Do You Know the Incredible History of Machining?

Machine tools and the machining industry have come a long way. Today, we see the industry beginning to utilize new technologies such as 3D Printing and IoT. Did you know, though, that the first CNC machines were developed back in the 1940s and ‘50s?

The technology utilized by these original CNC machines was known as “punched tape” or “perforated paper tape” technology. These technologies were phased out with the advent of analog and then digital computer processing which was developed in the 1950s and ‘60s.

The basic functions of machine tools such as milling using a lathe is actually centuries older than the ‘40s or ‘50s, however.

It’s pretty incredible, but did you know that an ancient lathe was recently discovered in Hampi, India? Experts have dated the lathe from at least the 16th century–and perhaps even earlier! It turns out machining is older than we may have thought!

At its most basic, machining is a way to transform a stock piece of material such as a block of plastic or a piece of metal, and create a finished product by means of a precise, controlled material removal process. It’s almost like these machines are sculptors removing excess material to reveal the perfect, finished product (although you may argue that machine tooled parts are not nearly as beautiful as something created by Michaelangelo).

Basic types

As far as modern CNC machines go, there are several basic types. Let’s go over them below:

  1. Drills.
    Drills work by spinning a drill bit and moving the bit about so that it comes into contact with a stationary block of stock material.
  2. Lathes.
    Lathes are kind of like the inverse of drills–they spin the block of material against the drill bit (instead of spinning the drill bit and putting it into contact with the material). Lathes generally make contact with the material by moving a cutting tool laterally until it touches the spinning material.
  3. Milling Machines.
    These are probably the most common type of CNC machine used today. They utilize rotary cutting tools to remove material from the stock unit.

Specialized technologies

In addition to these three basic types of machine tools, there are a number of more specialized technologies sometimes used in the machining industry. These include:

  1. Electrical and/or Chemical Machining.
    This can include Electron Beam Machining, Electrochemical Machining, Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM), Photochemical machining, and Ultrasonic machining. These technologies are generally utilized only when in specialized situations and with certain materials.
  2. Other Cutting Mediums.
    Some of things cutting mediums include laser cutting machines, oxy-fuel cutting machines, plasma cutting machines, and water-jet cutting technology.

The machine tool industry has been around for a long time and it is exciting to see how the industry continues to thrive and incorporate new technology and processes. What do you think the future might hold for this industry?

by Acoem contributor | September 6, 2022
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