CNC Machine

The first NC machines were built in the 1940s and 1950s.

Computer Numeric Control is the automation of machine tools that are operated by precisely programmed commands encoded on a storage medium (computer command module, usually located on the device, see picture right) as opposed to controlled manually by hand wheels or levers, or mechanically automated by cams alone. Most NC today is computer (or computerized) numerical control in which computers play an integral part of the control.

In modern CNC systems, end-to-end component design is highly automated using computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) programs. The programs produce a computer file that is interpreted to extract the commands needed to operate a particular machine by use of a post processor, and then loaded into the CNC machines for production.

Since any particular component might require the use of a number of different tools – drills, saws, etc. – modern machines often combine multiple tools into a single "cell". In other installations, a number of different machines are used with an external controller and human or robotic operators that move the component from machine to machine. In either case, the series of steps needed to produce any part is highly automated and produces a part that closely matches the original CAD design.

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.