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Lathe (metal)

Lathe (metal)

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A metal lathe or metalworking lathe is a large class of lathe
Lathe
A lathe is a machine tool which rotates the workpiece on its axis to perform various operations such as cutting, sanding, knurling, drilling, or deformation with tools that are applied to the workpiece to create an object which has symmetry about an axis of rotation.Lathes are used in woodturning,...

s designed for precisely machining
Machining
Conventional machining is a form of subtractive manufacturing, in which a collection of material-working processes utilizing power-driven machine tools, such as saws, lathes, milling machines, and drill presses, are used with a sharp cutting tool to physical remove material to achieve a desired...

 relatively hard materials. They were originally designed to machine metal
Metal
A metal , is an element, compound, or alloy that is a good conductor of both electricity and heat. Metals are usually malleable and shiny, that is they reflect most of incident light...

s; however, with the advent of plastic
Plastic
A plastic material is any of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic solids used in the manufacture of industrial products. Plastics are typically polymers of high molecular mass, and may contain other substances to improve performance and/or reduce production costs...

s and other materials, and with their inherent versatility, they are used in a wide range of applications, and a broad range of materials. In machining jargon
Jargon
Jargon is terminology which is especially defined in relationship to a specific activity, profession, group, or event. The philosophe Condillac observed in 1782 that "Every science requires a special language because every science has its own ideas." As a rationalist member of the Enlightenment he...

, where the larger context is already understood, they are usually simply called lathes, or else referred to by more-specific subtype names (toolroom lathe, turret lathe, etc.). These rigid machine tool
Machine tool
A machine tool is a machine, typically powered other than by human muscle , used to make manufactured parts in various ways that include cutting or certain other kinds of deformation...

s remove material from a rotating
Rotation
A rotation is a circular movement of an object around a center of rotation. A three-dimensional object rotates always around an imaginary line called a rotation axis. If the axis is within the body, and passes through its center of mass the body is said to rotate upon itself, or spin. A rotation...

 workpiece via the (typically linear) movements of various cutting tools, such as tool bit
Tool bit
The term tool bit generally refers to a non-rotary cutting tool used in metal lathes, shapers, and planers. Such cutters are also often referred to by the set-phrase name of single-point cutting tool. The cutting edge is ground to suit a particular machining operation and may be resharpened or...

s and drill bit
Drill bit
Drill bits are cutting tools used to create cylindrical holes. Bits are held in a tool called a drill, which rotates them and provides torque and axial force to create the hole. Specialized bits are also available for non-cylindrical-shaped holes....

s.

Construction


The design of lathes can vary greatly depending on the intended application; however, basic features are common to most types. These machines consist of (at the least) a headstock, bed, carriage, and tailstock. Better machines are solidly constructed with broad bearing surfaces (slides or ways) for stability, and manufactured with great precision. This helps ensure the components manufactured on the machines can meet the required tolerances and repeatability.

Headstock


The headstock (H1) houses the main spindle (H4), speed change mechanism (H2,H3), and change gears (H10). The headstock is required to be made as robust as possible due to the cutting forces involved, which can distort a lightly built housing, and induce harmonic
Harmonic
A harmonic of a wave is a component frequency of the signal that is an integer multiple of the fundamental frequency, i.e. if the fundamental frequency is f, the harmonics have frequencies 2f, 3f, 4f, . . . etc. The harmonics have the property that they are all periodic at the fundamental...

 vibrations that will transfer through to the workpiece, reducing the quality of the finished workpiece.

