Metalworking has always played a pivotal role in society. From the ancient Pharaohs to the massive modern fabrications you see, like oil rigs and wind turbines for generating energy. As humans, it seems that we have always been drawn towards building things – whether it means piecing together early surface metals in the form of jewelry, or mining ore, processing advanced metals, and fabricating massive structures to accomplish everything from energy exploration to power generation.
Throughout history, metal fabrication has played a role in decorating the world and holding it together in the forms of art, hobby, and industry. Today, metal fabrication involves large machinery, high tech machinery, laser cutting, advanced welding and much more. However, it hasn’t always been this way. Metal fabrication has been around far before any of these technologies were available – even to the point where the materials weren’t even heated. For instance, Isaac Asimov, the famous biochemist and science fiction author surmised that even the earliest civilizations simply hammered gold to form early jewelry and decoration.
It’s much different today, however. After the connection between heat, metal, and fabrication was made – all bets were off. Today, metal fabrication involves much more than hammering metals until they fit into place. Today, metal fabricators use complex and state of the art machinery and technology to both design, plan, and fabricate the large structures and pieces of equipment that help us in innumerable ways.
Primary among some of the greatest innovations in large fabrication was computer numerical control, or CNC. CNC has been used for many years for the automation of machine tools by programmed commands, controlled by a computer. CNC represented a departure from manually controlled machine that required a drastically larger number of operators than the industry requires today. The idea for CNC came about in the 19th century when the cams used to play a musical box were used to automate machinery. Thomas Blanchard, for example, built gun-stock lathes using this technology, which was eventually evolved into the turret lathe, and the screw machine – making this type of automated fabrication a big game changer by the time World War I came about.
With the computers available today, not only has CNC machining reached new heights, but so has the design of fabrications both large and small. This is now done through computer aided design (CAD). CAD is the culmination of early attempts by aircraft designers, automotive manufactures, and the science community. In every case, science and industry needed a computer design program that would allow them to interact with a computer graphically and draft projects faster and more effectively.
Once CNC and CAD were fully developed and combined with modern machining and fabricating techniques like welding, cutting, boring, and grinding – manufacturers around the world were capable of creating products, tools, and equipment of all shapes and sizes, faster than ever. From aircraft and cars to aircraft carriers and the machines used to manufacture cars, metal fabrication has been used to create it all. So next time you see a picture of a oil rig or a massive wind energy turbine, think about how far we’ve come and what science and industry have managed to accomplish over the years. When you consider what the human race is capable of now, from tiny machine parts to space shuttles, chances are you’ll be amazed at how far we’ve come – in terms of technology and ingenuity.