CNC Drilling: Process, Types and Applications

Holes are an essential feature of almost any machining part or tool, whether for aesthetic or assembly purposes. In the precision-driven manufacturing world, we need precise and accurate holes. This is where CNC drilling comes into play.

It is a type of CNC machining process, dedicated to creating precise holes in various materials. It caters to everything from simple single-hole tasks to complex multi-spindle operations.

This article provides an in-depth look at CNC drilling, its detailed process, its tools, and the types of drilling machines.

What’s CNC Drilling?

cnc drilling on brass

CNC drilling is a computer-controlled subtractive machining process, in which a rotating drill bit creates a round hole in a stationary workpiece (maybe wood, metal, plastic, or composite).

For drilling, operators force a rotating twist drill with multiple cutting edges into a workpiece to create a plain round hole matching the drill bit’s diameter. The resulting hole serves primarily for assembly, accommodating bolts or screws.

Traditionally, workers manually perform the drilling process using a motorized drill bit, often on a drill press. They manually adjust the movement of the cutting tool and the depth of the cut. However, CNC drilling automates this entire process, running on programmed code to dictate the drilling operation.

Advantages of CNC Drilling Technique

Automation and computer control make CNC drilling operations quite handy in industrial applications where precision, accuracy, and efficiency are requirements. Some advantages of the process are:

Precision and Accuracy in Drilling

CNC machines, with their numerical control and programming, achieve high precision. They consistently drill holes with tolerances as tight as ±0.005 inches (±0.127 mm). This makes CNC drilling, a sought-after machining process for a range of industries.

Increased Efficiency and Productivity

Compared to traditional drilling methods, the CNC drilling process dramatically enhances efficiency and productivity. This is largely due to its automation, which minimizes human intervention and reduces the likelihood of errors. The speed also surpasses the manual process, which leads to faster production time.  

Ability to Handle Complex Drilling Tasks

The versatility of CNC machines empowers them to handle complex drilling tasks that would be challenging, if not impossible, to achieve manually. With CNC machining, we can drill holes of varying sizes and depths accurately and consistently.

How CNC Drilling Works? Step-by-Step Procedure

CNC drilling appears as just a simple drilling operation. But a lot goes into achieving that precision. Here’s a breakdown of the process:

Step 1: Creating the Workpiece Geometry

Design the workpiece geometry on CAD software, such as SolidWorks or Fusion 360. This design has all the technical details with dimensions; the location of holes, their size, and depth. It’s like a blueprint that lays out all the requirements in a precise manner.

CAD software often pairs with CAM software to convert designs into G-code, the programming language CNC drilling machines understand.

workpiece design for cnc drilling

Step 2: Choosing the Appropriate Drilling Cycle

Next, in G-code programming, you may choose any of the three drilling cycles, based on your specific requirements:

  • G73 (Chip Breaking Cycle): Ideal for hole depths more than three times the drill diameter, but within the effective blade length of the drill.
  • G81 (Shallow Hole Circulation): Suitable for drilling center holes, chamfering, and holes not exceeding three times the drill diameter. Also, choose drilling with internal cooling tools to enhance efficiency.
  • G83 (Deep Hole Circulation): Used for processing deep holes.

Step 3: Choosing the Suitable Tool and Tool Holder

cnc tools and toolholders

The drill bit has a key role in the creation of holes. Typically, a twist drill is used for its versatility. However, center drills and step drill bits are also options for specific applications.

The choice of the tool holder, which holds the tool bit, is equally critical. You need to select it after considering taper types, shank compatibility, and tool overhang. The common options for CNC drills are collet chucks, end mill holders, and hydraulic chucks.

Step 4: Determining the Appropriate Tool Parameters

Input necessary tool parameters, such as length and diameter, into the CAM system. These parameters are important for ensuring that the tool operates correctly within the predetermined specifications of the workpiece.

Step 5: Setting up the CNC Drilling Machine

Securely place and clamp the workpiece on the machine. Ensure that tool bits are properly mounted in the tool holder. For firm holding, utilize fixture plates, clamps, or magnetic chucks. Keep them close to the drilling area and don’t overtighten them.

Step 6: Programming the CNC Drilling Machine

Traditionally, operators manually wrote G-codes. Now, advanced CAD and CAM software automatically generate these codes. With some minor modifications, they are fed into the CNC machine. This automation streamlines the setup process.