The main spindle is generally hollow to allow long bars to extend through to the work area. This reduces preparation and waste of material. The spindle runs in precision bearings and is fitted with some means of attaching workholding devices such as chucks or faceplate
Lathe faceplate
A lathe faceplate is the basic workholding accessory for a wood or metal turning lathe. It is a circular metal plate which fixes to the end of the lathe spindle...

s. This end of the spindle usually also has an included taper, frequently a Morse taper, to allow the insertion of tapers and center
Lathe center
A lathe center, often shortened to center, is a tool that has been ground to a point as to accurately position a workpiece about an axis...

s. On older machines the spindle was directly driven by a flat belt pulley
Pulley
A pulley, also called a sheave or a drum, is a mechanism composed of a wheel on an axle or shaft that may have a groove between two flanges around its circumference. A rope, cable, belt, or chain usually runs over the wheel and inside the groove, if present...

 with lower speeds available by manipulating the bull gear. Later machines use a gear box driven by a dedicated electric motor. A fully geared head allows the operator to select speeds entirely through the gearbox.

Bed


The bed is a robust base that connects to the headstock and permits the carriage and tailstock to be aligned parallel with the axis of the spindle. This is facilitated by hardened and ground ways which restrain the carriage and tailstock in a set track. The carriage travels by means of a rack and pinion
Rack and pinion
A rack and pinion is a type of linear actuator that comprises a pair of gears which convert rotational motion into linear motion. A circular gear called "the pinion" engages teeth on a linear "gear" bar called "the rack"; rotational motion applied to the pinion causes the rack to move, thereby...

 system, leadscrew
Leadscrew
A leadscrew , also known as a power screw or translation screw, is a screw designed to translate turning motion into linear motion...

 of accurate pitch, or feedscrew.

Types of beds include inverted "V" beds, flat beds, and combination "V" and flat beds. "V" and combination beds are used for precision and light duty work, while flat beds are used for heavy duty work.

When a lathe is installed, the first step is to level it, which refers to making sure the bed is not twisted or bowed. There is no need to make the machine exactly horizontal, but it must be entirely untwisted to achieve accurate cutting geometry. A precision level is a useful tool for identifying and removing any twist. It is advisable also to use such a level along the bed to detect bending, in the case of a lathe with more than four mounting points. In both instances the level is used as a comparator rather than an absolute reference.

Feed and lead screws


The feedscrew (H8) is a long driveshaft
Driveshaft
A drive shaft, driveshaft, driving shaft, propeller shaft, or Cardan shaft is a mechanical component for transmitting torque and rotation, usually used to connect other components of a drive train that cannot be connected directly because of distance or the need to allow for relative movement...

 that allows a series of gears to drive the carriage mechanisms. These gears are located in the apron of the carriage. Both the feedscrew and leadscrew (H7) are driven by either the change gears (on the quadrant) or an intermediate gearbox known as a quick change gearbox (H6) or Norton gearbox. These intermediate gears allow the correct ratio and direction to be set for cutting threads
Screw
A screw, or bolt, is a type of fastener characterized by a helical ridge, known as an external thread or just thread, wrapped around a cylinder. Some screw threads are designed to mate with a complementary thread, known as an internal thread, often in the form of a nut or an object that has the...

 or worm gears. Tumbler gears (operated by H5) are provided between the spindle and gear train along with a quadrant plate that enables a gear train of the correct ratio and direction to be introduced. This provides a constant relationship between the number of turns the spindle makes, to the number of turns the leadscrew makes. This ratio allows screwthreads to be cut on the workpiece without the aid of a die
Taps and dies
Taps and dies are cutting tools used to create screw threads, which is called threading. A tap is used to cut the female portion of the mating pair . A die is used to cut the male portion of the mating pair . The process of cutting threads using a tap is called tapping, whereas the process using a...

.

Some lathes have only one leadscrew that serves all carriage-moving purposes. For screw cutting, a half nut is engaged to be driven by the leadscrew's thread; and for general power feed, a key engages with a keyway cut into the leadscrew to drive a pinion along a rack that is mounted along the lathe bed.

