In modern industrial society, precision is crucial. This is especially true for manufacturing the critical parts in vehicles, aircraft, medical devices…anything where lives are at stake. That’s where CNC machines come in. You could say they make modern society possible. And while they may seem complicated, you’ve got experts available to figure out what they can do for you.
What’s a CNC Machine?
CNC - or Computer Numerical Control - machines are manufacturing devices that move according to pre-programmed computer directives. In short, they’re computer-controlled manufacturing machines. By following strictly defined steps that are programmed in, they cut, shape, and assemble the products you tell them to.
Programming CNC machines often starts with a two or three-dimensional CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) drawing. The drawing is translated into a language the CNC machine understands called G-code. This controls the actions of the machine as well as its speed, rate of feeding materials, and how it coordinates with other machines and people.
Types of CNC Machines
CNC machines can be divided into roughly five different types:
- Lathes and Turning Centers: these rotate materials, working them around a circumference until shaped as desired. Also used for creating features like holes, bores, slots, and threads.
- Milling Machines and Routers: used for cutting shapes, cavities, slots, or any precision cuts in material.
- Laser Cutting Machines: for precision cutting or engraving, you use a laser CNC machine. This is usually used on material in sheet form.
- Electrical Discharge Machines (EDM): this type uses highly controlled electrical pulses (discharges) to manipulate material. It’s sometimes also called spark eroding, die sinking, spark machining, or wire burning. This is for the precise creation of holes, slots, or unusual angles.
- Plasma Cutting Machines: with these an electrically ionized gas torch is used for precision welding. This is used on metals like steel, aluminum, brass, or copper.
There are also CNC machines for specialized applications such as welding, metal forming, and grinding.
Where did CNC Machines Originate?
One of the earliest CNC ancestors is from 1949 and was developed by the US Air Force with MIT. It was an automated milling machine for making helicopter blades. Other companies developed similar products as time went on. In 1952 a patent was granted for a “Motor Controlled Apparatus with Positioning Machine Tool” by Richard Kegg with MIT. This machine used paper tape for entering the program instruction and a vacuum-tube-based control system. As technology progressed, paper tape gave way to digital tape for inputting instructions. Computers became more widespread and sophisticated, making CNC work that much more accurate and efficient.
So What Makes CNC Machines Unique?
The biggest advantage that CNC machines have over manual machines is accuracy: having a computer in control means that parts can be manipulated with an accuracy far greater than what can be achieved manually. This also means the machines produce less wasted materials than other processes.
CNC machines are also fast and efficient. That means your manufacturing operation is more profitable. Best of all, taking humans out of the process means that CNC manufacturing is safer. Rather than have a human using dangerous equipment on heavy material that’s difficult to manage, you can have the work done far from human hands, keeping people at a safe distance.
So What Can You Do With CNC?
The range of manufacturing that CNC machines can engage in is almost limitless. If a person can make it, odds are good a machine can too. Since they can work with materials from metal to plastic to wood to even fabric, anything you can imagine made from those materials can be made with CNC.
This can include aerospace and automotive parts. Aircraft and vehicles require complicated metal parts and specialty shapes for aerodynamics and styling. Complex curves are a breeze with CNC. Medical parts also require the minute precision that comes with CNC manufacturing.
CNC-made materials can be for complicated products like those listed above, or they could be for plastic toys and bow ties. The range of products you can make with CNC machines is nearly endless.
Without CNC machines, manufacturing would be much slower, more dangerous, and filled with faulty parts. Look around you and you’re guaranteed to see dozens - if not hundreds - of items that were made using automated manufacturing processes. Your ideas could make use of this modern miracle. Contact Ingersoll today to get started.