Illustration for article titled Ode To The Delicate Dance Of The Five-Axis CNC Machine

Often talking of horsepower and 0-to-60 times, we forget the machines like the five-axis CNC mill machine that make it all possible. Watching one mill a concept car from scratch should help us pay homage.


We often talk about horsepower, 0-to-60 times and the graceful curve of a hood. It's time now to pay homage to what makes it all possible, the five-axis body mill.

The first numerical controlled (NC) machines were built in the 1940s and 50s and based on existing tools modified with motors that moved the controls to follow points fed into the system on paper tape. These early servomechanisms were rapidly augmented with analog and digital computers, creating modern computer numerical controlled (CNC) machine tools that have revolutionized the design process.


In the last decade, CNC has evolved into a magnificent confluence of speed and accuracy. Used to be (in the 90s) if you wanted a surface with complex curves, you had to model it in clay, scan it into a server and assign approximate mathematics, which would then be transferred to approximate soft tools and then eventually approximate hard tools.

Nowadays, you model a piece in I-DEAS or Catia, export it to MasterCAM, which automatically builds a three-dimensional cut path, which is uploaded to the five axis CNC and in a matter of minutes or hours you have a mathematically accurate 3D representation of whatever you just imagined at a workstation. And that's just the tiny stuff. We're not even talking about stereolithography via UV-cured immersed resin baths or printed infrared polymer powder. We've come a long way baby.

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