Large Machining in Our World: What Would You Do Without It?

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Published: 07th November 2012
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Many popular movies and books from both the present and the past have a very similar theme revolving around what the world might look like if certain parts of our lives didn’t exist. What would the world be like without the printing press? Or what would the world be like if the internet stopped working? These are things you actively benefit from every day. However, imagine for a moment how different the world would be if some of the things you take for granted didn’t exist, like large metal fabrication.

Unless you live in a handmade cabin on a remote plot of land somewhere in Alaska, and you arrived there by way of a boat you constructed yourself with all man-made tools, parts, and components – you benefit from large machining and fabrication every single day. When you drive to work in the morning or take public transportation – not only was the vehicle machined with modern tools, but so was the equipment used to pave and maintain the road.

In every facet of manufacturing and production, machining covers a wide variety of operations that effectively shape and mold materials into the products and components we rely on today like cars, appliances, and more.

One of the most common (and oldest) machining techniques is drilling. As you’re probably well aware, drilling is used to create a round hole and incorporates a cutting tool with either two or four cutting edges. However, drilling in the machining world is far more than drilling a hole to hang up curtains. Industrial drilling often involves cutting holes of all sizes into virtually any material.

Apart from drilling, other common machining techniques include processes like turning, boring, and milling. Milling is a conceptually simple process with a number of modern innovations that have made the process more and more effective for ultra-precise machining tasks. The basic process simply involves a rotating tool with multiple cutting edges to slowly generate a straight surface. Turning, on the other hand, uses a single cutting edge to remove material from a rotating piece, producing a typically cylindrical shape. Boring, on the other hand, is a process that usually takes place after other machining processes and is typically regarded as a “finishing” operation. Boring takes a hole that has already been drilled, and by using a cutting tool with a single point, is used to precisely enlarge the hole to produce a very specific diameter.

While these processes have existed for many years, some of them dating back to ancient civilizations, what hasn’t been around that long is computer numerical machining (CNC) or computer aided design (CAD). Before computers, “machine tools” had to be operated manually, which increased the time required to manufacture goods and made the whole process much less efficient. In the modern age, systems were developed based on the technology used to make music boxes function. However, instead of making music, that technology was used to automate the movement of machines, which would one day become CNC. Following CNC was CAD.

In the 1960’s, early developments were made to take advantage of computers when it came to designing aircraft and automotive parts. Eventually, this lead to sophisticated computer aided design programs that allowed machinists to achieve dramatic increases in part quality and precision. Whether you look at a car, a computer, or virtually anything with intricately machined metal components – they’ve all been impacted by CAD, and they’ve all been shaped by modern machining techniques. Without these technologies, how do you think your world would be different? Cars wouldn’t operate or perform in the way we expect them to. Building would take longer. Precision and finely tuned components would be extremely rare. Even the fancy telephones and mobile devices used around the world would hardly be possible without the machines that managed to manufacture their tiny components.

When you think of it, you can clearly see the major difference machining makes in your world. So next time you take your phone or your car for granted – think about how far we’ve come and wonder how else the world might be different without such monumental technologies like machining and fabrication.

About the Author
Ty Shaughnessy is an amateur historian who likes to focus on the history behind many of the industrial processes that we take advantage of today. Most recently he has focused on large machining and how it impacts our daily lives.

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