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The revolutionary roots of CNC machining

In the modern days of woodworking, computer numerical control (CNC) is all the rage. Where before all machining work was roll-up-your-sleeves manual, with a digitally driven mill the most intricate processes can be automated.

The revolutionary roots of CNC machining

And with the latest technology, like artificial intelligence and robotization, the machines are getting smarter, faster, more precise, and increasingly versatile.

The development of CNC milling has come a long way. When it was still simply called numerical control, data was entered using perforated punched tape cards. They are still used in traditional European street organs.

The first true CNC machine was invented at MIT in the 1940s due to the need for automation, as punched cards were still being used to produce helicopter blades.

But the true origins can be traced all the way to the beginning of the 19th century with the invention of the Jacquard textile loom, which was able to weave the most intricate images using thousands of punched paper stacks, as well as Charles Babbage’s first mechanical computer.
And it may be surprising that Jacques Vaucanson, the inventor of some of the world’s most primitive robots, defined the working principles of the modern-day lathe a century earlier.

The true revolution came after the enabling technologies of the 1960s and 70s, namely mini-computers and microprocessors. A few decades later, most software is open-source, and g-code toolpath files are widely shared in online maker communities.

The future will likely see a true software revolution for accurate, accessible, and affordable digital manufacturing partners.

This infographic, from, offers a closer look at the development of this world-changing technology.


cnc infographic

To view or download the complete infographic click here.

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