Computer numerical control (CNC) is defined as a method for automating control of machine tools through the use of software embedded in a microcomputer attached to the tool. A CNC machine produces a product using coded instructions, without manual operation of the machine. These machines can be varied in size, function and design, and include lathes, milling machines and multi-axis machines.

In this article, we will answer the question, “What is a CNC lathe machine?” We will also explore their function, what they are best used for, and the many benefits they can bring to your production process. 

What are the different types of lathe machines?

A lathe machine is a stationary cutting tool used primarily for shaping wood and metal, which are referred to as workpieces. The lathe machine removes unwanted parts of the workpiece to produce the desired product. The movements of a traditional lathe machine are manually controlled by an operator. 

A CNC lathe machine is like a conventional lathe machine in its capabilities, yet it performs the production process through use of a software program. There are many advantages to a CNC lathe machine. The manpower required is primarily dedicated to less skill-specific tasks, including loading raw materials into the machine, starting the program, and inspecting the product. On the other hand, a conventional lathe machine requires a highly skilled technician to operate the machine.

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What can a CNC lathe machine produce?

The versatility of the CNC lathe machine makes it an excellent tool for organizations in a variety of industries, especially automotive, healthcare, electronics and aerospace. 

A CNC lathe machine can produce a range of products, from larger items such as automobile frames and airplane engines to smaller items, such as surgical instruments, gears and garden tools. It can also produce all kinds of structures, including flat surfaces, threads, and cylindrical components that have inner and outer diameters. 

When determining which type of CNC lathe machine you want to purchase or which supplier to partner with, consider the axes of each machine. The axes tend to be an indicator of the machine capabilities. The lower the axes, the fewer components it can produce. And the higher the axes, the more complex the capabilities, including milling, tapping, drilling and boring operations. 

How does a CNC lathe machine work?

A CNC lathe machine comes in a variety of configurations that are specific to the production process and desired component. The machine can be configured horizontally and vertically, and it can contain a slant bed or flat bed, multi-axes, multi-spindles and a b-axis capability to give the machine full support for five-axis index milling. 

Although the machine configuration varies, it is made of the following nine main components. 

    • Machine bed: The machine bed serves as the base of the machine on which all other components are mounted. 
    • Main spindle: The main spindle is made up of a spindle assembly and spindle drive system that includes motors, gears and the chuck. The main spindle receives the material and drives it through the process.
    • Sub-spindle: Sub-spindles, while separate from the main spindle, work in tandem with the main spindle to perform additional cutting operations to improve efficiency of the production process. 
    • Chuck: Attached to the main spindle, the chuck grips the workpiece and rotates the workpiece throughout the process. 
    • Guide way: The guide way allows the main spindle and workpiece to move vertically and horizontally during the cutting process. 
    • Headstock: The headstock has the main motor to drive the main spindle and can be adjusted for high torque at low speed. 
    • Tailstock: The tailstock provides extra support for the other end of the component being produced. By providing force on the other end, the process can be completed smoothly.
    • Tool turret: The tool turret consists of a number of different cutting tools that are used for a specific component. 
    • CNC controller: All CNC programs are stored inside the controller, which allows machinists to start and stop the machine, move axes, apply new programs and have overall control over the production process. 

These robust machines come with 2-6 axes, which allow for more complex production projects without having to manually switch machines. 

What are the benefits of a CNC machine? 

A common perception of CNC machines is that they are more precise or faster than a conventional machine. This is not necessarily true. Both conventional and CNC lathe machines deliver high quality products with high turnaround. However, choosing between the machines comes down to cost. 

A highly skilled technician, in charge of overseeing the CNC lathe machine, alongside three operators can produce on six CNC lathe machines at a time — as long as the operators can manage moving between machines. On the other hand, a conventional lathe machine requires a skilled technician, which means operation costs increase with the same number of machines. 

Benefit from skilled technicians and state-of-the-art machines.

At VPIC Group, we employ highly skilled technicians who not only operate multi-axis CNC machines, but also operate state-of-the-art manufacturing machines with advanced technologies in aluminum die casting, 2D-3D laser cutting, pressing and hydraulic stamping, steel and aluminum hot forging, welding, lost wax casting, plastic injection, liquid painting, and ED and powder coating and assembly. 

Regardless of your industry or the size of your component, we would be excited to contribute to the success of your organization. To utilize our capabilities and professional skill sets, contact us today.

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