The History Of CNC Lathe Machines

historical cnc machine

Today, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) forms a crucial part of the manufacturing process, able to producing components precisely and repetitively with ease. Computer numerical control is more of a contemporary concept in the production and manufacturing industries. But CNC harkens its idea back to the numerical control basics. Prior to the lathe getting computerized, the lathe itself goes way back. The first proof of lathe use goes back to 1300 BC in ancient Egypt. While the milling machine history is a bit foggy, some historians credit Eli Whitney for the original motorized milling machine. Others accredit inventors such as Simeon North, Captain John H. Hall, Robert Johnson, Roswell Lee, and Thomas Blanchard.

In 1938, the Bridgeport-style manual mill, also called knee-and-column, was first invented. Shortly after that, specifically in the ‘40s and ‘50s, the numerical control idea was incorporated to automate machine tools using programming logic as the basis. Users began modifying manual machine tools into numerical control (NC) using motors to control and move the machines. The machines use a punched tape system that the control handles follow on specific points. The advent of computer technology into numerical control is what created the original computer numerical control.

And with the Industrial Revolution looming in, lathes evolved to become more prominent, more powerful, and more complex. The usage of waterpower and steam gave room for applications to be sophisticated and quality of products to advance. It was about this time the new generation lathes were used for creating more refined cannon series used to perfection by the British during the American Revolutionary War.

Early MIT Numerical Control Research

The next stage of development occurred post-WWII as Numerical Control systems were introduced. This was when John Parsons looked for ways of improving aircraft by making stiffened skins for them. This resulted in a series of crucial Air Force research projects which were hosted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

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The research started in 1949. After the preliminary research and planning phases, Professor J.F. Reintjes designed an experimental milling machine with his team. In 1952, Richard Kegg, in liaison with MIT, created the first CNC milling machine, Cincinnati Milacron Hydrotel. In 1958, five years after that, he patented ‘Motor Controlled Apparatus for Positioning Machine Tool.’ That marked the official commercial birth of the technology.

Moving Away From Manual

This was when lathes became advanced with the advent of individual electric motors, which allowed for greater dependability and power coupled together with a small footprint. As machines got more sophisticated, the G-code replaced the punched tape systems.

In 1958, standard G-code was first used in the MIT Servomechanisms and was afterward standardized by Electronic Industry Alliance. The ‘60s is when CAD emerged for visualization purposes before a physical prototype was actualized. Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) and CAD have been synonymous from their inception, given how a G-code design to be used for CNC operation will need details only CAM systems have.

The First CNC Machine

Preceding the MIT projects, Parsons Corporation, located in Traverse City in Michigan, had created a system that produces templates for the blades of helicopters. John Parson was the founder of the company and found a way of calculating the coordinates of airfoil on an IBM 602A multiplier. He motorized the machines’ axes for making these blades. He fed the data points in a Swiss jig borer. This is considered the CNC machining method starting point.

In this case, it manufactured helicopter blade templates by feeding punched cards, which is read and produced based on already preprogrammed info. And as numerical control technology advanced into the ‘60s and ‘70s, a more familiar CNC machine form recognizable today began to take shape. In the ‘60s, operators would input sequences utilizing alphanumeric systems recorded onto floppy discs and tape. In the ‘70s in digital computer technology entered the fray and enabled more sophisticated controls where the CNC computer control can interface directly with the operator.

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Today, people can purchase or even design their very own CNC machines. And with how advanced and necessary computers have become in the 21st century, it’s common finding CNC machines across all industries. The availability of open-source software and computer systems has allowed CNC lathes to be diverse, efficient, faster, accurate, and a low starting price point.

Staples Of CNC Technology

Although there has been a substantial change in CNC technology history, there are some cornerstones that are still unchanged. All of the automated motion control machines ranging from bare-bones ideas to highly advanced systems now still need three primary components. They are a drive/motion system, command function, and feedback system.

Definition of CNC Machining

Now that we’ve covered the early history of lathes and milling machinery, let’s talk about the modern use of these tools. CNC machines have a program controlling the movement of tools that determines the machining function on the block to be machined. During turning, it defines the axis of rotation and the milling cutter rotation axis. A milling machine with around three or five axes is controlled by a computer and is totally automated. The milling cutter route is indicated by the 3D file entered in the computer, cutting the part desired from the block. It’s one of the ‘subtractive ‘ techniques that’s inexpensive and rapid for a one to ten part production. The parts will be produced using the right material and identical parts. There an array of finishes that can be done.

What Does Computer Numerical Control Mean For Fabrication?

The clear answer here is it automates the cranking process for hours to produce parts. Beyond assisting engineers in removing tedium, it allowed for elements to be added to their designs. Although it is easy cutting complex shapes and curves using a manual mill, a CNC will allow an operator to create those shapes with great consistency and precision. It subsequently altered how parts were designed, which aided to develop cost-effective and more efficient components.

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What Types Of CNC Machines Are There?

CMC machines are meant to manufacture an extensive range of items. For this reason, there are also several types of CNC machines that are commonly used. They are not your everyday machines and will need a lot of effort and training to make high-quality commercial products. They all use G-code, which is the standard CNC machine language. Each different type of CNC machine caters to a particular purpose. Here are but a few of them:

-CNC Lathes Machine
-CNC Routers
-CNC Milling Machine
-CNC Plasma Cutters
-CNC Electric Discharge Machines
-CNC Laser Cutting Machines

Make sure to use a CNC machine that is suited for your exact functionality. For safety reasons, if you notice something amiss, get in touch with a technician immediately. This tool really needs a lot of practice to master before starting to reap its rewards.

The Future Of CNC

With gating access to CAD becoming even much easier, designs are increasingly getting more customized and complex. With the barrier to designing parts becoming increasingly accessible, there has been some simplification to the fabrication process (G-code, CAM, milling, etc.). The CNC’s future is most certainly bright and looking quite limitless, but allowing easy access to it will help the world of invention and fabrication to grow. This way, more and more manufacturers will be capable of taking advantage of the tech as well as integrate CNC lathes with traditional models.

CNC generally has an impressive and long background, and as technology advances into the future, there may be more incredible elements worth adding to its already prestigious history. Only time will tell as manufacturing grows to the use of robotics and automated systems in almost every field.

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