Swiss CNC Machining and Equipment Explained

Posted on Jun 18, 2021

Swiss CNC Machining

According to Robotic & Automation News, the CNC market is undergoing substantial growth, and is estimated to be worth $129 billion by the end of 2026. While a wide spectrum of CNC machinery contributes to this growth, Swiss CNC machining solutions are a major factor.

Swiss type machines have attracted a lot of attention in recent years. Manufacturers scramble to incorporate Swiss-type equipment and tools to obtain more efficiency and cut costs. As a process that is mainly used to fabricate very small and intricate parts, state-of-the-art Swiss machines are often paired with highly skilled machinists to get the job done. We’ll be covering how Swiss CNC machining works as well as the types of machinery used to carry out the process.

Understanding Swiss CNC Machining

Swiss CNC machining is a turning process performed by a dedicated Swiss-type lathe. It is a modern precision manufacturing machine that excels at producing small parts quickly and accurately. 

The Swiss machining process begins by feeding workpieces through a guide bushing, which firmly supports the piece as it is moved to the tooling area of the machine. Additionally, only the portion of the workpiece being machined is fed into the tooling area for the added stability and precision.

A CNC Swiss-type lathe works a bit differently from a traditional CNC lathe. In a traditional lathe, the workpiece is held and rotates in a fixed position, whereas a Swiss lathe allows the workpiece to move back and forth along the Z-axis during cutting. Furthermore, a traditional CNC lathe can normally only perform one operation at a time, but a CNC Swiss-type lathe can perform multiple operations simultaneously.

There are two main types of CNC Swiss Lathes: Automatic Swiss lathe and CNC Swiss lathe. They are often mistaken for interchangeable terms. We’ll discuss this in the following sections.  

Automatic Swiss Lathe

An automatic Swiss lathe features very close spindle collets, and mounts workpieces on a rotary slide. This greatly reduces deflection of debris. The automatic Swiss lathe has a disc cam which rotates the tools to the workpiece bay, where the workpiece is held in place by the spindle collets. The disc cams move the tools in a radial motion, while positioning the headstock longitudinal to the workpiece. 

→Read more : Swiss Turn Lathe vs. Conventional CNC Machines

CNC Swiss Lathe

A CNC Swiss lathe operates on the same principle as an automatic Swiss lathe, except that it is operated by a CNC (computer numerical control) controller. The added computer instructions allow more sets of tooling in the machine, which translate multitasking operations on the same workpiece in a short amount of time. 

What also differentiates a CNC Swiss lathe from an Automatic Swiss lathe is that it has superior precision. It can rotate a part with an accuracy of 0.0002 to 0.005 inches. In addition, a CNC Swiss lathe can include more tooling fixtures (e.g. twin spindles), while an automatic Swiss lathe is typically configured with a single spindle. 

The flexibility in tools installment enables a more effective and highly automated turning process. Once a part is finished with the primary operation, it gets transferred to the next station for the subsequent machining. Although an operator would still be responsible for overseeing the workflow, it greatly cuts the need for human intervention.

Figure 1. CNC Swiss Lathe, Star Micronics Co., Ltd.

Turret Screw Lathe

A turret screw lathe does not exactly fall under the Swiss category, but is in fact a close cousin to the CNC Swiss-type lathe that is often used interchangeably. Instead of the rotary slide, the turret screw lathe mounts the workpiece on a vertical ram. The machine rotates the turret to use different tooling to shape the workpiece. When the piece is finished, the machine moves the workpiece up to work on the next part.

Despite the distinct working principles, turret screw lathes provide the same benefits as Swiss-type machines. Swiss-type lathes however are better at producing high-precision parts. Another wonderful feature of a turret screw lathe is the possibility for a twin spindle configuration, one of which is not an actual spindle but works like one.

Figure 2. Turret-Type Swiss Lathe

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