A Brief History of Metal Machining

When you buy something with parts made from metal, there is a good chance a metal machining method was involved. This process makes things smooth, round, bores holes, makes special designs and can do a number of things which most people simply take for granted. However, today’s modern machine shop did not just suddenly appear one day. It slowly evolved and developed into the precise industry it is today. Let’s take a brief trip back in time, when only simple metal working was done and then a quick journey back to the 21th Century, to show you some of the amazing advancements which have occurred over the years.

What is Machining?

When an item is machined, it removes material and this is called subtractive manufacturing. In other words, once you bore or grind, the work piece is either smaller or contains holes, grooves or spaces. This requires specialized tools which are more powerful, sophisticated and accurate than common hand tools.

Metal Working

Since the beginning of man’s time on earth, metal working was the only option for shaping and forming hard materials. Basic metals like iron, copper and tin were used and everything was shaped by heating, melting and forming with simple hand tools. This went on for thousands of years.

The Machine Age

Until the mid 1800s, a machinist was a person who repaired or worked on machines. In fact, it wasn’t until the 19th Century when modern machinists came into being. Around 1840, the Industrial Revolution brought about great changes in metal working and this spawned the Machine Age. Around 1880 the power of internal combustion engines and electric motors emerged upon the scene. Now man had a dependable and powerful source of energy for metal machining. It was not long before traditional processes of turning and boring gave way to lathes, drill presses and milling machines.

Computerized Machining

Thanks to a process which began shortly after the Second World War, machining could be automated and accurate. It was known as numeric control and utilized movable axes and a spindle. These tools could be moved and positioned to perform a wide range of metal machining procedures like boring and milling. This made it possible to accurately reproduce many kinds of parts. By 1953, a prototype of computerized numeric control (CNC) was developed. At first, machining commands could be given with holes punched in tape and eventually computers took over the job.

Today’s CNC metal machining methods can perform welding, laser cutting, bending, hole punching and a number of different operations. They work with great speed and stunning accuracy to not only automate the machining process but provide very high tolerance work. Other materials like plastics can also be machined with these methods. The sky is the limit for this kind of procedure.

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