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Posted on Sep 14, 2020
VMC milling machines or vertical machining centers with advanced features and functions are gaining ground as more productive members of the workshop CNC equipment arsenal. VMC milling machines today challenge the notion that they must be shipped to some rarely visited dark corner of the store or restricted to secondary processing. VMCs have traditionally been less expensive than horizontal machining centers, but with no manufacturing capacity.
VMC milling machines in the modern days refer to the highly advanced CNC machine tools that are used primarily to manufacture high-precision mechanical parts and components in automotive, aerospace, and medical industries, just to name a few. The term VMC is an acronym that stands for vertical milling center or vertical machining center. In the past, VMCs are simply known as the machining centers that have the vertically oriented machining spindle. Today, when people talk about VMC milling machines, it is usually the vertical CNC machining centers that they refer to. In the following section, we will address more on the basic construction of a VMC.
The main tasks of a VMC milling machine are to create holes, pockets, or slots in a workpiece. These operations are achieved by a rotary cutter, usually a mill or a drill bit. By creating the cavities into a workpiece, it can later be assembled with other parts or for other following processes. The way a VMC carries out such works is quite simple. The hole or slot is cut by advancing the rotary mill cutter toward the surface of the stationary workpiece. The mill cutter with cutting edges rotates at high speeds. As it contacts the workpiece, the cutting edges remove materials from the workpiece as a result.
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The basic construction of a modern VMC is not much different from a traditional vertical milling machine. The two primary parts of a VMC are the machining spindle and the machine table. As previously mentioned, the main machining spindle is vertically oriented and positioned above the machine table. The milling bit is mounted onto the spindle for machining works. The machine table lies at the base of the machine and it is where the workpieces are clamped. The table has a 3-axis motion capability. It moves in three directions so that the mill can work on the entire surface of a workpiece.
A workpiece is placed and held in place on the machine table. In order to secure the workpiece, a work-holding system is employed. Based on the application or the specification of the workpiece, the work-holding system can be a vise, a jaw chuck, or a magnetic chuck. Once the workpiece is clamped, the table moves in three directions so that the mill can work in the required area. The three-direction motion is also called 3-axis machine motion. The X-axis moves the table from left to right, the Y-axis moves the table from back to front, and the Z-axis moves the table from bottom to top.
There are several accessories a VMC tends to work with to carry out some machining operations. A tilting table or a rotary table is an example. Either a tilting table or a rotary table aims at providing an additional machining axis to the machine. A tilting table allows the VMC to cut the sides of a workpiece at angles a traditional milling machine isn’t able to reach. On the other hand, a rotary table helps the mill to cut holes or pockets in the desired pattern. Some rotary tables even have a tiltable surface, which allows the table to offer an additional rotating machining axis as well as a tilting axis to the machine at the same time. With these accessories, a vertical milling machine is capable of taking on more types of operations.
A conventional vertical milling machine is not granted with much motion capability as the machine table is. Typically, the spindle only moves upward and downward along the machine column, which is defined as the Z-axis motion. Though the limit of its moving stroke is determined by the design of the machine column, the spindle movement is mostly set and restricted according to the actual application. In a CNC machining setting, the depth the spindle reaches is pre-programmed in order for the machine to attain the precision of the work. Depending on the type of hole or groove the machine is going to create, mill cutters with a particular design are required accordingly.
Though the basic structure of the VMC machines is normally identical, they can still be categorized into two groups: the conventional VMCs and the CNC VMCs. The conventional VMCs, or the VMCs that do not apply a CNC system, are the ones that are operated manually or semi-automatically. They are used more in shops for small-scale production or for hobbyists. The VMCs that work with a CNC system are the more comprehensive machines. The CNC system allows high-precision machining and thus the CNC machines are ideal for manufacturing parts with complex surface design. Since a CNC milling machine is usually automated, they are also suitable for mass production or heavy-duty processes where the working environment is relatively demanding.
CNC stands for computer numerical control. As its name inferred, it is a computer-based system that allows the operator to control a machine through software. The operator can draft the component design and devise the machining course. The system turns the programs into codes. With the software, the computer is able to process the codes and control the machine to execute the operations. Since all the variables involved in achieving an operation are controlled by the computer, the precision and efficiency can be significantly enhanced and errors and mistakes reduced. As a result, the CNC VMCs are prevalent among manufactures across industries today.
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