The early to mid-1970s was a time of revolutionary advancement in the area of machine tool controller development, when the term computerised numerical control (CNC) became a reality. This "new" breed of controllers gave a company the ability to change workpiece geometries, together with programs, easily with the minimum of development and lead time, allowing it to be economically viable to machine small batches, or even one-offs successfully.
The dream of allowing a computerised numerical controller the flexibility and ease of program editing in a production environment became a reality when two related factors occurred. These were:
The development of integrated circuits, which reduced electronic circuit size, giving better maintenance and allowing more standardisation of design; that general purpose computers were reduced in size coupled to the fact that their cost of production had fallen considerably.
The multiple benefits of cheaper electronics with greater reliability have resulted in the CNC fitted to the machine tools of today, with their power and sophistication progressing considerably in the last few years, allowing an almost artificial intelligence (Al) to the latest systems.
Over the years, the machine tool builders have produced a large diversity in the range of applications of CNC and just some of these developments will be reviewed.