You may dry run to see if everything works smoothly and if there are any program errors. Also, turn on the machine’s complementary cooling system.

Step 7: Actual Drilling Process

Once the operation begins, the CNC machine precisely follows the programmed paths. The drill bit moves to the designated coordinates and executes drilling at the specified depths and diameters. The machine’s automated system manages speed and feed rate, ensuring efficient and accurate drilling.

process of cnc drilling

Step 8: Quality Check and Post-Processing

After drilling, inspect the workpiece for accuracy and quality. Technicians take measurements to ensure tolerances fall within specified limits. Any necessary post-processing, such as deburring or additional finishing, is performed to meet the final specifications.

Bonus Tip: Important Considerations for Creating Accuracy Drilling Holes

To achieve the desired drilling results, these additional bits of information may help:

Tip 1: Choose the Right Drill Bit

A drill bit is a key component in the whole drilling process that needs to be selected wisely based on your applications. One classification of CNC drill bits is on the basis of coatings; there are titanium carbonitride, aluminum nitride, oxide, and diamond drill bits. Each with different durability.

The more prevalent classification is established on the profile (shape) of cutting tools. These 6 drill bits are common in CNCs:

Type of Drill BitShape/DescriptionApplicationTwist DrillCylindrical shaft with a helical flute.Versatile, for drilling in wood, walls, and a variety of materials.Center DrillShort, rigid with a countersink and pilot section.Creating starting points or ‘spots’ for precision drilling.Step DrillConical shape with stepped cutting edges.Drilling holes of multiple diameters, especially in soft materials like aluminum.Ejector DrillTube-in-tube design with a carbide tip.Making deep holes, ranging from 19-102 mm in diameter.Indexable DrillCarbide or ceramic, wear-resistant with coolant channels.Cutting large holes, about five times their diameter, efficiently.

Tip 2: Optimize the Spindle speed and Feed Rate

Feed rate and spindle speed are crucial parameters that do need optimization. They are a function of various parameters including material hardness, tool diameter, and often diameter depth. You may first use the manufacturer’s recommended settings, then try optimizing with calculations. Online feed calculators may help in this regard.  

Tip 3: Use Appropriate Coolants or Lubricants

For metallic drilling, a mixture of water and soluble oil is often recommended. The specific ratio varies depending on the metal type. For instance, when drilling Aluminum, the coolant is soluble oil with 80-90% water.

Tip 4: Securely Clamp the Workpiece

Use suitable fixtures and clamps for the size and shape of your workpiece. Ensure the workpiece is firmly clamped to prevent movement during drilling. Proper clamping provides stability and enhances safety.  

Key Components of A CNC Drilling Machine

Apart from the process, you need to be familiar with the machine’s technicalities. Here’s an overview of the key components of a typical CNC Drill Press.

Control Panel

The interface where the operator inputs commands and monitors the machine’s operation. It includes screens and buttons for controlling and programming the CNC machine.


The part of the machine that holds and rotates the drill bits or cutting tools. It has a gearing mechanism at the back end, which adjusts the speeds and torque during the drilling process.

Drill Bits

The cutting tools for drilling are called drill bits. They are attached to the spindle. Based on their shape and cutting edge, we see multiple types of Cdrilling bits. Each is designed for a different material and application.


The surface where the workpiece is placed and secured. It can accommodate various sizes and shapes of materials.

Axes and Motors

These components control the movement of the machine along different axes (X, Y, Z, etc.). Motors drive these movements and enable precise positioning of the drilling bit. Machines are often named after the control axes. For instance, a drill machine that offers tool mobility along three axes is termed a 3-axis CNC machine.

Coolant System

It supplies coolant to the drilling site to reduce heat and friction, prolonging tool life and preventing workpiece damage.

Tool Changer

An automated system that allows the machine to change drill bits or cutting tools without manual intervention, increasing efficiency and reducing downtime.

Frame and Base

The structural components that support and stabilize the entire machine. It is heavy, usually made from cast iron, for a stable and vibration-free operation.

Chip Conveyor or Collection System

A system for removing and collecting the chips or debris produced during drilling. It keeps the work area clean and prevents damage to the machine.

Sensors and Calibration Instruments

These devices monitor the machine’s performance and condition, ensuring precision. They assist in calibrating the machine for accurate operations.

