There are many industrial uses for a common lathe, and CNC lathe machines are now rapidly replacing some of the older production lathes because they are much more efficient, and can be set up and operated much more easily. You can use lathes, in general, for thermal spraying, metal spinning, woodturning, metalworking, glass working, and for reclaiming parts.
The CNC part of its name stands for computer numerical control, and that means it’s a machine that is controlled by a sophisticated computer system. Manufacturers need to operate CNC lathes according to precise design instructions and specifications, these are pre-programmed before an operation begins. A CNC lathe machine will hold the material or part in place and rotate it by a primary spindle, while the cutting tool operates on the mounted material, which moves through various axes.
The simplest CNC lathe will operate on two axes with a fixed-position cutting tool, and the rotation part of this operation is known as turning. In fact, some CNC lathes are referred to as CNC turning machines. A great many different structures can be machined using this tool, depending on whatever the needs are for different industries. They have common uses in industries such as electronics, steel and paper mills, medical, aerospace, oil and gas, automotive, and shipbuilding.
Types of CNC Lathe Machines
The classification of CNC lathes follows the number of axes they have, and the more axes that a lathe has, the more complex parts it will be capable of producing without any kind of switching. The axes themselves determine how a machine part can be positioned, rotated, and turned during the process. Here are the most common types of CNC lathes:
- two-axis lathe– this is a fairly basic machine that has two linear axes that operate on the inner and outer diameters. It has an X and Y axis and is not capable of milling, but is fine for basic cylindrical machining and facing operations.
- three-axis lathe– in addition to the X and Y axis, this lathe also has a C axis and a life tool system. This allows to put on any part to perform standard milling operations such as tapping and boring.
- four-axis lathe– in addition to the other three axes, a four-axis lathe also has a Y-axis to allow for off-center machining operations. This fourth axis accommodates more complex and irregular operations.
- five-axis lathe– a five-axis lathe will have a second turret added to a standard three-axis lathe. This machine is capable of doing work that requires two axes at both upper and lower turrets, in addition to the rotating spindle’s C axis. Because there can be two tools operating on the same part simultaneously, it drastically increases operation speed.
- six-axis lathe– anything that has more than five axes is quite a complication, having multiple spindles and multiple turrets. There are actually some CNC lathes that have as many as eight axes, but manufacturers tend to use these for specialized complex requirements instead of ordinary industrial purposes.
How to Use CNC lathes
A CNC lathe machine will work on slowly shearing away excess material on the part, leaving a precision finished product. The versatility of these machines is such that a great many industries have many uses for them, and routinely order the production of highly specialized parts.
CNC lathe has the capability of producing plane surfaces, screw threads, and three-dimensional products of varying complexity, and these can machine either small or very large parts to a high state of accuracy.
Manufacturers generally hold the workpiece firmly in place, either by colletts or clamps, or by two centers. Some of the items CNC lathes produce include legs for tables and chairs, musical instruments, cue sticks, signboards, crankshafts, camshafts, and baseball bats.
You must always treat them with great care, given the fact that a CNC machine is a precision instrument. Manufacturers control the process itself by computers, but the operator of the machine must still understand the computer programming parameters, as well as all safety procedures they must use in conjunction with the lathe.
Since the precision of the finished parts is a standard requirement, it takes a skilled professional to operate the machine reliably and consistently. Of course, you can make the entire operation much easier because of the automated factor, and this consists of carrying out a number of complex commands at a controlled speed by the internal computer.
However, it is still entirely necessary for a human operator to manage the entire process in order to make sure they get the right end results. It will generally take considerable training to prepare a human operator for the necessary supervision of a CNC lathe.
Choosing the right CNC Lathe Machine
There are quite a few factors to consider when you’re trying to choose the right CNC lathe. For instance, you’ll need to decide on the number of clamps needed to hold workpieces firmly in place, and you’ll also need to know what the tolerance level needs to be for your CNC lathe machine. Another significant factor when you’re choosing a CNC lathe is its weight. A really heavy lathe will be capable of surviving all the powerful vibrations and other machine operations which can have an impact on the precision and effectiveness of the CNC lathe.
A lightweight machine on the other hand can quickly become out of balance, and that may have an impact on the precision of the final product. Swing measurement is a consideration that involves the maximum diameter that any material can have to machine it effectively and precisely. You can measure the swing measurement by checking the distance from the bed of the lathe over to the spindle center. If you know the swing measurement needed for a specific operation, it will help greatly in choosing the right CNC lathe.