A Lathe turns raw material to create cylindrical parts about a central axis. The cutting tool moves on various axises for operations like turning and knurling. The most common CNC lathe machine operates on two axises (Z and X). As the workpiece rotates the cutting tool is free to move along either axis. The main configurations of CNC machines include Slant Bed, Horizontal, Vertical, Standard, Flat bed, and Multi axis.
What is a Conventional Lathe Machine and CNC Lathe?
A lathe can perform various operations on a workpiece attached to the axis of rotation. They typically operate in the metalworking, woodturning and glass working industries. Common lathe operations include turning, grooving, threading, parting and drilling. Conventional lathes utilize manual gears and levers to move a cutting tool. While simultaneously moving the cutting tool machinist have to watch their indicators or digital readout equipment. Despite most actions requiring human intervention a few are semi-automatic.
In contrast, a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine is more accurate and reliable than a conventional lathe. Utilizing state of the art encoders and motors, CNC machines can produce parts faster and with a higher degree of accuracy. A CNC lathe follows precise instructions (G-code) to perform operations on the clamped material within the main spindle.
How Do They Work?
A conventional lathe machine comprises a workpiece, chuck, tool post, single-point cutting tool, and many other parts for various operations. As the machine rotates the workpiece, a single-point cutting tool removes the material parallel to the axis of rotation. Henceforth, many conventional lathes are also referred to as turning machines.
CNC lathe machines has a turret which can usually hold up to 12 tools as once. These machines rely on digital instructions known as G-Code and M-Code created in CAM software. Due to their advanced controllers they are often times capable of doing much more difficult work.
Benefits of a CNC Lathe
- CNC machines are fast and machine with high degree of accuracy.
- CNC machines are more suitable for heavy and complex parts
- Unique threads are much easier for CNC machines
- CNC lathe machines are much more expensive than conventional lathes
What They Can Machine?
Given their firm structure, lathes can machine a wide variety of materials. A few examples include plastic (PTFE, PEEK, nylon etc.) and metals (stainless steel, aluminum, alloy steel, brass etc.). The tolerance of a lathe typically falls between +/- .0002”- .001” depending on the dimension and material.
In conclusion, lathe machines have served the manufacturing space for decades. These machines work extremely fast and can even include live turning to offer multi axis capability. Lathes provide exceptional surface finish and can hold extremely tight tolerances over a large volume of parts.