Although CNC machining (computer numerical control) is a blanket term covering several types of automation–routers, EDM, plasma, etc.–CNC turning and CNC milling are the two most popular CNC machines. Both machining processes are essential, and, it’s safe to say, they could handle most of the work in a typical machine shop.
As a rule of thumb, think of the CNC lathe for round parts and the milling machine for all the flat work at the risk of oversimplifying the two CNC machining services. As with all other rules, there are exceptions, and some of the capabilities overlap, but it’s a good starting point.
What is CNC Turning?
As mentioned earlier, CNC turning is a manufacturing process where a fixed cutting tool feeds into a metal bar held in a rotating chuck, removing material to produce the desired shape and size of the part. These cutting tools are mounted on a tool turret and programmed to move to the bar to begin the machining process. The raw material used in turning operations is typically a round bar, but it could also be other shapes.
On some CNC turning centers, a bar feeder moves the bar stock as each turned part is completed, while others have live tooling. This versatile feature allows for milling or adding radial or axial holes without removing the workpiece from the CNC lathe.
Some CNC turning centers have a single spindle, while others have two spindles, a main and sub-spindle. The part can be partially machined on the main spindle and moved to the sub-spindle for additional operations.
CNC lathes can be relatively straightforward, while others are highly complex to handle the most complicated work. A high price tag will always accompany the latter, and programming them can be a time-consuming challenge.
These large CNC turning centers are impractical for smaller shops and hobbyists. Fortunately, there are options for the “little guys” with all the features they will need to stay competitive and productive.
What are the Fundamental Differences Between CNC Turning and CNC Milling?
CNC turning machines have a rotating chuck or face plate where the workpiece is fastened. A fixed cutting tool moves into the rotating metal piece, removing material and creating a round part. In contrast, CNC milling involves a workpiece secured to a movable table. In this case, the cutting tool rotates and moves into the metal piece, removing material and creating a flat surface.
CNC turning and CNC milling also have many things in common. For example, they both deal in geometries, tolerances, surface finish, and CNC controls. Specific software controls the movements of the CNC mill and CNC lathe, and, as a result, they each require highly trained and skilled workers at some point in the machining process.
However, this article focuses on the CNC lathe machine, a remarkable machine tool that has changed the dynamics of high-production and high-volume turning operations. With that in mind, here’s a detailed look at the CNC turning center, how it works, and the advantages it can offer for almost any machine shop.
Why Choose CNC Turning Services?
Purchasing a CNC horizontal turning center sets up a machine shop for previously unavailable opportunities. For instance, you could take on rapid prototyping work and cut lead times to a fraction of what they were once. You could start competing on production runs for round machined parts and taper turning. Every operation imaginable, including threading, grooving, and knurling, will be completed efficiently on a CNC turning machine.
Although it takes a skilled worker to program and set up a CNC lathe, operating one is relatively simple. Companies can assign an entry-level worker to change parts while their experienced (and more highly paid) workers are engaged in tasks commensurate with their talents.
In addition to the X-axis, Y-axis, and Z-axis on the primary three-axis CNC turning center, some models feature up to 9-axis capabilities. Considering the worker shortage in the manufacturing industry, one skilled programmer can now instruct a CNC lathe to do numerous operations without removing the part. Machine shops could even turn to robotics to tend the machine.
What Parts Can You Produce on CNC Turning Machines?
As you can see, CNC turning operations produce cylindrical parts such as shafts, pipes, spheres, cones, and parts with inner and outer diameters. However, these versatile machines can also mill, bore, knurl, drill, and tap with live tooling. And with the support of a headstock and tailstock, you can make long shafts that are accurate and have an excellent surface finish.
The versatility of the CNC lathe machine makes it an ideal fit for industries such as aerospace, automotive, medical, electronics, and the military, producing a range of products, from large airplane engine parts to tiny surgical instruments.
However, most businesses are not involved in this level of manufacturing.
What if I Don’t Need the Sophistication of a Multi-Axis CNC Turning Center?
Most companies, self-employed machinists, and hobbyists do not need live tooling or the ability to drill radial holes. They are looking for a durable CNC lathe that allows them to take on previously impossible projects. They want the accuracy and repeatability of a CNC lathe, and they want to eliminate the mess of coolant splashing from a manual lathe.
CNC Masters manufactures two CNC lathes, the 1340 and 1440 models. Both machines allow companies to keep work in-house that they were formerly outsourcing to their competitors. They can expand their business to include production runs, prototyping, and various other CNC machining services.
Each machine tool allows a machine shop to switch to manual operations when it makes more sense for a short run while maintaining the advanced CNC capabilities for those high-production and complex jobs.
Our CNC lathes are built in California and backed by the CNC Masters One-Year Warranty, or you may extend it for two more years. We also offer unlimited “Life-Long” Tech Support, step-by-step troubleshooting, and a walk-through process by email or phone, Monday-Friday during regular business hours, Pacific time, for as long as your company owns the machine. Unlike costly servo systems, our machines are easy to repair, replace parts, and maintain!