CNC Machines Defined

An interview with John Hylkema

Often times, we look down at our equipment and wonder, “How in the world do they make this?” It is without a doubt that manufacturers have gotten good at boggling our minds with their ability to produce such state of the art products. My love for mouthpieces and how they’re manufactured caused me to look a bit deeper into what exactly makes them. The force responsible for producing such great mouthpieces would be something called a CNC machine. To learn more about these amazing technological machines I sat down with Journeyman Toolmaker and CNC Machining Specialist Brian Hylkema for an interview on this topic.

What is a CNC Machine? What does CNC stand for?

CNC stands for Computerized Numerical Control. Any machine with controlled movement by computer programming could be considered CNC.

How does a CNC machine operate?

A CNC machine operates by a computer program. A “program," or part program can be developed either manually by a programmer or from a model developed by computer aided design software (CAD) using a special language called G code. The program enables the machine by use of operands and machine function to perform the operations needed, such as cutting, drilling, tapping and so forth.

What is the history of CNC machines?

Numerical Control (NC) machines were developed in the late 1940’s to aid in the development of machining the complicated shape of helicopter rotors and were used in the developing aerospace industry. Early NC machines used punch cards or paper/mylar tapes, for longer processes, to feed the information to the machine tool, thus the trade name “tape machine." Computers came into the picture in the late 1950’s. Computers aided in storing more information and helping the machine tool “think” faster, which helped decrease production time as well as increase manufacturing accuracy. The introduction of NC and CNC operated machines can also be labelled as the 2nd industrial revolution.

What are the skills necessary to operate a CNC machine?

Skills could be as little as being instructed how to load a workpiece in a vice or fixture, and press the cycle start button. This would be a machine operator. A CNC machinist might require more specialized training and or experience which could involve programming, setup, and operation.

What are some other industries that use CNC machining?

Industries using CNC machining range from automotive, aerospace, medical, mold and tool making, to woodworking, just to name a few.

What can’t a CNC machine do?

Think on its own; A CNC machine is only as good as the person operating it. We always say, “Garbage in, garbage out!” From programming, to set-up, to production time, a CNC machine needs the correct information to produce excellent results.

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