55 Years of CNC – A Look Back

As a new year approaches and we look ahead to 2015, we thought we’d use this post to take a look at where we’ve been; not just as a company but as an industry. Many people believe CNC milling, prototyping, and machining is something relatively new. The fact is that we were working on ways to program computers to make physical goods for us before we learned how to program the computers themselves.

CNC, or computer numerical control, comes from its ancestor NC, or just numerical control. Before machines went digital, we used punched tape to program their routines into them. These first machines were developed in the 1950’s and presented a radical new way to look at manufacturing. Industry was slow to adopt the new technology however. So, in an effort to help speed things along, the Army purchased 120 numerical control machines and seeded them throughout key industries.

NC Becomes CNC

Over time, NC grew in popularity as industry began to see how an increase in automation could dramatically boost manufacturing output. More companies began building their own NC machines and each used their own methods and languages for programming them.

As the computer revolution of the 60’s took hold and NC became CNC, the industry began a period of rapid growth and development. CNC programming languages began to standardize and the computers running those languages became less expensive and, simultaneously, more powerful.

While CNC was mostly a US-based industrial effort, it did not take long before other countries began to see the benefits of the technology; both in speeding along their own manufacturing processes and creating CNC machines themselves.

By the 80’s, the US had lost its lead in the CNC marketplace. The Germans led CNC output by the end of the 70’s but Japan took the lead from them just one year later.

Present day, CNC continues to be a cornerstone of international industrial machining. The machines have gotten faster and you only need to look at your desk or in your pocket to see the advances in the computing technology powering them.

These advances have also made CNC milling and machining technology available to the masses. No longer a tool only found in massive industrial operations, CNC machining now even exists for the home user and the hobbyist. CNC software can be found as open source programming projects. And, 3D printing is simply seen as the next step in this technology’s evolution.

Looking Ahead

Just as we shudder to think about the days that computers used to fill entire rooms, we marvel at the rapid acceleration and miniaturization of CNC milling and machining technology. Excello Tool Engineering and Manufacturing has been operating since 1960; we’ve had a front row seat to the history we’ve just described. The past 55 years have shown us things that we never would have imagined.

Here’s to the next 55.

Excello Tool Engineering & Manufacturing Company located in Milford, CT