinkaku-ji

Japan’s Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) recreated as a miniature ice sculpture. Source:


CNC machining and 3D printing are, in some ways, two sides of the same coin. While both processes are used for the creation of new models or parts, CNC machining is a subtractive process (i.e. material is removed to create the part), whereas 3D printing is an additive process (i.e. material is added to build the part up). The two methods have different strengths, with CNC machining being faster, whilst 3D printing creates less waste.

Despite the complementary nature of these two methods, they’ve never been combined into a single machine – until now. BoXZY is pretty new to the market, but it’s already been making some serious waves, having raised almost $1.2 million via a highly successful Kickstarter campaign. It’s easy to see why so many people are interested – BoXZY is a 3D printer, a CNC mill and a laser engraver all in one.

The mid-range BoXZY Loaded model comes in at $2,900, which may seem like a fairly hefty price tag, but considering that many CNC mills alone start at $2,000 (not to mention to HP’s new $130,000 3D printer!) this combined machine could prove to be a very worthwhile investment.  Just take a look at what BoXZY can do:

Ultra-flexible, laser-cut plywood

Humans have been building with wood for thousands of years, and it’s easy to see why: it’s strong, durable, and available almost everywhere on the planet. One property you wouldn’t normally associate with wood, however, is flexibility. Thanks to CNC, that’s all about to change. Croatian design team koFAKTORlab have created a geometric pattern that can be etched into a sheet of plywood using a CNC laser cutter. Once milled, the wood retains its solidity and durability, but also becomes flexible.

Whilst the pattern alone is impressive enough that you could just use the end product as wall art, there are a number of practical purposes too: the machined wood can be moulded to form a bowl or place mat; and it’s well-suited to curved surfaces and walls. The good news is that you can head straight over to koFAKTORlab’s website and download the DXF file to use yourself. Happy creating!

Machine alerts on your smartphone

Sometimes you need to know the status of your machine even when you’re away from the shop – after all, if your machines aren’t working, they’re not making you money. Unfortunately, it’s all too common to leave your machine on overnight, come back in the morning, and find out that there have been some problems. One possible solution to this issue comes from CNC machine manufacturer Haas Automation. The firm have recently revealed their new HaasConnect feature, which notifies users via phone or email as to the status of their machine. A user can connect to as many machines as they wish, and the feature comes built in to the machines as standard, as part of Haas’ new Next Generation Control software. Users of the new machines can also benefit from a more user-friendly interface, and a Visual Programming System which allows them to create G-code programs for basic part features. For more details, visit Haas’ website.

The journey from sketch to finished end product wouldn’t be complete without Scan2CAD, the market-leading vectorization software. Scan2CAD is more than just a vectorization tool – it also comes with a complete raster and vector image editing suite. Try out our full range of features with Scan2CAD’s 14 day unlimited free trial.

Want to learn more about CNC? Check out our guide to CNC kits for starters.

scan2cad advert for free trial