History of CNC Machines

Way back in 1992, I started working in my first machine shop at a company called Expertool CC. I can still remember the day like it was yesterday.

As I walked into the toolroom I noticed all the fancy standard Milling machines with their DROs and I was blown away when I saw their first 3 Axis CNC Milling machine still being unwrapped on the shop floor! But it would still be another year before I would grab a hold of its jog pendant and send it zooming through tool steel.

A lot has changed with CNCs, the controlling hardware and the software since those days. Back in the day we use to program our machines using raw G-Code primarily. Now a days, most machines are controlled using Cadcam software of some sorts, for example Mastercam. Cutting tools were limited in what and how they could cut metal or other materials such as titanium for example. We used to use High Speed and high feed cutters that were quite limited in terms of their feeds and speeds.

Fast forward to 2019/2020 and a lot has changed with tooling and machines alike. The funny or more likely strange thing is that some toolmakers and owners are still stuck in the 90s. They have failed to keep up with the times, heck, some of them still drive the same fuel guzzling cars they owned back in the day!

The problem with this trend is that, the rest of the engineering community has embraced and adapted to almost all the new tech out there.

For example:

There is no way a standard car of those days could outperform a car of today with respect to its economy and performance. Similarly, a CNC machine with all its old usable tooling and software would never be able to compete with a CNC and its software of today.

 It can’t be related to cost because the cost of living increases proportionately to todays society. Could it be fear of the unknown? I think in many cases it is. Try telling one of those machinists that they could do the same job in one fifth of the time it took them to do it in the past by just using a different software or a new toolpath strategy to drive their CNCs, their answer: Impossible! But show them that it can be done, in real time, and most of the time they will exclaim that’s too fast for that cutter to feed at or that RPM is too high for that sort of cutter. The secret is in the technology that has gone into those inserts or that new specially coated carbide endmill. The result of which more than often is they close their doors because the guy around the corner is doing the same type of work with one machine and one pc with cutting edge software and all the latest and greatest cutters in his arsenal.

Engineers today need to change their way of thinking so that they can drive their businesses into the future and know what’s coming before their competition even knows they’ve overtaken them. We look to the future or get lost in the past!