CNC machining has been a staple of the manufacturing industry for decades, and its history is fascinating. From its early days as a time-saving tool for machine shops to its present-day use in mass production, CNC machining has played a vital role in shaping the modern world.

CNC machining, or Computerized Numerical Control machining, is a computerized manufacturing process that uses pre-programmed software to control the movement of production equipment. This equipment is used to cut, shape and create different parts of larger, more complex machines.

1949: The First CNC Machine

The invention of the first CNC Machine is credited to John Parsons, whose innovations as a computer pioneer gave him the title “Father of Numerical Control.” Under a U.S. Air Force contract, Parsons developed the first numerical control milling machine. This machine — alongside an IBM 602A multiplier — allowed Parsons and the Air Force to calculate helicopter airfoil coordinates. That data was turned into a punch card that could be read and translated to machines that could carry out the manufacture of helicopter blades and aircraft skins.

1952-1958: The Cold War Drives Defense Manufacturing

The Cold War’s increasing intensity in the 1950s meant the U.S. was in need of more defense manufacturing. Spiking demand for machines and weapons drove innovation in the manufacturing industry.

In 1952, Richard Kegg collaborated with MIT to develop the Cincinnati Milacron Hydrotel, a CNC milling machine. Six years later, Kegg filed for a patent for the Motor Controlled Apparatus for Positioning Machine.

In 1955, the punch tape method originally developed by John Parsons evolved to use a magnetic tape reader, allowing for more versatility. The process started with a planner sheet that listed all the production variables like speed or cooling control. Those instructions were then entered using a keyboard into a unit that converted the information into a plastic tape. Verification processes let the system know of any incorrect readings. Finally, the tape was fed into a digital reading unit that sent the information to a computer, which would send instructions to the machines that actually carried out the manufacturing of parts

The Digital Age Reaches Manufacturing

The rise of the Digital Age in the 1960s and 1970s led to numerical control machines similar to those that remain prevalent in the manufacturing industry today. Software called Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Computer-Aided Machining (CAM) replaced the magnetic tape of the 1950s. This digital step forward allowed for a greater capacity for technological advancement in CNC machining. CAD software is designed for people to create a blueprint design of a machined part on a computer. That blueprint is translated into a language that the CNC machines can read, called G-Code. G-Code directs the CNC machine to operate across specific axes and motions. This technology is still used today by manufacturers across the globe.

CNC Machining: A timeline
1949 - the first CNC machine
1952-1958 - The Cold War drives defense manufacturing.
1967-1972 - CAD and CAM development
1976-1989 - CAD and CAM officially included

CNC Machining Becomes a Manufacturing Mainstay

CNC machining has revolutionized manufacturing, making it possible to produce complex designs quickly and affordably. By programming the machines to make parts that were previously impossible or impractical to make with traditional machining technologies, CNC machining quickly became the standard in manufacturing. Today, CNC machined parts are essential for industries such as aerospace, automotive, energy and defense — any sector that needs complex parts produced reliably, accurately and with optimal cost. Thanks to CNC machining, manufacturers can now produce intricate parts with tight tolerances and increased repeatability at a fraction of the cost and time of manual processes.

CNC Machining Today

Today, CNC machining is an essential part of many manufacturing processes, and continues to evolve as new technologies are developed. CNC machining is an integral part of modern manufacturing, from creating CNC machined parts for aircraft to parts for consumer products, like electronics. It has been an essential tool in the manufacturing industry since its invention in the 1940s, and is now a key part of production processes in many industries around the world. Over the years, new technologies and materials have been developed, allowing this process to remain at the forefront of manufacturing innovation. Thanks to this combination of old and new technology, CNC machining is able to respond quickly and efficiently to changing customer needs while providing quality CNC machined parts. Toolcraft is your local CNC machining expert. With over 60 years of experience, you can feel confident your project will be completed on time, the first time. Request a quote here.