Computer numerical control, or CNC, systems are computer controlled machining tools used in manufacturing. The advantage to computer numerical control systems is the increased accuracy and processing speed for the production machines. In a CNC system, there is a central computer processor used to interpret the specifications and direct the machine.
The first computer numerical control machines were built in the 1940s and 1950s. These systems were quite simple, created by modifying existing tools to accept instructions based on points printed on paper tape. The success with this initial attempt encouraged continuing development in this area. The increased availability of computers allowed developers and designers to further enhance these systems. The modern computer numerical controlled tools are an advanced version of these same tools.
In the current computer numerical control systems, the entire process from design to production is completed with a computer. The initial product design is created with a computer assisted design, or CAD, program. This type of software is specially designed to create not only a detailed image and drawing of the product, but detailed schematics and measurements. A series of computer files are created from the CAD program, based on the specific commands required for each machine in the process.
Modern production machines are no longer single function. Instead, multiple components are incorporated into a cell or unit. For example, a woodworking machine will often include a variety of saws, drills, and sanders. Locating all these tools within one unit increases processing efficiency and reduces the number of machines required.
Some processes work best with a cooling off period between the various steps. Many firms use robotic processors or externally controlled belts to move products from one stage to another. Opportunities for quality control checks are often created during the transportation stage, allowing people to intervene in the process if required.
Computer numerical control machines are used to create products that require a complex series of steps. The automation of any of these steps significantly reduces processing time and contributes to a smooth process. The more automation included in the process, the greater the reduction of bottlenecks and the more consistent the outcome.
These machines are typically found in the manufacturing or production sector. In general, the most automated processes are those that involve small components and require a very high degree of accuracy. The other industry that utilizes these tools is mining, or drilling. In many situations, the work environment is very dangerous or hazardous to humans. Using a CNC drilling machine allows the work to continue with a greatly reduced level of risk.