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With advancement in technology the term lathe is now most often referred to as a CNC Turning Center, The difference is that the more modern turning machine tool is now controlled through a computer operated interface. The simplest turning center has two axes: the X-Axis and Z-Axis. Just like a lathe a workpiece or bar stock will be rotated from a fixed position on the headstock held by a chucking or collet device. The headstock holds your main spindle that will determine the overall diameter or turning capacity of the workpiece. Unwanted material is then removed by the introduction of a cutting tool. Your modern turning centers are equipped with a turret providing multiple tools for use on the current application. With the addition of a tailstock the part can be rotated between centers allowing for a longer turning length determined by the overall length of the machine’s bed. Instead of a tailstock a turning center may be equipped with a sub spindle allowing the machine to grab and rotate from the opposite side of your part so that the other end of the part can be machined and completed. As the turning center became more advanced other multi axes were equipped allowing machining to be done from different geometries. An example of this would be the Y-axis that allows the machine to be cut across the part. Another prominent feature you will see on certain machines is the use of live tools. With live tooling you will be able to rotate a cutting tool allowing for milling, slotting, drilling and tapping of your turned part. Like most current machines the turning center can be equipped with many different options such as: chip conveyors, steady rests, high pressure coolant, spindle thru coolant, tool changers, bar feeds, parts catchers, loading systems, measuring systems, tool probes, and multiple turrets.
A swiss lathe or also known as an automatic lathe is a type of turning center but instead the workpiece can both turn and move back and forth on the Z-axis while multiple tools cut away the material from the part. Swiss Lathes are often used for smaller, more complex parts. You are able to perform multiple operations simultaneously on different areas of the machined workpiece. A guide bushing will push the material feeding the part into the machining area. Swiss lathes can be equipped with up to 16 different axes. This process allows the part to be completed with extremely close tolerances along with faster cycle times. Machining close to the guide bushing allows for the least amount of deflection of your part. As your parts get smaller in diameter the benefits of a swiss lathe get greater. Typically a swiss lathe will be used on any turned part with a diameter of 32 mm or less.
VTL's Vertical Turning Lathes
A Vertical Turning Lathe (VTL) or Vertical Boring Mill is much like a turning center but instead of turning horizontally the part is turned vertically on a rotating table. Being able to clamp or fixture the part vertically the work piece exhibits a tighter and stronger fixturing due to gravity. While operating a VTL tooling will be mounted vertically as the cutting tool moves on the z-axis. Tooling mounted on a turret allows for multiple cutting operations in rapid succession. By placing the part on a table instead of holding it from a side chuck you are able to machine much heavier parts allowing for large part sizes and weight. Just like a normal turning center, multiple axis can be equipped along with the use of live tooling. One drawback to turning vertically is that the chips will fall down onto your workplace or table. These machines are normally not run for high production work pieces. With a heavier design compared to standard turning centers or machining centers you are able to take a more aggressive approach at removing and cutting material away from the part.
Brands of Turning Centers