The Difference Between Manual and CNC Lathes

The lathe is a truly time-honored tool, used for hundreds of years to produce parts for machines, furniture and many other items. As such a useful piece of equipment, it has benefitted from many modifications and advances to make lathes easier to use and able to make a larger range of items in less time. This process ultimately led to the development of CNC lathes, or “computer numerical control” lathes, which take advantage of computer control to make machining both faster and more precise.

If you own a manual lathe, or if you are thinking about buying your first lathe, you may not believe that a CNC lathe is worth investing in. Many people manage fine with manual lathes. But the advantages of a CNC lathe are worth looking into, and when you consider the options, you may discover that CNC machining is the smarter choice for you.

Production With Less Experience

There is a lot of benefit to learning how to run a manual lathe; you get an understanding of how the machine works and how to use it in the best ways. Some people also really enjoy working with a manual lathe, and that’s great. But it takes time and a lot of work to become an expert at using a lathe, and this can lead to wasted time and materials if your initial efforts don’t pan out. Also, the level of your skill can limit what you are able to make, which is a problem if you need a lathe to produce specific parts for a hobby or business.

A CNC lathe allows you to do complex machining with less experience because the computer controls the machine in order to make complicated cuts. If you want to work on your manual lathe skills, there’s nothing stopping you, but in the meantime, using a CNC lathe, you wouldn’t be limited to what you can do manually.

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Consistency and Accuracy

It takes a lot of skill to make several parts that are exactly the same using a manual lathe. In some instances, a slight bit of variation is acceptable and can even be part of the charm and allure of a handmade piece. But for other uses, exact copies are necessary, and it can be tough and time-consuming to create them by manual means. A CNC lathe eliminates this issue. The lathe follows the exact same instructions and follows the same cutting path each time for parts that are exactly the same.

CNC lathes also help when extreme accuracy is needed. While high accuracy is possible on a manual lathe with careful measuring and cutting, the process takes a long time and a lot of attention. A CNC lathe makes the process much easier, cutting highly accurate pieces faster than a manual operator can.

Production Costs

A CNC lathe may cost more than a manual lathe, which is a definite consideration. In addition to the lathe itself, you also need a suitable computer to run the software, which is an additional cost. If you spend more money up front, though, you may easily be able to recoup those costs – maybe more – by saving time on production runs. This is especially true if you need to create a large number of parts or if you make highly complex parts. Instead of being tied to the lathe for hours, you can design the parts you need and let the computer handle the controls, freeing up your time for other work. Increased accuracy can also mean less wasted materials because your parts will be created correctly the first time.

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A CNC lathe may feel like a big step up for many small shops, but it isn’t as large as it seems. The advantages of having CNC control available are considerable and well worth thinking about before you purchase a lathe.

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