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A machine tool is a machine for shaping or machining metal or other rigid materials, usually by cutting, boring, grinding, shearing, or other forms of deformation. With their inherent precision, machine tools enabled the economical production of interchangeable parts. Many historians of technology consider that true machine tools were born when the toolpath first became guided by the machine itself in some way, at least to some extent, so that direct, freehand human guidance of the toolpath (with hands, feet, or mouth) was no longer the only guidance used in the cutting or forming process.
First is the spindle concept itself, which constraints workpiece or tool movement to rotation around a fixed axis. Tracing, which involves following the contours of a model or template and transferring the resulting motion to the toolpath. Abstractly programmable toolpath guidance began with mechanical solutions, such as in musical box cams and Jacquard looms. When considering the difference between freehand toolpaths and machine-constrained toolpaths, the concepts of accuracy and precision, efficiency, and productivity become important in understanding why the machine-constrained option adds value. Forerunners of machine tools included bow drills and potter's wheels, which had existed in ancient Egypt prior to 2500 BC, and lathes, known to have existed in multiple regions of Europe since at least 1000 to 500 BC.[6] 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 metal parts, and incorporating machine-guided toolpath—began to evolve.
Historians of machine tools often focus on a handful of major industries that most spurred machine tool development.
Machine tools filled a need created by textile machinery during the Industrial Revolution in England in the middle to late 1700s.[8] Until that time machinery was made mostly from wood, often including gearing and shafts. The advance in the accuracy of machine tools can be traced to Henry Maudslay and refined by Joseph Whitworth.
Important early machine tools included the slide rest lathe, screw-cutting lathe, turret lathe, milling machine, pattern tracing lathe, shaper, and metal planer, which were all in use before 1840.[11] With these machine tools the decades-old objective of producing interchangeable parts was finally realized.
American production of machine tools was a critical factor in the Allies' victory in World War II. The production of machine tools is concentrated in about 10 countries worldwide: China, Japan, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Taiwan, Switzerland, USA, Austria, Spain and a few others.
Today most machine tools are powered by electricity; however, hydraulic and pneumatic power are sometimes used, but this is uncommon. Before long, the machines could automatically change the specific cutting and shaping tools that were being used.
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.


While all machine tools are "machines that help people to make things", not all factory machines are machine tools. In this view of the definition, the term, arising at a time when all tools up till then had been hand tools, simply provided a label for "tools that were machines instead of hand tools". This ancient concept predates machine tools per se; the earliest lathes and potter's wheels incorporated it for the workpiece, but the movement of the tool itself on these machines was entirely freehand.
For example, several cams, no one of which directly matches the desired output shape, can actuate a complex toolpath by creating component vectors that add up to a net toolpath. The convergence of programmable mechanical control with machine tool toolpath control was delayed many decades, in part because the programmable control methods of musical boxes and looms lacked the rigidity for machine tool toolpaths. After all, humans are generally quite talented in their freehand movements; the drawings, paintings, and sculptures of artists such as Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci, and of countless other talented people, show that human freehand toolpath has great potential. The many more recently developed processes labeled "machining", such as electrical discharge machining, electrochemical machining, electron beam machining, photochemical machining, and ultrasonic machining, or even plasma cutting and water jet cutting, are often performed by machines that could most logically be called machine tools. Many speakers resist using the term "machine tool" to refer to woodworking machinery (joiners, table saws, routing stations, and so on), but it is difficult to maintain any true logical dividing line, and therefore many speakers are fine with a broad definition. Clockmakers of the Middle Ages and renaissance men such as Leonardo da Vinci helped expand humans' technological milieu toward the preconditions for industrial machine tools. Machine tool innovation continues in several public and private research centers worldwide. Later republished under the title From Industry to Alchemy: Burgmaster, a Machine Tool Company.
All machine tools have some means of constraining the workpiece and provide a guided movement of the parts of the machine. Later, electromechanical solutions (such as servos) and soon electronic solutions (including computers) were added, leading to numerical control and computer numerical control. The value that machine tools added to these human talents is in the areas of rigidity (constraining the toolpath despite thousands of newtons (pounds) of force fighting against the constraint), accuracy and precision, efficiency, and productivity. In addition, some of the newly developed additive manufacturing processes, which are not about cutting away material but rather about adding it, are done by machines that are likely to end up labeled, in some cases, as 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). Before about the beginning of the 19th century, these were used in pairs, and even screws of the same machine were generally not interchangeable.[12] Methods were developed to cut screw thread to a greater precision than that of the feed screw in the lathe being used. The Moore family firm, the Moore Special Tool Company, independently invented the jig borer (contemporaneously with its Swiss invention), and Moore's monograph is a seminal classic of the principles of machine tool design and construction that yield the highest possible accuracy and precision in machine tools (second only to that of metrological machines).


Thus the relative movement between the workpiece and the cutting tool (which is called the toolpath) is controlled or constrained by the machine to at least some extent, rather than being entirely "offhand" or "freehand". With a machine tool, toolpaths that no human muscle could constrain can be constrained; and toolpaths that are technically possible with freehand methods, but would require tremendous time and skill to execute, can instead be executed quickly and easily, even by people with little freehand talent (because the machine takes care of it).
Usually the mass noun "machinery" encompasses them, but sometimes it is used to imply only those machines that are being excluded from the definition of "machine tool".
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 next logical step was to combine several different machine tools together, all under computer control. The latter aspect of machine tools is often referred to by historians of technology as "building the skill into the tool", in contrast to the toolpath-constraining skill being in the person who wields the tool. For example, this is the breadth of definition used by Max Holland in his history of Burgmaster and Houdaille,[3] which is also a history of the machine tool industry in general from the 1940s through the 1980s; he was reflecting the sense of the term used by Houdaille itself and other firms in the industry. This is why the machines in a food-processing plant, such as conveyors, mixers, vessels, dividers, and so on, may be labeled "machinery", while the machines in the factory's tool and die department are instead called "machine tools" in contradistinction.
As an example, it is physically possible to make interchangeable screws, bolts, and nuts entirely with freehand toolpaths. Many reports on machine tool export and import and similar economic topics use this broader definition. As for the 1930s NBER definition quoted above, one could argue that its specificity to metal is obsolete, as it is quite common today for particular lathes, milling machines, and machining centers (definitely machine tools) to work exclusively on plastic cutting jobs throughout their whole working lifespan. Thus the NBER definition above could be expanded to say "which employs a tool to work on metal or other materials of high hardness".
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.
And its specificity to "operating by other than hand power" is also problematic, as machine tools can be powered by people if appropriately set up, such as with a treadle (for a lathe) or a hand lever (for a shaper).
Hand-powered shapers are clearly "the 'same thing' as shapers with electric motors except smaller", and it is trivial to power a micro lathe with a hand-cranked belt pulley instead of an electric motor. Thus one can question whether power source is truly a key distinguishing concept; but for economics purposes, the NBER's definition made sense, because most of the commercial value of the existence of machine tools comes about via those that are powered by electricity, hydraulics, and so on.



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