stands for "Computerized Numerical Control" Machine Programming.
When you ask what is a CNC, you are probably referring to a "machine" that is being controlled by CNC Programming.
You thought I was going to say CNC is Carbon-Nytrogen Cycle, right? Just kidding, it's not that technical.
For additional information, and for CNC Control retrofit, replacement and upgrades, go to CNC Machine Controls.
Now for a little history . . .
Historically, machines were simple mechanical devices that did work using levers, pulleys, or inclined planes.
Cams . . . Machines first became automated in the 1800s with the use of cams. Typically, these cams would transfer motion in a set pattern. Later the use of hydraulic systems with cam equipped machines would allow for tracing templates. Still this improvement was not a (CNC) computerized numerical control. This programming involved physicalcontrols rather than numerical controls.
NC . . . Numerical control, cutting by the numbers, was first developed by John T. Parsons, a machinist, in the late 40s. He was looking for a way to cut helicopter rotor blade profiles that called for complex curved geometries that templates were not able to provide. Punch card, punch tape, and later magnetic tape were the means of the "X" (left to right), "Y" (front to back), and "Z" (up and down) axis inputs, and thus computer aided manufacturing was born. Later, some numerical control machines also added a fourth axis, wherein the bed could be rotated. A machine equipped with a fifth axis allows the spindle to pivot at an angle.
CNC . . .The development and use of servo motors by the US Navy happened over a 10 or 15 year period of time, and eventually was implemented for movement of the X, Y, and Z axis of a machine. These servo motors were designed with a feedback system to the computer that insured part tolerance and accuracy.
Are you hangin' with me?
CAD/CNC . . . Meanwhile Computer Aided Design
Software(CAD) was itself coming of age with the development of transistors. As a part was designed, it only made sense to program a numerical control tool path for the machine. As computer microprocessors increased in speed, likewise CNC technology multiplied. Today CNC programming is used in everything from sewing machines to robotic arms.
CNC Machine Programming . . . Most CNC machine programming uses G and M codes. A G code is a "Go" code telling the machine the exact location to start, turn, cut, or stop, etc. The M code controls fluids and other machine activity. These codes are typically generated with a Computer Aided Machining (CAM) program. Usually the CAM is a part of the CAD and is referred to as CAD/CAM.
A Huge advantage of the CNC abrasive Water Jet Cutter is the ability to draw the CAD file and then path it. No G code stuff. Makes it very simple!
The primary advantage of CNC machine programming is that it provides for greatly improved accuracy, production efficiency, safety, and thus cost.
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