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The Birth of Modern Machining and it’s Impact on Johnston Industrial Supply

Johnston Industrial Supply was founded in October of 1968 by George and Patty Johnston.  That same year, John T. Parsons was the first recipient of the Numerical Control Society’s Joseph Marie Jacquard Award, for outstanding technical contributions.  Parsons is known as the “Father of the Numerical Control Machine.”  The invention of the NC machine sparked the second industrial revolution as well as the growth of Johnston.

The Birth of CNC Machines

Before the modern CNC, was the NC machine, numerical control which was controlled by punched tape instead of a computer.  CNCs, computerized numerical control, are programmed using g-code, a computer code developed in the 1960s, to carry out a variety of machining processes such as drilling, milling, facing, and turning.

In 1927, at age 14, Parsons’ began his manufacturing career at his father’s business located in Detroit, Michigan.  Unfortunately, Parsons’ was unable to serve in the military during World War II.  However, he supported the war efforts by manufacturing landmines and eventually became involved in the aerospace industry building R-5 Sikorsky rotor blade spars.  Parsons began to think there had to be a better way to design and manufacture the precision needed for the rotor blade spars.  To solve this problem, he enlisted the help of Frank Stulen, an engineer, who he met at Wright Field.  Learn more about the early NC machine from this excerpt from an article written in the August 1996 edition of American Machinist Magazine.  

Hisory of CNC machine; American Machinist; August 1996

A brief summary of the August 1996 issue of American Machinist

On January 14, 1958, Patent No. 2,821,187 for Motor Controlled Apparatus for Positioning Machine Tool (later renamed numerical control) was issued.  The patent listed the inventors as John T. Parsons and Frank Stulen.

NC Machine; machining; MIT

The first NC machine was demonstrated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1952

Adoption of the first commercial NC machines was slow so to promote adoption the US Army bought 120 machines and loaned them to various manufacturers.  By the 1970s, CNC machines began to replace older technologies such as hydraulic tracers and manual machining; today it is possible for hobbyists to build their own CNCs.

Advantages of Modern Machining

CNCs made manufacturing more efficient, but hand machining is often done for one-offs, repairs, and prototyping.  Below are a few advantages of using NCs and CNCs machines.

  • Increasing productivity on the plant floor since parts production was now more rapid and accurate.
  • Making manufacturing changes quickly since a CNC programmer can quickly modify a part program.
  • Reducing the changeover time from one part to the next which made short production runs more practical to manufacturers.  Beforehand, companies used several pieces of equipment making small production batches impractical or impossible.
  • Finished products become more affordable, to the public, since manufacturers can produce their goods at a lower cost.

Thank you, John T. Parsons and Frank Stulen, for your contributions to manufacturing.  You have helped Johnston and other companies grow and prosper!