Horizontal Machining Centers

1. What is a Horizontal Machining Center?

A horizontal machining center is a drilling and milling machine where the main spindle is equipped on the horizontal axis in relation to the worktable. Horizontal machining is used for the mass production of metal components in all kinds of industries. There are NC and CNC controlled machines with different cutting capabilities. However, nowadays all modern horizontal machining centers feature rapid tool change, high cutting efficiency and high precision. Here is a video of some horizontal machining:

 Horizontal Machining Center Base
Fig.1 Base Structure of HMC with horizontal spindle (courtesy of Quaser)  


HMCs have critical components but also optional equipment. Examples are swing heads, high-end spindles, cradle-like 4th axis, electric cutters, etc. HMCs can also be combined with automation equipment such as robotic arms, which makes horizontal machines essential for today’s manufacturing industry.

2. How does a Horizontal Machining Center work?

Generally speaking, the machining process of a horizontal machining center is the same as other machining centers and milling machines. By advancing the tool on one or several workpieces, the spinning cutter is able to remove the materials. As the additional functions of the equipment are involved within this mechanism, it makes the horizontal machining center at a higher level of versatility.

How the cutting tool machines on the workpiece indicate how the profile on the product is presented. One of the considerations about this principle in the design of the worktable. With the general arrangement, the cutting tool does lateral movement on the workpiece. As the blades protrude through the surface of the workpiece, the removed materials, which are the chips, are naturally discarded.

3. The Development from NC Lathe to HMC

Horizontal machining centers feature horizontally mounted cutters and specialize in automatic tool-changing functionality. In addition, multiple cutters are available, which ensures optimal production efficiency. Before discussing the structure of a horizontal machining centers let’s explore the origin of the machining center.

NC lathe
Fig.2 Traditional NC Lathe
 

The Origins of Machining Centers

The invention of a machining center can be derived from the NC lathe, which is the product on the basis of a conventional milling machine. A milling machine is a machine that removes materials by advancing spinning tools through the surfaces of the workpieces. While with the fixed tool position and limited tool choices, the results this machine makes would be limited as well.

The invention of a machining center can be derived from the NC lathe, which is the product on the basis of a conventional milling machine. A milling machine is a machine that removes materials by advancing spinning tools through the surfaces of the workpieces. While with the fixed tool position and limited tool choices, the results this machine makes would be limited as well.
 

Although the NC system enables more precise control regarding the machining process, it still has to rely on the maneuver of operators. This takes not only time but also excessive labor expenditure, which doesn't seem to be profitable for the manufacturers. To pursue the maximum practicality of this type of machine, more advanced machining centers appeared in the industry: vertical and horizontal machining centers.

4. Advantages and Capabilities of Horizontal Machining Centers

Horizontal machining centers are successful high-end machine tools for two main reasons. Firstly, the convenient and rigid worktables can handle many types of machining tasks in a shorter time. Secondly, the collection of chips from the workpieces is easier thanks to the construction and of course the help of gravity. This explains why horizontal machining centers are often picked over their vertical counterparts.

When it comes to the arrangement of components, it is key to differentiate between a horizontal and a vertical machining center. The vertical machining center has perpendicular cutters. In contrast, the horizontal ones are parallel to the worktable or the ground.

Vertical Horizontal Machining Center
Fig.3 Vertical vs. Horizontal Machining Center


The worktable on the horizontal machining centers helps position the workpieces and allows for angular cuts with special arrangements. The rigid work table enables the device to operate on a wide range of workpieces, from small parts to heavy-duty mechanisms. Furthermore, if the worktable is equipped with tilting or rotary features, the tools can cut the workpieces from multiple angles.

Power Turret and And Automatic Tool Change

Besides, with the assistance of the power turret as well as the stable clamping force of the worktable, the use of cutting tools on this machine can be even more effective. The power turret provides the space for tool storage and the automation of tool replacement. By setting up the tools necessary for the machining works beforehand, it helps smooth the process of the operation. As a result, the cycle time can thus be shortened, and more complicated profiles can be achieved. Furthermore, the computer numerical control system ensures the most precise and standardized control regarding the multiple tasks without possible failures.

5. Multi-Axis Horizontal Machining Centers

Horizontal Machining Center Part
Fig.4 Workpiece machined with multi-axis HMC
 

In the past, horizontal machining centers were designed with at least three axes, namely x, y, and z-axis. Nowadays, due to the need for more intricate procedures with shorter cycle time, the machining centers are designed with the fourth axis or even the fifth axis. With the availability in adjusting the worktable and the additional functions of the equipment, they ensure increased efficiency and better product quality, which is what the manufacturers really need.

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