Let’s Talk About HMCs (Horizontal Machining Centers)

Posted on Sep 29, 2020

HMCs-Horizontal Machining Centers

The term CNC machining centers encompasses a wide range of machine tools including vertical machining centers (VMC), horizontal machining centers (HMC) as well as 4th and 5th axis machines. In this article we will focus on HMC machines is and lay out its benefits and applications.

What Is an HMC Machine?

An HMC (Horizontal Machining Center) is a type of machining center with its spindle in a horizontal orientation, in other words parallel to the ground, hence the name “horizontal machining center”. During horizontal machining rotary cutters that stick out of the side of the tool holder cut across the side of a workpiece, removing metal and shaping the component. HMC machines are usually the number one choice for mass-produced metal products in industrial applications. They differ in size and style and come with NC or CNC capabilities.

HMC machines are suitable for continuous machining operations as the horizontal design results in a cleaner table with less chips cluttering the work area. What’s even more important is that the design allows for more space to work with. Therefore HMC machines can incorporate two- or multi-pallet changers to increase productivity and efficiency. The HMC can then continue machining while the next workpiece is being loaded onto the other pallet(s). Many configurations are possible on a horizontal machining center including robotic arm loading and unloading and secondary operations integration. These types of machine tools feature high dynamics, rapid tool change and superior precision.

Read More: Horizontal Milling Machines Basics


The History of HMC Machines

With the advent of CNC controlled machine tools in the 1970s and 80s most models were vertical machines as CNC technology was well suited to work with this type of design. HMC machines followed shortly after, evolving from horizontal boring machines, but as their price was generally higher, Vertical machines remained the more popular type of machining centers. Many businesses and machine shops hesitated whether or not switch to HMCs, today however, Horizontal machining centers are seen as a generally all-purpose machine with a huge return. While there are HMCs with expansive capabilities that therefore come with a huge price tag, the average price has decreased enough for them to become far more popular than in the past. Many shop owners opt for an HMC as it improves productivity, accuracy, and efficiency on their shop floors.


Advantages of Horizontal Machining Centers (HMC Machines)

There are many advantages to having a horizontal machining center in your shop. Let us talk about some of the most striking features and characteristics of horizontal machining centers.

Generally speaking, CNC Horizontal machining centers are much better suited for workpieces that need to be machined on multiple sides. HMCs are normally designed with two integrated pallets, to which fixtures are attached. This not only allows access to the front and sides of a workpiece, but also allows the operator to stage a part in the setup station. Horizontal machines give you the ability to machine with high accuracy as they significantly reduce the risk of human error simply by automating and limiting the set-up process.

In addition, HMC machines will provide you with a huge productivity boost. You can have eight setups in one operation on a horizontal machining center—a 4-sided workpiece on one pallet and another 4-sided workpiece on another pallet.  That is because HMCs have pallets with a large, square metal column that is usally referred to as a tombstone. Vises or custom fixtures are bolted to each side of this block and workpieces are attached to it. At the very least, an HMC with a tombstone loaded up densely with parts can be loaded up and run unattended for significant periods of time

HMC Machines also grant you a lot of manufacturing flexibility. You can load one group of parts onto the four sides of one tombstone and accomplish producing complete sets with every machine cycle. But conversely you can also just use two sides for one component that needs to be manufactured while using the other two to clamp up totally different parts for another machining job you need to get done.  This is especially hassle free with a HMC as they usually include a very large tool magazine (40, 60 or even over a hundred different tools). With the right program and setup HMC machines are possibly the most flexible machine tool out there.


Should You Consider a HMC Over a VMC or Other Machine Tools?

Sorry to say, but there is no clear-cut answer to this question. As always, it depends entirely on your individual machining requirements, applications and also your budget. There are different aspects to consider about each type of machine. Even though we cannot directly answer whether or not you should go for a HMC CNC machine, below are a few questions that you should ask yourself before making a decision.

  • Do you need to perform multiple operations to manufacture your parts?
  • Do you plan to perform high-volume machining operations?
  • Do your parts or components have compounded/complex angles?
  • How important is top-notch accuracy for your business?
  • Is a reduced cycle time a key priority for you?
  • How important is an automated manufacturing process for you?

If you can answer most of the questions above with a ‘yes’ then you should look into what the market has to offer in terms of HMC machines that fit into your budget. Overall, the return of investment on a horizontal machining center versus a vertical one is hard to beat. You can find a lot of HMC machine manufacturers in our product section here.


Horizontal Machining Centers on IMTS-Exhibition.com

You can find a wide range of Horizontal Machining Center manufacturers on our site. Just head to our HMC machine section or check out our search function to find hundreds of CNC machines in our product database.  If you want to know more about HMC machines and their applications make sure to check out our other blog entries.

If you are interested in even more detailed manufacturing-related content make sure to check out our MTS Industry Channel. In this show, we introduce new products and trends while visiting manufacturers in their facilities!

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