Vertical Lathe

About Vertical Lathes

A vertical lathe is essentially a turning center configured in vertical orientation. Over time, like most categories of machine tools, the vertical lathe has never stopped evolving. The newer versions of these machines incorporate many cutting-edge technologies to enable multiple operations simultaneously.

Interestingly, vertical lathes are particularly popular among foundries with machining capabilities. The unique configuration provides numerous production and cost benefits, and is well-suited for cutting a variety of castings, such as housings, aircraft parts, heavy-duty equipment parts, etc.

Features of CNC Vertical Lathes 

Developed in the 1980s, the vertical lathe has evolved into a versatile and efficient machining center. By using the spindle as a gantry loader, you can obtain a better control of the turning process. With CNC controllers, additional Y and B axes become available, which permits angular and off-center drilling and milling, hence the modern CNC vertical lathe machines.

The relatively large open work area of CNC vertical lathes enables the integration of various machine tools, such as internal or external grinding spindles, high power multi-spindle drilling heads, polygonal turning units or high frequency drilling and milling spindles, as well as large milling heads. 

In a double-spindle configuration, both the axes are perpendicular to each other and intersect at the point of transfer of the workpiece. The workpiece can be transferred with a minimal loss of clamping precision to the counter spindle to machine the opposite end. This ensures the highest concentricity from one side to the other. The transfer point is programmable down to microns as well.

Figure 1. CNC Vertical Lathe, S&T Dynamics

Construction of Vertical Lathes

The unique construction of vertical lathes allows a high degree of retrofitting for better multitasking machining. It also accomplishes simple and effective chip evacuation with gravity.

For some high-end lathe machines, as many as four turret heads and forty-eight tool stations can be equipped. They can also be configured with an additional Y and B axes. There are many ways to set up the machine to extend the functionality of the machine.

Additionally, vertical lathes’ open-front design significantly reduces set-up time and production costs. Typically, a vertical lathe may have one spindle with up to two tool carriers, or two spindles (i.e. main spindle & counter spindle) with as many as four tool carriers. The latter can yield even higher productivity. 

Machine builders also use a block system where various modules can be integrated into the work area to increase flexibility, allowing automation and other accessories to be implemented for increased efficiency.

Figure2. Vertical Lathe with Multiple Heads


How Productive Is It?

For parts batches of any size, a vertical lathe can be very productive due to its ability to accommodate multiple tools. This ensures reliability, reduced set-up times, efficiency, and accuracy. When using a glass balance, diameter tolerances of up to 0.003 mm can be achieved.

For larger volumes of parts, vertical lathes are often integrated with other machines as a part of a complete production line. This is attributed to the fact that a vertical lathe alone is not a high-production machine. It usually requires the supplement of tools and equipment to maintain the desired level of productivity.

Advantages of Vertical Lathes

While vertical lathe machines do tend to take up more space, they offer many benefits:

  • Vertical lathes especially excel at machining medium and large parts with their heavy-duty and high-power cutting.
  • Vertical lathes have a very strong clamping system that can firmly hold a heavy workpiece in place. Of course, gravity plays a very crucial role in achieving so.
  • Vertical lathes that utilize a main/counter spindle setup have increased multitasking capabilities, making them even more efficient than the standard machining centers.
  • As mentioned, vertical lathes are ideal for cutting heavy and large castings in foundries and machine shops.
  • Besides the turret heads, vertical lathes can use a rotating table to provide further support to the workpiece.
  • Although not known for ultra-productivity, vertical lathes do improve cycle times because they can cut very aggressively.

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