A CNC Lathe–short for Computer Numerical Control– also known as a Turning Center, is an automated machine that processes manually-entered data or CAM(Computer Aided Machining) code. The primary function of a CNC Lathe is to remove material from a spinning round part until you reach a desired shape. The oldest lathes were foot operated and were used to machine round wooden parts, like table legs. In a modern CNC Lathe, you would enter the measurements manually into the CNC programming interface, or, if you were generating them with a CAM package, you may load the completed program into the machine. With operator initiation, it would then automate the cutting process to complete your part.
The structure of the machine is rather simple, but the value of CNC Lathes in manufacturing is extensive and often the most efficient way to create products. So how does it execute its programmed orders? A standard lathe is an open body that has two ends. On one end there is a chuck that is powered by an electric motor. This is similar in function to what you would find on a portable drill, just larger. The chuck is where the operator secures the part, and is what holds and spins the part, controlling the speed, direction, and torque. On the opposite end is the machining tool, or in many cases a turret with multiple tools. The standard 2-axis CNC Lathe works on the part by moving in three directions: as the spindle rotates at the desired speed and direction, the tool post or turret will move along the x, and z axes. The CNC Lathe can drill and thread holes, perform boring operations, cut keyways, machine pockets, contours, chamfers, and more. It essentially carves out the material you do not want like a sculptor.
A common question is “What is the difference between turning and milling?” It’s rather simple. Turning is a process of machining a metal part where the part is in a rotary motion and the drilling or cutting tool is stationery. This is somewhat the reverse of the Milling method where the drilling or cutting tool is powered and moving in conjunction with the table top to shape the desired material. In general, lathes are used for processing round parts, while mills are used for processing flat parts.
CNC Turning is a very useful, very popular method for making parts–usually out of steel–that go into end products like winches. There are many applications of turning, and its machining process of using an moving tool in conjunction with a rotary chuck. Its popularity is truly warranted for its efficiency, accuracy, and versatility. CNC Turning can truly expedite a job while improving consistency and quality.