The lathe is one of the oldest manufacturing technologies on Earth. The earliest versions date back to the ancient Egyptians, who around 1300 BC invented the arc-drive two-man lathe. However, despite this venerable history, turning technology was far from static, as evidenced by today's advanced CNC turning centers.
Get an overview of the components, types, operations, and applications of CNC turning centers and CNC Center Spindle Lathes.
CNC turning: bottlenecks and errors
Production errors and bottlenecks must be avoided at all costs. This is even true of technology as old as the lathe, although the advent of computers in production has come a long way towards minimizing these problems. Center-spindle CNC lathes are also high-performance lathes for many applications.
Lathes vs. Turning Centers: What’s the Difference?
You've probably seen the terms "CNC lathe" and "CNC turning center" used interchangeably.
Nevertheless, while there is no formal distinction between lathes and turning centers, the former term is often used to refer to simpler machines only - designed solely for turning operations. By contrast, the term "turning center" typically denotes machines that integrate milling or drilling capabilities, or those with auxiliary spindles to perform auxiliary operations.
Whether you are working on a lathe or a turning center, the essential parts are the same.
The headstock houses the main spindle as well as the speed and gear shifting mechanisms. The main spindle end often contains a morse taper. In the early days of industrial lathes, the spindle was driven directly by a flat pulley. It is currently powered by an electric motor.
The bed of the lathe is the base connected to the headstock so that the carriage and tailstock move parallel to access to the spindle. This movement is facilitated by bedways, which restrain the carriage and tailstock in a set track.
Feedscrews and Leadscrews
A lead screw is a long driveshaft that connects to a series of gears in the apron to drive the carriage along the Z-axis. The lead screw performs the same function but acts perpendicular to the lead screw, moving the carriage along the X-axis.
Leadscrews and leadscrews are manufactured to imperial or metric standards, which can cause compatibility issues between workpieces made on different lathes.
The carriage holds the cutting tool and moves it longitudinally to the workpiece for turning operations or perpendicularly for planning operations. The carriage consists of two casts: the top or the saddle and the side or apron.
The tailstock refers to the central mount that is placed opposite the headstock. Unlike a headstock, the spindle in the tailstock - which may contain a cone to hold drills, padlocks, or other tools - does not rotate. Instead, it moves longitudinally under the action of the lead screw.
Turning Center Operations
There are many operations that can be performed on a lathe and even more that can be performed on a turning center. Some of the most common include:
CNC turning centers are available in either horizontal or vertical configuration. There are also reverse vertical turning centers that reverse the position of the spindle and chuck. All three types of machines generally consist of the same basic components (i.e. headstock, carriage, etc.) but differ in orientation. The decision whether to choose a horizontal, vertical or inverted lathe depends on many factors, but there are some practical rules that can help you make up your mind. Center spindle CNC lathes are also one special choice.
The turret tooling consists of mounting a set of cutting tools on a rotating, indexed tool holder. In contrast, assembly tooling consists of positioning a row of tools inside the lathe on a cross slide that is similar to the table on a milling machine.
Deciding which configuration is best for you depends—as always—on your application, but there are some rules of thumb that can help you make your decision.
Many CNC turning centers can be equipped with live tooling, which is rotary cutting tools powered by independent electric motors. This makes it possible to drill holes in the part perpendicular to the main axis, which can be extremely useful. Does this mean that live tooling always pays off? Well center spindle CNC lathes are also high productivity.
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