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History of numerical control
The history of numerical control (NC) began when the automation of machine tools first incorporated concepts of abstractly programmable logic, and it continues today with the ongoing evolution of computer numerical control (CNC) technology.
The first NC machines were built in the 1940s and 1950s, based on existing tools that were modified with motors that moved the controls to follow points fed into the system on punched tape. These early servomechanisms were rapidly augmented with analog and digital computers, creating the modern CNC machine tools that have revolutionized the machining processes.
Earlier forms of automation
The automation of machine tool control began in the 19th century with cams that "played" a machine tool in the way that cams had long been playing musical boxes or operating elaborate cuckoo clocks. Thomas Blanchard built his gun-copying lathes , and the work of people such as Christopher Miner Spencer developed the turret lathe into the screw machine . Cam-based automation had already reached a highly advanced state by World War I.
However, automation via cams is fundamentally different from numerical control because it cannot be abstractly programmed. Cams can encode information, but getting the information from the abstract level (engineering drawing, CAD model, or other design intent) into the cam is a manual process that requires machining or filing. In contrast, numerical control allows information to be transferred from design intent to machine control using abstractions such as numbers and programming languages.
Various forms of abstractly programmable control had existed during the 19th century: those of the Jacquard loom, player pianos, and mechanical computers pioneered by Charles Babbage and others. These developments had the potential for convergence with the automation of machine tool control starting in that century, but the convergence did not happen until many decades later.
The application of hydraulics to cam-based automation resulted in tracing machines that used a stylus to trace a template, such as the enormous Pratt & Whitney "Keller Machine", which could copy templates several feet across. Another approach was "record and playback", pioneered at General Motors (GM) in the 1950s, which used a storage system to record the mo""
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