Who Uses a Swiss CNC Lathe?

Posted on Jul 21, 2021

Swiss CNC lathe

In a 2013 Capital Expenditure Survey, one notable takeaway is that companies expect to purchase a Swiss CNC machine. In recent years, this survey has routinely shown that medical and electronic applications account for a large share of the expected expenditure on such machines. So what is a Swiss CNC machine and what can we do with it? You will find out the answer in this article.

What is a Swiss-type CNC Lathe?

Swiss machining refers to the process where complex parts are manufactured in the short run. The process is carried out by the Swiss-type CNC lathe. Originating from the Swiss watchmaking industry in the 19th century, Swiss lathes were made to manufacture watch parts. It is a multi-axis turning center that excels at tight-tolerance machining operations. Today, these machine tools produce precision parts for multiple industries.

Processed Materials

Generally speaking, a Swiss lathe can work with almost all materials. It can process common metals such as aluminum, brass, carbon, steel, copper, etc. It can also cut exotic materials such as nickel, nylon, plastics, titanium, stainless steel, and more.

Working Principle

A Swiss-type CNC lathe is essentially a turning lathe. It clamps a workpiece with the headstock. As the workpiece turns, the cutting tool approaches and cuts away materials. This seemingly simple process elevates to another level with several key features that distinguish a Swiss lathe from a conventional turning lathe.

Guide Bushing & Chucking Collet

The guide bush is the heart of a Swiss CNC lathe. Along with the chucking collet, it holds the workpiece in place during the machining process. The bar stock only exposes the part that is machined. This design decreases deflection and improves accuracy. Using the wrong size guide bushing will result in concentricity errors. The material of these parts affects the interaction with the bar stock and thus influences the ability to hold and stabilize the workpiece.

How to Install the Main Collet & Guide Bushing, Josh Hess


Sliding Headstock

On a conventional turning lathe, the headstock is fixed. It does not allow any movement and is sometimes a hassle to re-clamp the workpiece. However, with the sliding headstock, a Swiss lathe is able to feed the workpiece immediately after the previous process is completed. Check the video down below and see how the sliding head feeds the bar stock after a part is completed.

S20 CNC Swiss-type Automatic Lathe Sliding Head, MYLAS Machinery


Oil Coolant System

Most Swiss-type machines use oil as a coolant instead of water. The lubricity is greater. Benefits include reduced growth of odor-causing bacteria, as well as freedom from pruney hands that result from exposure to water-based coolant all day long.

However, compared to water, oil is less effective at dissipating heat. As a result, Swiss machines heat up quicker in the work area so that gloves or workshop towels may be required when changing tools. It is advised to equip the machine with a fire alarm system.

Why Use a Swiss Lathe?

In the past, parts were machined on a conventional CNC turning lathe. However, when a customer asked to order parts in smaller quantities and with shorter lead times, the shop had to begin building inventory to fulfill the request. Swiss CNC lathes are able to fulfill the demand with their multi-axis machining capability.

Swiss lathes feed material through a guide bushing, cutting the material close to the fulcrum, no matter how long the workpiece is. This makes it particularly effective for long and slender turned parts. Below is a video demonstrating efficient machining operations.

Swiss-type Lathe, Chiah Chyun Machinery



A Swiss CNC turning center is considerably different from the conventional turning lathes due to its unique construction and features. Below are the advantages of a Swiss-type CNC lathe.

Ability to Machine Long Bar Stocks

Compared to the conventional CNC lathes, a Swiss-type lathe is able to process long bar stocks. A conventional lathe cannot process a workpiece that has a length greater than the distance between the headstock and tailstock. Also, a Swiss lathe feeds the workpiece with the sliding head through the bushing collet, which allows for segmental processing.

Segmental processing refers to cutting the workpieces section-by-section and having the un-machined parts supported by the guide sleeve. This feature provides excellent stability and eliminates deflection when processing long bar stocks.

Precision Machining

Swiss CNC lathes were designed to make tiny parts for wristwatches and pocket watches. The manufacture of these complex parts requires a high level of flexibility and precision to carry out. A Swiss lathe has multi-axis machining capabilities. While conventional CNC lathes only have 3 to 5 axes, a Swiss lathe is likely to have 7 to 13 axes. Therefore, it can process workpieces with intricate designs.

Short Machining Cycles

Swiss lathes can handle mass production in a short lead time. In fact, the Swiss-type CNC lathe has a cycle time shorter than most other CNC machines. This is because of the multi-axis machining capability and the bar stock feeding approach. A CNC Swiss lathe is able to perform multiple operations such as turning, threading, and milling at a time due to the multi-axis capability. The sliding head feeding mechanism also reduces the cycle time.

Tight Tolerances

Tight tolerances are achieved thanks to the firm support of the bar stock during operation. The bushing guide and chucking collet hold the bar throughout the whole machining process. The firm support ensures the highest level of stability of the workpiece. As a result, the workpiece is not affected by the machining force.

No Secondary Operations

Since the parts manufactured by a Swiss lathe have extremely tight tolerances and high precision, they usually do not require a secondary machining step for a finer finish. Without the need for post-processing, the use of Swiss CNC machines cuts down the production cost significantly, which is why it prevails in more and more industries.


Watchmaking is still one of the industries that use Swiss CNC machining technology. That said, it is also commonly applied in other industries. The other industry that applies Swiss lathes is the defense/military industry. They produce pins and needles in rifles and other firearms.

In addition to the watchmaking and military industry, Swiss-type mill-turns are also used in industries such as medical, electronic consumables, aerospace/aviation, automotive where high-precision parts are required. The video below shows some of the primary applications.

What is CNC Swiss Machining, Cox Manufacturing Company

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