What’s the difference between Brown & Sharpe, Laser and Swiss CNC Machining?

Machinists often have a tough decision to make when they’re apprenticing – just what kind of Miller should they be? With costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, it’s not as if an average Miller can buy his or her own machinery and set up shop – so, what is the difference between four of the most common types of milling and what are their strengths and weaknesses?

Cutting out the perfect piece from stock isn’t what it used to be. At CFI, we have plenty of options for our partners to choose from in order to bring their products to life. No matter the product, CFI has the expertise to select the correct methodology to get just the product you need for any application.

CNC Machining

CNC stands for “Computer Numerical Control” and it’s where the rubber literally meets the road between a design on a computer screen and a part in the real world. Machinists can create precision designs for machinery to reduce parts such as nuts, bolts, screws, and other components from metal, plastic and other materials.

CFI works with manufactures that have the equipment to CNC any part from almost any material, just name the stock and name the part, and we can create it. But there’s much more that goes into CNC machining than just the ‘CNC’ part of the equation. After it leaves the computer screen, there are plenty of cutting methods that turn a mere design on a computer into real component.

Swiss-type Turning

If you want a tiny part created with a CNC design, then Swiss Turning is the way to go. Why? It’s because Swiss-type lathes can hold closer tolerances than most other cutting methods can hope to achieve thanks to its roots in the Swiss watch industry.

Thanks to these roots, you can achieve incredible precision levels, creating tiny screws with dimensions and tolerances that might not be achievable with other machining methods. However, what comes with higher precision comes smaller stock. Today’s Swiss lathes are capable of handling stock with a diameter of .0002” to 1.25” – much smaller than a standard Brown & Sharpe Machine.

These precision machines are perfect for the automotive, medical, electronics, and of course, for the Swiss watch industry – really any industry where a precision part is needed.

Laser Cutting

Laser cutting is not just for Bond villains and comic book heroes anymore. Much like Swiss-type turning, it can cut just about any shape, however, it can cut to a much finer margin of error. Why? It’s because lasers are a small as a literal pinpoint of light. While CNC bits are limited by the size of the drill bits that are used during the machining process, lasers have no such limits thanks to the use of high-power lasers.

The laser then melts or vaporizes the unwanted stock away, leaving a high-quality edge and surface finish. Plus, thanks to the lack of moving parts (i.e. no cutting piece) lasers can increase throughput. Meanwhile, other methods might require deburring, lasers require no such machining thanks to its extremely fine cutting method. However, Lasers can only cut 2D shapes, meanwhile, Swiss Turning can cut literally any shape, and is often called on to create 3D shapes such as screws.

Brown & Sharpe

CFI typically chooses Brown & Sharpe single-spindle screw machines because they offer similar machining capabilities as multi-spindle units, and can handle parts with diameters from 1/16” to 2 5/8”. These machines can create almost any type of part for any type of application. In essence, Brown & Sharpe machines are the workhorses of CFI.

If you want a part created, chances are, it’ll be created using one, or a combination of Laser Cutting, Swiss, or Brown & Sharpe. Knowing the differences and knowing the strengths and weaknesses can mean the difference between a shipment of perfect parts for your application, or something else. At CFI, we’re here to make sure that your parts are machined correctly every time.



Fast forward a few thousand years from its roots in the Bronze and Iron Ages, and refine the techniques as much and CFI heat treats several types of metal for a variety of uses. We can heat treat metals and glass for aerospace, automotive use and more.

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