Computer numerical control is a modern concept in the manufacturing and production industries. However, the concept of CNC harkens back to the basic idea of NC, or numerical control.
The idea of numerical control started when the automation of machine tools originally incorporated specific concepts of programmable logic. In the beginning, the first NC machines were built back in the 1940s. Slightly more advanced machines came along in the 1950s. These manufacturing machines were constructed based on existing tools that were modified with motors designed to move the controls of the machine. These controls followed specific points that were fed into the machine on punched tape. These early mechanisms were soon improved with both analog and digital computers. The introduction of computer technology into the concept of numerical control led to what we now know as computer numerical control.
Early MIT Research on Numerical Control
After World War II, John Parsons researched ways to improve aircraft by creating stiffened skins for them. This eventually led to a series of important Air Force research projects, which were conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This research began in 1949. After the early planning and research phases, an experimental milling machine was designed at MIT. Professor J.F. Reintjes and his team of researchers were involved in this project.
The First CNC Machine
Before the MIT projects, Parsons Corporation in Traverse City, Michigan developed a system to produce templates for helicopter blades. John Parsons, who founded the company, discovered how to calculate airfoil coordinates on an IBM 602A multiplier. He then fed these data points into a Swiss jig borer. To date, this was considered the first true numerical control machine as it manufactured goods – helicopter blade templates, in this case – by feeding punched cards into a system, and the system then read and produced the parts based on preprogrammed information.
As numerical control technology moved into the 1960s and 1970s, a very familiar form of a CNC machine that most would recognize today started taking shape. Digital technology then entered the fray, and automation in production processes became more efficient than ever. In fact, many individuals can purchase – and even design – their own homemade CNC machines. Because of how advanced computers are nowadays, it’s more common than ever to find CNC machines in all industries and most commonly in woodworking.
Staples of CNC Technology
While there has been tremendous change in the history of CNC technology, there are a few cornerstones that have remained unchanged. All automated motion control manufacturing machines,, from bare-bones concepts of the early days to highly advanced systems today, still require 3 primary components. These include a command function, a drive/motion system, and a feedback system.
CNC has had a long and interesting history. As technology evolves in the future, there may be even more incredible elements to add to its history as manufacturing continues to promote the use of robotic and automated processes in nearly every field.