Computer Numerical Control or CNC machinery has been with us for a period of about seven decades. The earliest forms of CNC machines were introduced to the workplace just after World War II. The early technology, known then as simply numerical control, provided manufacturing with a way to replicate precise parts, especially those required for such industries as the growing aircraft industry.
The pioneer of numerical control (which would develop into CNC technology) was a man by the name of John T. Parsons. Parsons, an inventor, worked for his fathers company in Traverse City, Michigan. Working with an engineer he hired named Frank Stulen, together they developed a process using an IBM punch card reader to calculate accurately the curvature of helicopter rotary blades, needed by the newly formed U.S. Air Force. Their work, which was revolutionary for the time, led to the creation of the numerical control processes that served as the forerunner of CNC machinery.
Parsons and Stullen worked with MIT’s Servomechanisms Laboratory in 1949 in pursuit of the development of a machine that can replicate the production of precise machine parts. Their work at MIT n the early 1950s led to the unveiling of a machine that could perform such work in September of 1952. Unfortunately, given the cost prohibition of the machine (upwards of $2 million in today’s dollars), the Air Force halted funding for the project and Parsons would be out of a job as head of his own engineering company.
Fortunately, a small machine tool company located in Fond du Lac, WI named Giddings & Lewis stepped in and developed a machine using magnetic tape readers (in place of the punch card readers). The machine developed by Giddings & Lewis reduced costs and improved both quality and efficiency. This advancement led to the development in 1957 to a fully computer controlled numerical control machine. These new CNC machines have since become the standard tool for making precision machined parts used in a wide variety of industries.