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Various machine tools have been crafted through the centuries to address man's specific needs, but it was the invention of the clock in 1364 that created a need for higher precision machining methods. Clocks require accurately turned arbors, machine-cut gears, and screw threads. The concepts of precision and consistency in product quality thus pushed machine tool technology to the point that, by the seventeenth century, clock making was regarded as a particularly painstaking craft.

During the second half of the eighteenth century, the barriers between pure science and workshop technology were dissolving. Scientists began interacting more closely with mechanical engineers, spawning new ideas for improved machining techniques. The steam engine was born from this interaction, an invention that drastically increased the potential of the machine tool in the minds of the industrial leaders of the day. The industrial age was afoot. This period was greatly influenced by Henry Maudslay, who is known as the man responsible for the introduction of many of the early engineering machine tools.

Maudslay introduced the concept of precision to heavy machinery, which before that time had been only the concern of watch and scientific instrument makers. In the early 1800s he made the first screw-cutting lathe, a device that remains the standard even today. His second great contribution was the creation of a method of finishing a plane surface with a surface plate, marking compound, and hand scraper. Maudslay also constructed a micrometer in 1805 that enabled machinists to measure work to one tenthousandths of an inch. Maudslay's successors furthered his craft and assisted in the evolution of machine tools, thus encouraging the industrial revolution.

Today, metal cutting tools remain very similar to those used in the nineteenth century. The implementation of computers has increased the precision and time efficiency of the metal cutting tools, but the basic processes have not changed significantly. However, new metal cutting advances are gaining acceptance and applicability in industry, whereby metal is eroded by chemical discharges, electric discharges, water jets, and laser beams. These advances could again bring significant changes to the methods employed to cut metal to achieve a desired shape.

In the early 1990s, the industries placing the most orders with metal cutting machine tool manufacturers had limited orders due to large financial losses, as exhibited by the poor performance during that time of some American auto makers. Decreases in spending by farming and construction industries in the late 1980s and early 1990s were offset by the aerospace industry. However, this industry also suffered due to the financial instability of various airline companies, as well as military spending cutbacks. The condition of the industry was attributed to three factors: high sensitivity of the industry to the overall health of the economy; a lag time of a year between economic improvements and growth in machine tool shipments; and long-term decline in machine tool demand.



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