A CNC Turning Center
The abbreviation CNC stands for Computer(ized) Numerical(ly) Control(led), and refers specifically to the computer control of machine tools for the purpose of (repeatedly) manufacturing complex parts in metal as well as other materials, using a program written in a notation conforming to the EIA-274-D standard and commonly called G-code. CNC was developed in the late 1940s and early 1950s by the MIT Servomechanisms Laboratory. CNC machines were relatively briefly preceded by the less advanced NC, or Numerical(ly) Control(led), machines.
Tools with CNC variants
- Milling machines
- Wood routers
- Sheetmetal works
- Hot-wire foam cutters
The introduction of CNC machines radically changed the manufacturing industry. Curves are as easy to cut as straight lines, complex 3-D structures are relatively easy to produce, and the number of machining steps that required human action have been dramatically reduced.
With the increased automation of manufacturing processes with CNC machining, considerable improvements in consistency and quality have been achieved. CNC automation reduced the frequency of errors and provided CNC operators with time to perform additional tasks. CNC automation also allows for more flexibility in the way parts are held in the manufacturing process and the time required to change the machine to produce different components.
In a production environment, a series of CNC machines may be combined into one station, commonly called a "cell", to progressively machine a part requiring several operations. CNC machines today are controlled directly from files created by CAM software packages, so that a part or assembly can go directly from design to manufacturing without the need of producing a drafted paper drawing of the manufactured component. In a sense, the CNC machines represent a special segment of industrial robot systems, as they are programmable to perform many kinds of machining operations (within their designed physical limits, like other robotic systems).