The leadscrew will be manufactured to either imperial or metric
Metre
The metre , symbol m, is the base unit of length in the International System of Units . Originally intended to be one ten-millionth of the distance from the Earth's equator to the North Pole , its definition has been periodically refined to reflect growing knowledge of metrology...

 standards and will require a conversion ratio to be introduced to create thread forms from a different family. To accurately convert from one thread form to the other requires a 127-tooth gear, or on lathes not large enough to mount one, an approximation may be used. Multiples of 3 and 7 giving a ratio of 63:1 can be used to cut fairly loose threads. This conversion ratio is often built into the quick change gearboxes.

The precise ratio required to convert a lathe with an Imperial (inch) leadscrew to metric (millimeter) threading is 100 / 127 = 0.7874... . The best approximation with the fewest total teeth is very often 37 / 47 = 0.7872... . This transposition gives a constant -0.020 percent error over all customary and model-maker's metric pitches (0.25, 0.30, 0.35, 0.40, 0.45, 0.50, 0.60, 0.70, 0.75, 0.80, 1.00, 1.25, 1.50, 1.75, 2.00, 2.50, 3.00, 3.50, 4.00, 4.50, 5.00, 5.50 and 6.00mm).

Carriage



In its simplest form the carriage holds the tool bit and moves it longitudinally (turning) or perpendicularly (facing) under the control of the operator. The operator moves the carriage manually via the handwheel (5a) or automatically by engaging the feed shaft with the carriage feed mechanism (5c). This provides some relief for the operator as the movement of the carriage becomes power assisted. The handwheels (2a, 3b, 5a) on the carriage and its related slides are usually calibrated, both for ease of use and to assist in making reproducible cuts. The carriage typically comprises a top casting, known as the saddle (4), and a side casting, known as the apron (5).

Cross-slide


The cross-slide (3) rides on the carriage and has a feedscrew that travels perpendicular to the main spindle axis. This permits facing operations to be performed, and the depth of cut to be adjusted. This feedscrew can be engaged, through a gear train, to the feed shaft (mentioned previously) to provide automated 'power feed' movement to the cross-slide. On most lathes, only one direction can be engaged at a time as an interlock mechanism will shut out the second gear train.

Compound rest


The compound rest (or top slide) (2) is usually where the tool post is mounted. It provides a smaller amount of movement (less than the cross-slide) along its axis via another feedscrew. The compound rest axis can be adjusted independently of the carriage or cross-slide. It is used for turning tapers, to control depth of cut when screwcutting or precision facing, or to obtain finer feeds (under manual control) than the feed shaft permits. Usually, the compound rest has a protractor marked in its base (2b), enabling the operator to adjust its axis to precise angles.

The slide rest can be traced to the fifteenth century. In 1718 the tool-supporting slide rest with a set of gears was introduced by a Russian inventor Andrey Nartov
Andrey Nartov
Andrey Konstantinovich Nartov was a Russian scientist, military engineer, inventor and sculptor. He was a personal craftsman of Peter I of Russia, and later a member of the Russian Academy of Science....

 and had limited usage in the Russian industry. In the eighteenth century the slide rest was also used on French ornamental turning
Ornamental turning
Ornamental turning is a type of turning, a craft that involves cutting of a work mounted in a lathe. The work can be made of any material that is suitable for being cut in this way, such as wood, bone, ivory or metal. Plain turning is work executed on a lathe where a transverse section through any...

 lathes. The suite of gun boring mills at the Royal Arsenal
Royal Arsenal
The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, originally known as the Woolwich Warren, carried out armaments manufacture, ammunition proofing and explosives research for the British armed forces. It was sited on the south bank of the River Thames in Woolwich in south-east London, England.-Early history:The Warren...

, Woolwich
Woolwich
Woolwich is a district in south London, England, located in the London Borough of Greenwich. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London.Woolwich formed part of Kent until 1889 when the County of London was created...