Types of CNC Drilling Machine

CNC machines have various types based on machine configuration and type of cutting tools. These six CNC machines are typically common in the drilling segment:

1. Multiple Spindle Drilling Machine

drilling machine 1

As the name indicates, the machine features multiple spindles that allow for simultaneous attachment of drilling heads. It is ideal for making components with multiple holes or closely spaced holes. It’s a staple in mass-production environments.

2. Micro Drill Press

mircro drill press

This drill press is renowned for its accuracy. It features small chucks, which are designed for precise drilling. Perfect for applications requiring high tolerance and accuracy, like in medical parts manufacturing.

3. Upright CNC Drill Press

upright drilling machine

The most common type of drill press is also available in manual versions. It’s robust and designed for heavy and oversized components. The machine has a geared-drive spindle, which allows for drilling holes in the thickest materials.  

4. Radial Arm CNC Drill Press

radial arm drill press

The radial drill press features a moveable spindle over the stationary workpiece. The mobility of the drill head makes the machine capable of handling parts of various sizes and shapes with precision. It’s ideal for use along the CNC beam drill line.

5. Turret-type Drilling Machine

turret type press drilling

Turret means a rotary tool holder. This machine has a turret, which houses multiple tools. It excels in operations needing regular tool changes. Ideal for complex tasks with variable drilling requirements.

6. Gang Drilling Machine

This drill press features multiple independent work heads, for sequential operations on a stationary workpiece. Its design streamlines the drilling process, especially for tasks that require a series of drilling actions.

Specific Examples of CNC Drilled Components

Wherever parts assembly is required, you will need CNC drilling. Some industry-specific examples are:

 ExamplesAutomotive IndustryThe engine block, suspension mounts, wheel hubsAerospace IndustryFuselage parts, engine components, control panel casingElectronicsConnector port, enclosure, circuit board housingsMedical DevicesProsthetics, surgical instruments, dental implantsIndustrial MachineryFlange holes, machine frames, hydraulic componentsEnergy SectorTurbine hubs, pipeline flangesConsumer ProductsKitchen appliances, smartphone casing

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But our expertise doesn’t stop at CNC drilling. RapidDirect offers a comprehensive suite of CNC machining services, catering to all your precision manufacturing needs.

Experience the ease of our service – simply upload your design files directly on our platform. You will receive instant quotes and benefit from a free Design for Manufacturability (DFM) analysis by our skilled engineers.

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What are the Main Differences Between CNC Milling and CNC Drilling?

CNC Milling and Drilling are two distinct processes. In CNC drilling, the primary aim is to drill a hole in the workpiece. The rotating tool bit moves in a single direction to achieve that.

Whereas, in CNC Milling, a rotating cutting tool moves across the material in multiple directions (horizontal + vertical), to cut and remove the material, shaping it to the desired form. Milling has various forms; its use case is machining and achieving complex shapes.

What are the Main Differences between CNC Lathes and CNC Drilling?

CNC Lathes are for CNC turning. During the turning process, the workpiece rotates while a stationary cutting tool removes the material and shapes it. Its use cases are profiling, threading, and shaping cylindrical or spherical objects.

On the contrary, the CNC drilling just creates a hole. In this case, the workpiece is stationary, while a rotating drill bit is forced into it for hole creation.


Is CNC drilling accurate?

Yes, CNC drilling is highly accurate. It achieves low tolerance levels (up to ±0.127 mm), suitable for precision drilling in various applications.

How can I drill a straight hole?

First, center the drill over the workpiece to establish a precise starting point. Ensure that your fixture is rigid and doesn’t allow the part to flex or move under the drilling force. Maintain peck depth less than the drill bit diameter.

Is it possible to create threaded holes with drilling operations?

No, the drilling operation only creates a plain hole. To add threads, you will separately need a tap to cut threads on the hole’s walls.

How deep can a CNC drill?

The depth a CNC drill can achieve varies depending on the drill bit and machine specifications. In general, most CNC drills can handle depth 5 times the diameter with ease. For 5-10, you need peck drilling techniques. Beyond that, you can employ custom drill cycles and deep-hole drilling techniques. As per an estimate, a depth nearly 400 times the diameter is achievable, in extreme cases.


The parts assembly is mostly done through fasteners like nuts. Holes serve as the ground for fastening. CNC drilling is a precise and quick method for creating holes in a range of materials. Whether your project demands the creation of small, intricate holes or larger, robust ones, there’s a CNC drilling solution to match every requirement.

Interested in customized drilling services? Reach out to RapidDirect Today and seek help from professionals!

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