The evolution of the CNC machines: from The Industrial Revolution to the intelligent production

CNC, short for Computerized Numerical Control, is a method for automating control of machine tools, by using the software embedded in a microcomputer attached to said tool. It helps to improve and modernize production process, which allows the company to increase its profit.

The evolution of the CNC machines

Through the years the CNC machines underwent a significant evolution – they started as simple punch-tape-controller devices to become almost fully automated machinery, operating up to five axes.

The first CNC machine

The first CNC machine was created in a 1949 by James Parsons, a computer pioneer, who worked on an Air Force Research Project on how to produce helicopter blades and more efficient aircraft skin. Parsons calculated the helicopter airfoil coordinates and inserted the data into a punched card, which he later used on a Swiss jig borer, thus creating what is today recognized as a first CNC machine.

The first CNC milling machine

The next step in the evolution of the CNC machines was taken three years later, in 1952, when Richard Kegg, together with the MIT, created the first milling machine, which is known today as a Cincinnati Milacron Hydrotel. The invention was a response to the need of improving the efficiency of production of machines and weapons during the Cold War.

The development of CAD and CAM

Created in 1972 Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Computer-Aided Machining (CAM) led to massive development in the CNC machines. Despite not being regarded as a standard part of the manufacturing process, both aids played a big role in the recognition of the CNC machining.

The inclusion of CAD and CAM into the CNC machining

CAD and CAM were included into CNC machining in 1976, and in 1989 they became the industrial standard for CNC machines.

In a short period of time, the CNC machines evolved from simple machines controlled with a punch card to a sophisticated, software-controlled machinery. The evolution made the CNC machines faster, more precise, and highly accurate, which influenced their role in the modern production processes.

The role of the CNC machines in the modern production processes

The CNC machines have a lot of advantages, which causes them to be widely used by many companies. In the modern production processes, the CNC machines have both industrial and manufacturing applications.

Industrial applications of the CNC machines in the modern production processes

The CNC machines are currently applied in such industrial applications as:

  • automotive industry, which depends on the CNC machinery in creating prototypes, and in main production,
  • consumers electronics industry, which uses the CNC machines in the process of production,
  • aerospace and military industry, where the CNC machining is commonly used due to its high precision and accuracy.

Manufacturing applications of the CNC machines in the modern production processes

The CNC machining is widely used in modern manufacturing, mostly in:

  • prototyping, due to its autonomy,
  • production, due to its high precision and accuracy, which makes it suitable for creating high-quality components,
  • indirect manufacturing, where it can be helpful in such processes, as, for instance, injection molding.

CNC Control Systems

Modern CNC control systems can be divided in three basic types:

  • motion type CNC control system,
  • loop control CNC control system,
  • axis type CNC control system.

Some CNC systems are integrated with accessories, such as aforementioned CAD and CAM, as well as ERP, which stands for Enterprise Resource Planning, and EAM – Enterprise Asset Management software. These accessories have the ability to speed up the process of programming of the microcontroller unit, to facilitate operational intelligence processes, and to improve plant performance and maintenance.

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