, in the 1780s by the Verbruggan family also had slide rests. The story has long circulated that Henry Maudslay
Henry Maudslay
Henry Maudslay was a British machine tool innovator, tool and die maker, and inventor. He is considered a founding father of machine tool technology.-Early life:...

 invented it, but he did not (and never claimed so). The legend that Maudslay invented the slide rest originated with James Nasmyth
James Nasmyth
James Hall Nasmyth was a Scottish engineer and inventor famous for his development of the steam hammer. He was the co-founder of Nasmyth, Gaskell and Company manufacturers of machine tools...

, who wrote ambiguously about it in his Remarks on the Introduction of the Slide Principle, 1841; later writers misunderstood, and propagated the error. However, Maudslay did help to disseminate the idea widely. It is highly probable that he saw it when he was working at the Arsenal as a boy. In 1794, whilst he was working for Joseph Bramah
Joseph Bramah
Joseph Bramah , born Stainborough Lane Farm, Wentworth, Yorkshire, England, was an inventor and locksmith. He is best known for having invented the hydraulic press...

, he made one, and when he had his own workshop used it extensively in the lathes he made and sold there. Coupled with the network of engineers he trained, this ensured the slide rest became widely known and copied by other lathe makers, and so diffused throughout British engineering workshops. A practical and versatile screw-cutting lathe
Screw-cutting lathe
A screw-cutting lathe is a machine capable of cutting very accurate screw threads via single-point screw-cutting, which is the process of guiding the linear motion of the tool bit in a precisely known ratio to the rotating motion of the workpiece...

 incorporating the trio of leadscrew, change gears, and slide rest was Maudslay's most important achievement.

The first fully documented, all-metal slide rest lathe was invented by Jacques de Vaucanson
Jacques de Vaucanson
Jacques de Vaucanson was a French inventor and artist who was responsible for the creation of impressive and innovative automata and machines such as the first completely automated loom.-Early life:...

 around 1751. It was described in the Encyclopédie
Encyclopédie
Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers was a general encyclopedia published in France between 1751 and 1772, with later supplements, revised editions, and translations. It was edited by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert...

 a long time before Maudslay invented and perfected his version. It is likely that Maudslay was not aware of Vaucanson's work, since his first versions of the slide rest had many errors that were not present in the Vaucanson lathe.

Toolpost


The tool bit is mounted in the toolpost (1) which may be of the American lantern style, traditional four-sided square style, or a quick-change style such as the multifix arrangement pictured. The advantage of a quick change set-up is to allow an unlimited number of tools to be used (up to the number of holders available) rather than being limited to one tool with the lantern style, or to four tools with the four-sided type. Interchangeable tool holders allow all tools to be preset to a center height that does not change, even if the holder is removed from the machine.

Tailstock



The tailstock
Tailstock
thumb|Tailstock used for drillingA tailstock, also known as a foot stock, is a device often used as part of an engineering lathe, wood-turning lathe, or used in conjunction with a rotary table on a milling machine....

is a toolholder directly mounted on the spindle axis, opposite the headstock. The spindle (T5) does not rotate but does travel longitudinally under the action of a leadscrew and handwheel (T1). The spindle includes a taper to hold drill bits, centers and other tooling. The tailstock can be positioned along the bed and clamped (T6) in position as required. There is also provision to offset the tailstock (T4) from the spindles axis, this is useful for turning small tapers.

The image shows a reduction gear box (T2) between the handwheel and spindle, this is a feature found only in the larger center lathes, where large drills may necessitate the extra leverage.
The tool bit is normally made of HSS, cobalt steel or carbide

Steady and follower rests



Workpieces often need to be supported more than the chuck and/or centers can support them, because cutting metal produces tremendous forces that tend to vibrate or even bend the workpiece. This extra support can be provided by a steady rest (also called a steady, a fixed steady, a center rest, or sometimes, confusingly, a center). It stands stationary from a rigid mounting on the bed, and it supports the workpiece at the rest's center, typically with three contact points 120° apart. A follower rest (also called a follower or a travelling steady) is similar, but it is mounted to the carriage rather than the bed, which means that as the tool bit moves, the follower rest "follows along" (because they are both rigidly connected to the same moving carriage). Follower rests can provide support that directly counteracts the springing force of the tool bit, right at the region of the workpiece being cut at any moment. In this respect they are analogous to a box tool.


