Take a look around. What do you see? Metal. You see things made out of metal, you see things with meal parts, and you see other things that – somewhere along the line – depended on metal to be manufactured.
You’ve heard of the large computers that were so large they took up entire rooms. Yet you’re likely reading this article on a small computer, or maybe even an ultra-portable tablet or phone. Without the fast, effective, and precise machines used to make the components that go into your computer, things would be very different and the possibility of living in a society where computers only exist in small numbers would be very real.
While it might seem like something you hardly need to worry about, it never helps to know about how the many things you come to rely on came to be. That’s where the unsung hero of the manufacturing world enters the equation: the CNC machine shop.
The CNC machine shop is the oft-forgotten shaper of the many metal parts, components, products, and things that have come to make a difference in our lives. By exact definition, a machine shop is nothing more than a place where metal is cut, formed, and shaped by – you guessed it – machine tools. However, the concept of the machine shop has evolved from something akin to the fabled medieval “smithy” to modern high-tech multi million dollar businesses without a hammer or anvil to be found.
Somewhere during the evolution of the modern machine shop the level of technology and innovation increased. With the impact of the industrial revolution, the rapid production of tools precipitated the birth of tools that could mass-produce more tools. It might sound redundant, but it’s true. Imagine the first batch of machines capable of manufacturing more machines that would then manufacture even more machines. With the ability to quickly fabricate and mass-produce machines with standard interchangeable parts, more businesses had the opportunity to produce more products.
So now, when you think about the metal components in your home, your car, or the machines that were critical when it came to making the parts that go into them, you take advantage of years of history and innovation dating all the way back to the industrial revolution and beyond. Today however, the main technology responsible for most of the metal products we benefit from is CNC, short for computer numerical control.
When you drive your car or use your computer, you directly benefit from CNC machinery, a technology that the business barons of the industrial revolution could only dream of. So what is it? Numerical control, in the simplest sense, refers to the automation of machine tools, like industrial milling and boring machines. This way, instead of machining tools being controlled by the hand-cranks and levers of the 18th century, they are fully automated by programmed commands, stored on the computer and easily repeated whenever the machine shop needs to run a second part. This makes producing the same part, over and over again extremely simple and cost effective.
Before CNC there as just numerical control, which required a programmer to produce tapes that were used to input the proper commands. However, once more modern computers came into prominence, number subroutines could be used to more quickly and effectively enter a list of points and speeds to produce the list of “instructions” a machine needed to produce a given part.
Before long, computer numerical control l (CNC) was used alongside with computer aided design (CAD), making both the design and machining of metal products even faster and more effective, bringing everything from car parts and precision electronic components from the manufacturer to your home, and ultimately expanding the kinds of products available to the masses.