CNC History

From ShapeOko
Jump to: navigation, search


CNC (Computer Numerical Control) is the combination of Numerical Control (NC, the controlling of machinery using numbers either to manipulate discrete controls, or more directly via punch cards or tapes or other electrical signals) and computers.

The history starts with early efforts to automate industrial machinery such as looms.


Jacquard Loom

The Jacquard loom is a mechanical loom, invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard, first demonstrated in 1801, that simplifies the process of manufacturing textiles with complex patterns[1] using punch cards.


Milling Machine

Machines which make use of rotary filing are developed for metalworking.[2]



Used in gun-stock copying[3] and turret lathes[4]. Development continued through World War I.


Difference Engine

Charles Babbage conceives of the Difference Engine, an early mechanical computer for calculating polynomials.[5]


Electric Wood Router

The first electrical power tool, the wood router inaugurated the idea of bringing the tool to the piece being worked, a concept central to CNC.[6]


Servos and Selsyns

Adding power to Cams didn't address the matter of controlling the position accurately under all possible circumstances. Servomechanisms[7] and selsyns[8] allowed the machine to provide measurement information as it worked, increasing accuracy.


Tracer Control

Adding hydraulics to Cams allowed for the use of a stylus to trace a template controlling a machine which would cut a part to match.[9]


Numerical Control

John T. Parsons[10] developed Numerical Control (NC) so as to be able to fabricate parts for helicopter rotors for the Sikorsky Helicopter Company[11] using funding from the United States Air Force.


Numerical Control using Punch Cards

Parsons turned to M.I.T. to make use of servomechanisms or to otherwise improve the accuracy of NC.[12] under an Air Force contract for the construction of two "Card-a-matic Milling Machines", a prototype and a production system.[13]


A Working machine

M.I.T. instead attempted to develop a machine on their own, but Parsons filed for a patent on "Motor Controlled Apparatus for Positioning Machine Tool" on 5 May 1952, sparking a filing by MIT for a "Numerical Control Servo-System" on 14 August 1952. Parsons received US Patent 2,820,187[8] on 14 January 1958, and the company sold an exclusive license to Bendix. IBM, Fujitsu and General Electric all took sub-licenses after having already started development of their own devices.

M.I.T. continued with their development, using roller chains to manipulate the machine along three axes (X, Y, and Z)[14] and used standard 7-track punch tape for input.[15]


Proliferation of NC

The Air Force Numeric Control and Milling Machine projects formally concluded in 1953, but development continued at the Giddings and Lewis Machine Tool Co. and other locations.[16]


G-Code/Magnetic Tape

Electronic control was added with the use of magnetic tapes to record and play back calculated machine paths, which are described using the nascent G-code.[17]


Computer Aided Design (CAD)

The Automatically Programmed Tool project and the report, then later project, Computer-Aided Design: A Statement of Objectives 1960 of Douglas T. Ross were the first Computer Aided Design systems.[18]


First Computer Numerical Control system

On 25 February 1959, Aircraft Industries Association (AIA) and Air Material Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base produce a fully computer-controlled NC system and demonstrate it to the press, including an ashtray made of machined aluminum in the press kits.[19]


Proliferation of CNC in Industry

The falling price of computers and the rising costs of labor resulted in a proliferation of CNC machines using PDP-8s and the Data General Nova.


Stereolithography (3D printing) and STL File Format

Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corp, invented a process known as stereolithography employing UV lasers to cure photopolymers.[20]


Enhanced Machine Controller

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the US Government's Department of Commerce funds the development of the Enhanced Machine Controller project.[21]

Selective Laser Sintering

An additive manufacturing technique that uses a laser as the power source to sinter powdered material (typically metal).[22]


fused deposition modeling (FDM)

Plastic extrusion technology most widely associated with the term "3D printing" was commercialized by Stratasys under the name fused deposition modeling.[23]


3D printing trademarked

Z Corporation commercialized an MIT-developed additive process under the trademark 3D printing (3DP), referring to a proprietary process inkjet deposition of liquid binder on powder.[24]


Enhanced Machine Controller released to the public domain

This eliminates the expense of proprietary machine control software, making the machines more affordable.



An inexpensive, single-board microcontroller developed by Hernando Barragan at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Ivrea, Italy.[25]


Development of the reprap, a 3D printer that can print most of its own components.[26]



An interpreter for G-code (a standard language for Computer Numerical Control (CNC)) originally written by Simen Svale Skogsrud.[27]



An aluminum extrusion which integrates a rail system developed by Bart Dring and launched on Kickstarter.[28]


A low-cost, open source CNC mill designed by Edward Ford launched on 26 June 2011[29] --- with the availability of Makerslide, the machine was re-designed to make use of it rather than the laser-cut wood parts and steel rods of the original design.


Shapeoko 2

The second version of which was announced on 21 October 2013.[30]


May 2014 Carbide 3D launches the Nomad 883 on Kickstarter:

ShapeOko 3

Third (current) version announced 9 December.[31]


Summer 2016

Shapeoko XL and XXL announced, upgrade to 9mm belts, new belt anchors with M5 PEM nuts, short Z-axis spindle carriage plate with bends and sheet metal electronics enclosure become standard.

  • Drawn from Wikipedia and other sources as noted in the footnotes