Today, Computerised Numeric Controlled or CNC machine tools are ubiquitous in the industrial sector.
Workhorses of the manufacturing sector, Computerised Numerical Controlled (CNC) Machine Tools form the backbone of factories and production lines.
Armed with smart software systems and automated processes, they help to significantly improve the productivity of factory shop-floors around the world.
With increasing sophistication over the decades, they have greatly reduced the traditionally tedious and backbreaking work of manufacturing multiple components and parts. New technologies and higher degrees of precision and automation have also allowed increasingly sophisticated equipment and components to be manufactured with greater ease.
But how did these machine tools first begin? For that, let us take a walk down memory lane.
The History of CNC Machine Tools
Do you know that machine tools like lathes and milling machines were in use as early as the 19th century?
Back then, all processes were manually done. Machine tool operators used various knobs, gauges and dials to operate their machines.
Traditionally, flywheels were used to stabilise the motions of machines. These relied on inter-connecting systems of gears and levers to manoeuvre the metal pieces that were worked on.
Such work was laborious and accident prone. Machine operators had to manually changed the cutting or drill bits. They also had to shift metal pieces from stations to stations to perform different machining operations.
After the Second World War, Numerical Control or NC machines were developed. Unlike manual machine tools, these relied on a series of numbers punched on paper tape or punched cards to control their motions.
This helped to save labour and effort in machining, while improving accuracy. It also reduced the complexity of the machining process for operators, doing away with controls such as hand wheels, levers, or pattern guides.
When computers came into the picture in the late 1960s, Computerized Numerical Control or CNC machines were invented. These significantly improved the flexibility, stability, accuracy and productivity of machining processes.
CNC machines could repeatedly process certain cutting, milling, drilling and boring operations over and over. This allowed them to improve the throughput of factories, and empowered them to manufacture more complex pieces in a single operation.
Often, CNC machines could produce far more complex pieces than even the most skilled tool operators – some could automatically change the specific cutting and shaping tools used.
Eventually, several CNC machine tools were combined to form what are known today as machining centers. These combine multiple functions, and are automated by both software and hardware.
Machining centers automated production lines and factories around the world, improving operator productivity by leaps and bounds.
Enter Specialised Machine Tool Makers
Prior to the birth of specialised machine tool makers, manufacturers of high-end products had to design and make their own machines. These were largely manual machines, and were painstaking to operate and maintain.
They also forced manufacturers to acquire a wide-range of engineering skill-sets and competencies, outside of their areas of strength in product design and development.
Back then, high-end automated or semi-automated milling, turning or engraving machines were unavailable, except those that had to be manually operated.
Things improved significantly when specialised machine tool companies came into the picture.
The first within the South Korean industrial sector, Hwacheon’s establishment in the 1950s provided a new way forward for manufacturers in the region. By developing its own machines and technologies, Hwacheon catalysed the growth of South Korean manufacturers over the decades.
Innovations in Machine Tool Research & Development
Focused on the unique needs of industry, CNC Machine Tool makers evolved over the past decades to meet the needs of a wide range of manufacturers. They include state-of-the-art sectors like part manufacturing and mold making, aerospace, automotive and biomedical industries, to heavy industries like oil drilling and ship building.
The demands for new manufacturing solutions then and now are never ending. They include faster speeds, higher quality, and new (and tougher) materials like Inconel, Titanium, and special Stainless Steel.
Shifts from Mass Production to “High Mix – Low Volume” manufacturing practices further require flexible just-in-time manufacturing solutions.
Machines need to be set up and operational in a much shorter time to meet new production demands, reducing down time or non-productive time.
Keeping abreast of our manufacturing client’s needs for ever improved quality, design and technology, Hwacheon continually invests in R&D to create robust, solid and mechanically accurate machines for their use.
Because we’re close to our customers, we learn what improvements they need, recognise their existing manufacturing challenges, and adapt our products to their needs.
To do so, Hwacheon’s Magok Research Center performs demonstrations of actual machining processes. By doing so, we can develop, verify and provide precise solutions for the new generation of manufacturers.
Six Essential Parts of a CNC Machine Tool
With the above considerations in mind, let us now look at the six most important parts and processes in a CNC Machine Tool.
Casting is an important element of CNC machine tool, determining the basic stability and rigidity of every machine tool. This hinges on the foundry used to cast the metallic and non-metallic parts needed for the machine, and the quality control used to ensure purity of the materials used.
Here, Hwacheon uses the highest quality raw materials. Our very own foundry produces casting materials with exceptional quality. These are used to manufacture our own machine tools, as well as other machines and equipment. Still operating after 78 years of history, our foundry produces key-components for our own machine tools (milling & turning).
We also supply components to reputable companies around the world. They include robot arms and bodies, parts for alternative power generation (windmills), train parts, solar equipment and many more.
#2 Chucks & Gears
In a machine tool, gears, chucks and curvic couplings are crucial components which ensure smooth movement and articulation between different moving parts.
To ensure that our machines meet exacting quality standards, Hwacheon produces and supplies our own high-quality gears, chucks and curvic couplings, utilizing machine tool manufacturing technologies accumulated over a long period.
#3 Sheet Metal
To fabricate sheet metal, drawings including precise measurements are needed. This is then followed by materials preparation, cutting, machining, and finally the installation and assembly of the machine tools themselves.
Hwacheon’s sheet metal manufacturing capabilities allow us to fabricate items like coolant tanks, CNC control boxes, and electronic switch cabinets, as well as various splash guard parts. We also design our own laser cutting machines and use them successfully in our own production. Beyond that, we worked with reputable manufacturers to ensure that our bending machines yield the top quality.
#4 Hand Scraping Skill
Hand Scraping is an essential skill in machine tool making. High quality machines normally employ hand scraping to ensure that machining surfaces can perfectly absorb vibrations, control the smallest movements, and maintain stability and accuracy despite strong heavy cutting or precision machining tasks.
Hwacheon has cultivated manual scraping skill that only its experienced masters can perform. Our hand scraping skill allows our machines to perform the highly precise and heavy-duty machining needs of our clients – even at extremely high speeds.
The performance of a CNC machine greatly depends on the performance of its spindle and the technology used in manufacturing this critical component. With over 66 years of experience as a leading machine tool manufacturer, Hwacheon has stayed at the forefront of spindle technology.
Our manufacturing excellence, combined with our high capability in precision assembly helps us to develop spindles that have ultra-precise tolerances. Using state-of-the-art inspection equipment and special bearing lubrication systems, our machines can withstand long lasting temperature-controlled operations even over very long cycle times.
#6 Machinery software
Forming the ‘brains’ of a CNC machine tool, the machining software helps to automate the different manufacturing steps and processes. They help to introduce many time-saving features to the machining process, and reduce the need for frequent human intervention.
Hwacheon’s own developed machining software is standard on all machining centres to improve machining quality, productivity and to control dynamic and temperature variations.
Look Out For Part 2 Of The Story…
Thanks for following us on the journey of a CNC Machine Tool.
In this article, we traced the history of machine tools, explored developments in innovation and R&D, and highlighted six key elements in a machine tool manufacturer.
For part 2 of this article, we will be looking at the following steps:
- How Components from Suppliers are Integrated
- Assembly of Machines
- Quality Control and Testing
- Packing, Documentation and Shipping
- Delivery, Installation and Commissioning of a Machine
Don’t miss out our next article!