The Invention of CNC Machining

In order to understand where CNC Machining first appeared, it is important to note that the said machine’s advent can be traced back to the invention of the NC (numerical controlled) machine made by John T. Parsons during the 1940s-1950s. The NC was a breakthrough invention that led the way towards modern automated machines.

Together with Frank L. Stulen, Parsons first utilized computer methods to crack machining setbacks, especially the accurate interpolation of the curves that is found in helicopter blades. Stulen got an idea from his brother to employ stress calculations on the rotors. Parsons observed what Stulen was experimenting on with punched card machines generating an outline with 17 points and then inquired if it was possible for Stulen to generate an outline with 200 points.

In the process of developing smoother rotors, they managed to generate an early version of the NC, where generating numbers for complex and précised outputs was possible. At that point, Parsons considered a fully automated tool that can surpass the performance of the current NC. In 1949, he turned to Gordon S. Brown’s Servomechanisms Laboratory at MIT to develop a feedback system that can gauge how far the controls had actually turned.

With enough resources to back the project, the system was displayed in September 1952. The MIT’s system was a triumph, so that it was now possible to come up with any complex cut that cannot be copied manually. Yet due to its complexity, its reliability in a production setting is reduced, not to mention its cost that is worth more than $2,641,727.63 in today’s currency.

The Air Force halted its funding in 1953, but Giddings and Lewis Machine Tool Co. resumed the project by producing NC that can reduce the expenses and improve quality and efficiency. With their direction of the project, the Numericord controller was created, replacing punch type readers with magnetic tape readers.

The CNC machine first appeared when John Runyon managed to produce punch tapes under computer control. This showed dramatic results in terms of time, reducing the normal production duration of 8 hours to 15 minutes. In June 1956, the Air Force accepted the proposal to produce a generalized “programming” language for NC.

Eventually, the Air Material Command at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Aircraft Industries Association (AIA) collaborated with MIT in 1957 to generate a fully computer controlled NC system. The invention of CNC machines paved the way for automated tools that meant cost efficient production for manufacturers.

CNC mills have very little differences with its predecessor in terms of its concept. The modern CNC mill still functions in machines to produce outputs in three dimensional directions: X and Y axes, and depth. Examples of CNC systems applied in various industries include laser cutting, welding and ultrasonic welding among others.