The Evolution of the Modern CNC Machine Shop

The sheer variety of products available to us today is staggering, but it wasn’t always this way. There was a time when any metal component had to be heated, hammered, shaped, and manipulated to produce one simple component. There was a time when early machines had to be painstakingly put-together, piece by handcrafted piece.

An early CNC machine, pictured with its inventors.

It’s all the result of CNC machining and the modern CNC machine shop to some degree. One of the first well-known machine shops to innovate the way industry approached manufacturing was that of Thomas Blanchard. At the young age of thirteen, Blanchard invented a mechanical device that he could use to count tacks in his brother’s machine shop, which then lead to his invention of another machine that actually manufactured tacks. This eventually lead to Blanchard being sought after by gun manufacturers for the express purpose of developing a new and more effective lathe for turning the irregular wooden stock’s of the guns, which is often seen as another critical moment in the development of modern CNC machining.

Years later, when Samuel Colt made the Colt name famous for his revolvers, Blanchard copying lathes were used in the United States and abroad to properly machine the components that would go on to be used around the world.

It is often said that technological improvement is never faster than when it is spearheaded by a drive to compete. Consider the discoveries in technology we witness in the wake of NASA space programs. However, the same can be said for the arms industry in the formative years of the CNC machine shop. Without ongoing conflict like the Mexican American War, inventors like Samuel Colt would have never had reason to feverishly develop standardized and repeatable processes to produce the weapons that would go on to change the course of history. Shortly after, the same technologies were applied to industries around the country.

Today, CNC machine shops are benefited by the many critical inventions brought to the industry by everyone from Eli Whitney and Thomas Blanchard to Samuel Colt and his high production firearms factories. Today, just about everything metal has either passed through a cnc machine shop or somehow affected by or influenced one. Whether metal products or components were directly machined in a CNC Machine shop or the machines that made them were, it goes without saying that the world would be a very different place without them. From the simple innovative tools developed in the days of the industrial revolution to advanced and highly automated CNC machines, the CNC machine shop has remained a critically important aspect of the industrial world for hundreds of years.

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