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MACHINES TOOLS

A machine tool is a powered mechanical device, typically used to fabricate metal components of machines by machining, which is the selective removal of metal. The term machine tool is usually reserved for tools that used a power source other than human movement, but they can be powered by people if appropriately set up. Many historians of technology consider that the true machine tools were born when direct human involvement was removed from the shaping or stamping process of the different kinds of tools. The earliest lathe with direct mechanical control of the cutting tool was a screw-cutting lathe dating to about 1483.[1] This lathe "produced screw threads out of wood and employed a true compound slide rest".

Machines that a modern perspective might call machine tools have existed for millennia (for example, lathes and bow drills existed in ancient Egypt), but it was not until the later Middle Ages and the Age of Enlightenment that the modern concept of a machine tool—a class of machines used as tools in the making of other machines—began to evolve. Clock makers of the middle ages and renaissance men such as Leonardo da Vinci helped expand humans' technological milieu toward the preconditions for industrial machine tools. During the 18th and 19th centuries, and even in many cases in the 20th, the builders of machine tools tended to be the same people who would then use them to produce the end products (manufactured goods). However, from these roots also evolved an industry of machine tool builders as we define them today, meaning people who specialize in building machine tools for sale to others. The first machine tools offered for sale (i.e., commercially available) were constructed by Matthew Murray in England around 1800.[2] Others, such as Henry Maudslay, James Nasmyth, and Joseph Whitworth, soon followed the path of expanding their entrepreneurship from manufactured end products and millwright work into the realm of building machine tools for sale.

Machine tools can be powered from a variety of sources. Human and animal power are options, as is energy captured through the use of waterwheels. However, modern machine tools began to develop only after the development of the steam engine, which led to the Industrial Revolution. Today, most machine tools are powered by electricity.

Machine tools can be operated manually, or under automatic control. Early machines used flywheels to stabilize their motion and had complex systems of gears and levers to control the machine and the piece being worked on. Soon after World War II, the numerical control (NC) machine was developed. NC machines used a series of numbers punched on paper tape or punched cards to control their motion. In the 1960s, computers were added to give even more flexibility to the process. Such machines became known as computerized numerical control (CNC) machines. NC and CNC machines could precisely repeat sequences over and over, and could produce much more complex pieces than even the most skilled tool operators.

Before long, the machines could automatically change the specific cutting and shaping tools that were being used. For example, a drill machine might contain a magazine with a variety of drill bits for producing holes of various sizes. Previously, either machine operators would usually have to manually change the bit or move the work piece to another station to perform these different operations. The next logical step was to combine several different machine tools together, all under computer control. These are known as machining centers, and have dramatically changed the way parts are made.

From the simplest to the most complex, most machine tools are capable of at least partial self-replication, and produce machine parts as their primary function.

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