40. CNC Machines

• Computer Numerical Control machines use a computer to guide a process that might otherwise be done manually.

40.1 Numerical Controlled Machines

• The use of numerical data to drive a machine for processes such as,





shot peening

tube bending

flame cutting

automated knitting machines

automatic riveting


• Basic components of NC systems,


controller unit

machine tool

• Most suited to,

parts are processed frequently in small lot sizes

complex part geometry

close tolerances on workpart

many operations on part in processing

large amounts of metal to be removed

engineering design will possibly change

parts that are too expensive for mistakes

• The methods for developing NC programs include,

manual part programming

computer-assisted part programming

computer generated programs

• The manual and computer aided methods use various NC programming languages,

APT (Automatically Programmed Tools)

AUTOSPOT (Automatic System for Positioning Tools)

SPLIT (Sundstrand Processing Language Internally Translated)


ADAPT (ADaptation of APT)

EXAPT (Extended Subset of APT)


• These languages are used by a parts programmer to define the motion of the cutting tool.

• The languages may be preprocessed, and then used for a number of various control types, such as,

punched paper tape

Computer Numerical Control (CNC)

Direct Numerical Control (DNC)

• The automatic methods work with geometry created in a CAD program.

40.1.1 NC Tapes

• NC Programs are preprocessed on computers, and punched onto paper or mylar tapes.

• Simple NC machines can use a tape reader to direct the machine.

• Problems,

required storage, transportation, and manual loading of NC tapes

has to reread the tape for each new part

tapes tend to wear, and become dirty, thus causing misreadings

the readers are slow, and can cause ‘dwell marks’ on complex pieces

the mechanical parts in the readers reduced reliability

testing had to be done on the NC machine

no program editing abilities (increased lead time)

• The end of tapes was the result of two competing developments

DNC used remote computers to replace tape readers, these were displaced in most cases by CNC

CNC allowed the use of a local computer to overcome problems with tapes, and the problems with distant computers. While CNC was used to enhance tapes for a while, they eventually allowed the use of other storage media, and currently program transfer media are not required.

40.1.2 Computer Numerical Control (CNC)

• A computer controller is used to drive an NC machine directly.

• Characteristics are,

controls a single machine

located very close to machine tool

allows storage/retrieval/entry of NC programs without preprocessing of NC code

• Advantages of CNC,

program is only entered into memory once, so it is more reliable

the programs can be tested and altered at the machine

increased flexibility and control options on the local computer

easy to integrate into FMS systems

• The Background,

the problems with NC tapes were approached using DNC networks

the communication problems with DNC systems became obvious, and local computers were added to act as tape readers which would read tapes once, and play them back to the NC machine indefinitely

CNC controllers began using other storage media like magnetic tapes, and floppy disks

CNC now offers features like,

local programming,
communication over interfaces,
hard disk storage,
program simulation

• ASIDE: Direct Numerical Control is similar to CNC, except a remote computer is used to control a number of machines. This gives the advantage of more computer power. This approach is no longer popular, as the dropping cost of computers offsets any advantages.

• Some companies use proprietary NC Languages, such as the example of DYNA Mill NC code shown later

• These machines are often programmed by downloading NC code from a computer, or manually programming the controller computer.

• Future trends involve,

adaptive feed rates to increase speeds as the metal removal rate varies

tool wear detection

40.1.3 Direct/Distributed Numerical Control (DNC)

• Uses a few methods,

the oldest methods used modems, and a mainframe which emulated a tape reader, to control the NC machine (no storage)

a more recent advance used a local computer which acts as a storage buffer. Programs are downloaded from the main DNC computer, and then the local controller feeds instructions to the hardwired NC machine, as if they have been read from tape.

the newer methods use a central computer which communicates with local CNC computers (also called Direct Numerical Control)

• DNC controllers came before CNC machines, but as computer technology improved it became practical to place a computer beside the NC machine, and DNC changed in form.

• Characteristics of modern DNC systems are,

uses a server (with large storage capacity) to store a large number of part programs

the server will download part programs on demand to local machines

may have abilities to,

display and edit part programs
transmit operator instructions and other data needed at the machines
collect and process machine status information for management purposes

• Advantages are,

eliminates the need for NC tapes (the advantages are obvious)

design changes are immediate

CNC programs may be edited quickly

can be used to support an FMS system

increase efficiency of individual machine tools

more shop up-time than with stand alone machines

simplifies implementation of group technology, computer aided process planning, and other CIM concepts

reduces peripheral costs with NC tapes

• A Brief History,

Mid 60’s

concept proved by Cincinnati Milacron and G.E.

telephone links used to send instructions from large computers to hard wired NC machines. Basically replaced a tape reader.


several commercial DNC systems announced.

Mid 70’s

Aerospace companies used DNC because of the large number of distributed machines in their facilities.

• Initial resistance to DNC technology was (previously) based on,

high cost of computer hardware

the number of machines which could be controlled by one computer was limited

computer software was limited for maintenance, scheduling, control, and data collection

a backup computer was usually required

was hard to justify on the basis of downloading parts programs

• when downloading programs there are two popular opinions,

a program should only be downloaded in part, this accommodates easy engineering changes in a real-time environment.

many programs should be downloaded to the local controller to provide protection against system failure, and eliminating the cost of real-time response in the DNC central computer.

40.2 Examples of Equipment

• The number of NC machines available commercially is in the thousands

40.2.1 EMCO PC Turn 50

• This is a small desktop lathe capable of turning parts in metal.

• The basic physical specifications are,


• The basic sequence of operations for this machine are,

1. Unpack components.

2. Connect devices to power, air supply, and attach interface cables.

3. Install RS-485 card in PC.

4. Install software.

5. Test basic system (Done initial setup here).

6. Start and initialize lathe and PC with software.

7. Setup tools for new job. Find zero positions/offsets, and enter values for turret.

8. Load NC code.

9. Simulate program.

10. Load stock and close automatic chuck.

11. Close door.

12. Run program on Lathe.

13. Open door and open chuck.

14. If cutting a similar part go to step 8, if doing a new setup go to step 7.

40.2.2 Light Machines Corp. Prolight Mill

• This is a small desktop lathe capable of turning parts in metal.

• The basic physical specifications are,


• The basic sequence of operations for this machine are,

1. Unpack components.

2. Connect devices to power, air supply, and attach interface cables.

3. Install software.

4. Test basic system (Done initial setup here).

5. Start and initialize mill and PC with software.

6. Setup tool for new job. Find zero position/offset.

7. Load NC code.

8. Simulate program.

9. Run program on Mill.

10. If cutting a similar part go to step 7, if doing a new setup go to step 6.