Photo of Frank L. Stulen

Frank L. Stulen

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Manufacturing

For their development and successful demonstration of the numerically-controlled machine tool for the production of three-dimensional shapes, which has been essential for the production of commercial airliners and which is seminal for the growth of the robotics, CAD-CAM, and automated manufacturing industries.

Frank L. Stulen graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University, with a degree in aeronautical engineering. After serving in the Army Corps of Engineers, he and his wife Dorothy moved to Traverse City, where he took a position with Parsons Corporation as Vice President of Engineering designing helicopter rotor blades.

As chief engineer, Stulen along with his employer John Parsons, envisioned a new concept of manufacturing — metalworking using numerical control– the precursor of today’s computer aided manufacturing. Together, they were the first to use computer methods to solve machining problems, specifically, the curves of helicopter rotor blades. While Parsons had many of the original ideas, Stulen is credited with turning the ideas into working machines.

Their invention of computer controlled machinery led to the development of Computer Numerical Control (CNC), which controls the automation of machine tools and tool processes. This technology continues to advance and build off of Stulen’s original design.

By Jennifer Santisi