CNC Lathe Guide
What Is a CNC Lathe?
CNC lathes are highly-automated machines that can perform a series of computer-controlled turning operations. They are the product of centuries of evolution since the first lathe was invented back in Ancient Egypt. Today, you can easily find one of these cutting-edge CNC machines in the modern factories and workshops, used to machine parts to precise specification.
A notable feature of CNC lathe machines is that they can be equipped with a variety of tools to enhance their functions. For instance, a CNC lathe mounted with power turrets can perform several other operations aside from turning, such as milling, drilling, etc. With the right configuration, they can even be upgraded to CNC turning centers – a more advanced turning machine that can perform many tasks.
Figure 1. CNC Lathe, Yeong Chin Machinery Industries
Types of CNC Lathes
CNC lathes are classified by the number of axes they have. Generally speaking, the more axes a machine has, the more complex parts it can produce without manually switching machines or tools.
2-Axis CNC Lathe
A 2-axis lathe machine has two linear axes that can perform basic functions such as cylindrical machining, facing operation, or drilling at the center of a part.With only X and Y axis this basic type of lathe cannot perform milling operations.
3-Axis CNC Lathe
A 3-axis lathe machine adds a C axis. It also has a life tool system which allows parts to undergo basic milling, boring, and tapping operations. Helical milling, a more advanced hole-making process, is also available with this type of machine.
4-Axis CNC Lathe
A 4 axis lathe machine adds a Y axis to enable off-center machining operations. This fourth axis is ideal for irregularly shaped workpieces.
5-Axis CNC Lathe
A 5-axis lathe machine is equipped with a second turret, adding another two axes at the upper and lower turret, as well as a C axis on the rotating spindle. This enables the use of two tools simultaneously on the same workpiece, which significantly increases machining speed.
6-Axis (or more) CNC Lathe
Any model above five axes may include any of the following configurations:
- Two turrets, each with its own linear axes
- Two C axes with two spindles
- One Y axis at the upper turret
- A 8-axis design where a second spindle can move towards the secondary spindle to pick up the workpiece
Note that you don’t often see anything more than 8 axes, as they are extremely complex and aren’t needed for the vast majority of applications.
Figure 2. Multi-axis High Precision CNC Machining Center
Applications of CNC Lathes
A CNC lathe turns a piece of (semi-)raw material into a precisely finished product or an intricate part. The computer-controlled systems and the additional axes allow it to perform very complex turning work. Industries that use these machines include automotive, electronics, aerospace, firearm manufacturing, and more.
In the specific case of aircrafts, a CNC lathe is often used to produce its complex, three-dimensional parts with maximum accuracy. It is also used to produce a variety of other products, such as bats, bowls, camshafts, crankshafts, musical instruments, chair legs, etc. In addition, unlike conventional lathes, CNC lathes are also suitable for mass production. The wide range of tools that can be applied to the machine allows it to deal with large amounts of parts.
Choosing and Operating a CNC Lathe
There are many factors to consider when choosing a CNC lathe machine. This includes the strength of clamps, the tolerance level, weight, and size. Generally, a heavier machine will keep vibration to the minimum, whereas a lightweight model may not be as stable. To ensure optimal output results, it is important that you take these factors into consideration before buying.
Furthermore, the process performed by a CNC lathe is a highly automated process, but that does not mean it can be run unattended. In fact, not only does it require operators to oversee the process, they also need to have a basic understanding of computer programming parameters. In other words, they need to know the complex commands and speed rate instructed by the computer system. Safety standards and other vital know-how are also essential for any qualified professional. Check out this video for some basic tips for a safe lathe operations:
Need help searching for your next CNC Lathe ?
IMTS Exhibition includes manufacturers from around the world. Send us a message with your requirements and our IMTS Experts will happily help you with your questions.