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The Emergence And Development Of Numerical Control Technology


The emergence and development of Numerical Control (NC) technology have significantly transformed the manufacturing industry, revolutionizing the way machine tools are operated and paving the way for modern computerized machining. Here is an overview of the key milestones in the emergence and development of NC technology:

1. Early Origins (Late 1940s to 1950s)

The roots of NC technology can be traced back to the late 1940s and early 1950s when John T. Parsons, an American engineer, and Frank L. Stulen, a mathematician, developed the first NC machine tool at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Their work led to the creation of a prototype milling machine controlled by punched paper tape.

2. MIT’s Servomechanisms Laboratory (1950s)

MIT’s Servomechanisms Laboratory played a pivotal role in the development of NC technology. The laboratory, led by Gordon S. Brown and others, further refined the concept of computerized control for machine tools. The lab’s efforts led to the development of the MIT-IBM 704 system in 1952, which became one of the first digital computers used for NC.

3. APT Language (1950s-1960s)

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Automated Programmed Tool (APT) language was developed at MIT. APT was a standardized programming language used for describing machining toolpaths and instructions for NC machines. It facilitated the development of machine-independent CNC (Computer Numerical Control) systems.

4. Commercialization (1960s)

In the 1960s, NC technology started to become commercially available. Companies such as Bendix, General Electric (GE), and Numerical Control Society (NCS) began producing CNC machines, making them accessible to manufacturers.

5. Advancements in CNC (1970s-1980s)

The 1970s and 1980s witnessed significant advancements in CNC technology. Microprocessors and minicomputers became more powerful and cost-effective, leading to the integration of CNC controls directly into machine tools. This eliminated the need for external computers and simplified the operation of CNC machines.

6. CAD/CAM Integration (1980s-1990s)

The integration of Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) with CNC systems became increasingly prevalent during the 1980s and 1990s. CAD/CAM software allowed designers and engineers to create 3D models and generate toolpaths directly for CNC machines, streamlining the entire design-to-manufacturing process.

7. CNC Advances and Industry 4.0 (2000s-Present)

The 21st century has seen continuous advancements in CNC technology. CNC machines have become more sophisticated, incorporating features like multi-axis machining, high-speed machining, and real-time tool monitoring. Additionally, the emergence of Industry 4.0 has brought the concept of “smart factories” where CNC machines are interconnected and communicate data for improved efficiency, predictive maintenance, and adaptive manufacturing.

CNC machine tools comprehensively apply the latest achievements in automatic control, computer, microelectronics, precision measurement and mechanical manufacturing. Over the past 50 years, with the development of science and technology, machine tool numerical control technology has also undergone several generations of changes, and some new development trends have appeared at present. The following is an introduction to this issue.

In 1965, small-scale integrated circuits appeared. Because of its small size and low power consumption, the reliability of the numerical control system was further improved. The CNC system has developed to the third generation.

The above three generations of systems are all hard-wired numerical control systems using dedicated control computers, which we call hard-wired systems, collectively referred to as ordinary numerical control systems (NC).

With the development of computer technology, the price of minicomputers has dropped sharply, which has severely impacted the market. The manufacturer of the numerical control system realizes that it is economically cost-effective to use a small computer to replace the special control computer. Many functions can be realized by compiling special programs and stored in the memory of the computer to form the so-called control software, which improves the reliability of the system. and functional features. This kind of numerical control system is called the fourth generation system, namely computer numerical control system (CNC). Around 1970, Intel Corporation of the United States developed and used four-bit microprocessors, and microprocessor chips penetrated into various industries. Corresponding technologies have also been adopted. Therefore, we call the numerical control system characterized by microprocessor technology the fifth generation system (MNC).

Overall, the emergence and development of Numerical Control technology have transformed the manufacturing landscape, enabling more efficient, accurate, and flexible machining processes. CNC technology continues to evolve, with ongoing research and innovations driving further improvements in manufacturing capabilities.


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