The definition of a machine tool, if you look in the dictionary, is a powered machine used for cutting or shaping or finishing metals or other materials. This actually applies to a wide variety of tools such as a broach, drill, gear shaper, hobbing machine, lathe, milling machine, shaper, and grinder.
Of course this definition doesn’t really describe the usefulness of these type of tools. So we’ll try to do just that in this article.
Most machine tools, also by definition, are tools that are tools that use a power source. In other words, not operated manually. But there are some tools that are considered machine tools that are operated by hand.
The first, what were considered machine tools, were actually made for the purpose of making other tools. These tools removed the human element from the process of stamping these tools by hand. Instead they were now stamped by machines.
The first lathe machine tools were invented in 1751 by Jacques de Vaucanson. He was the very first to mount the cutting instrument of the tool on a mechanically adjustable head. This took the tool out of the hands of the operator.
Machine tools can actually be powered by a number of sources. Aside from human and animal power, the energy for these tools can be captured from waterwheels and steam engines, in the early days, and finally electricity today. The Industrial Revolution had a huge impact on the progress made with machine tools.
Machine tools can be manually operated or automatically controlled. The very early machine tools used flywheels to stabilize their motion. They also had complex systems of gears and levers to control the machine and whatever piece it was that it was working on.
After World War II a new advanced machine was made called the numerical control machine. This machine used a series of numbers punched on paper tape or punch cards that controlled their motion.
In the 1960s, computers were then added to the function of making these machines work. These computers gave more flexibility to the process. These machines became known as computer numerical control machines and they could repeat the same set of instructions over and over similar to an assembly line. These machines could produce pieces that were much more complex than anything produced by even the most skilled tool operator.
It wasn’t long before these machines could automatically change the cutting and shaping tools that were being used in the process. To give an example, a drill machine might contain a magazine or cartridge with a number of drill bits. These bits could be used for producing holes of different sizes. Before it was automated, operators would have to manually change the bit in order to drill a different size hole. Today, we have the technology to create a machine that can alternate the drill bits by computer program control.
The truth is, without machine tools, many of the things that we are able to make today would be either tool difficult, too costly or simply impossible to make.