Types of metal lathes


There are many variants of lathes within the metalworking
Metalworking
Metalworking is the process of working with metals to create individual parts, assemblies, or large scale structures. The term covers a wide range of work from large ships and bridges to precise engine parts and delicate jewelry. It therefore includes a correspondingly wide range of skills,...

 field. Some variations are not all that obvious, and others are more a niche area. For example, a centering lathe is a dual head machine where the work remains fixed and the heads move towards the workpiece and machine a center drill hole into each end. The resulting workpiece may then be used "between centers" in another operation.
The usage of the term metal lathe may also be considered somewhat outdated these days, plastics and other composite materials are in wide use and with appropriate modifications, the same principles and techniques may be applied to their machining as that used for metal.

Center lathe / engine lathe / bench lathe




The terms center lathe, engine lathe, and bench lathe all refer to a basic type of lathe that may be considered the archetypical class of metalworking lathe most often used by the general machinist
Machinist
A machinist is a person who uses machine tools to make or modify parts, primarily metal parts, a process known as machining. This is accomplished by using machine tools to cut away excess material much as a woodcarver cuts away excess wood to produce his work. In addition to metal, the parts may...

 or machining hobbyist. The name bench lathe implies a version of this class small enough to be mounted on a workbench (but still full-featured, and larger than mini-lathes or micro-lathes). The construction of a center lathe is detailed above, but depending on the year of manufacture, size, price range, or desired features, even these lathes can vary widely between models.

Engine lathe is the name applied to a traditional late-19th-century or 20th-century lathe with automatic feed to the cutting tool, as opposed to early lathes which were used with hand-held tools, or lathes with manual feed only. The usage of "engine" here is in the mechanical-device sense, not the prime-mover sense, as in the steam engine
Steam engine
A steam engine is a heat engine that performs mechanical work using steam as its working fluid.Steam engines are external combustion engines, where the working fluid is separate from the combustion products. Non-combustion heat sources such as solar power, nuclear power or geothermal energy may be...

s which were the standard industrial power source for many years. The works would have one large steam engine which would provide power to all the machines via a line shaft
Line shaft
A line shaft is a power transmission system used extensively during the Industrial Revolution. Prior to the widespread use of electric motors small enough to be connected directly to each piece of machinery, line shafting was used to distribute power from a large central power source to machinery...

 system of belts. Therefore early engine lathes were generally 'cone heads', in that the spindle usually had attached to it a multi-step pulley called a cone pulley designed to accept a flat belt. Different spindle speeds could be obtained by moving the flat belt to different steps on the cone pulley. Cone-head lathes usually had a countershaft (layshaft) on the back side of the cone which could be engaged to provide a lower set of speeds than was obtainable by direct belt drive. These gears were called back gears. Larger lathes sometimes had two-speed back gears which could be shifted to provide a still lower set of speeds.

When electric motors started to become common in the early 20th century, many cone-head lathes were converted to electric power. At the same time the state of the art in gear
Gear
A gear is a rotating machine part having cut teeth, or cogs, which mesh with another toothed part in order to transmit torque. Two or more gears working in tandem are called a transmission and can produce a mechanical advantage through a gear ratio and thus may be considered a simple machine....

 and bearing
Bearing (mechanical)
A bearing is a device to allow constrained relative motion between two or more parts, typically rotation or linear movement. Bearings may be classified broadly according to the motions they allow and according to their principle of operation as well as by the directions of applied loads they can...

 practice was advancing to the point that manufacturers began to make fully geared headstocks, using gearboxes analogous to automobile transmissions
Transmission (mechanics)
A machine consists of a power source and a power transmission system, which provides controlled application of the power. Merriam-Webster defines transmission as: an assembly of parts including the speed-changing gears and the propeller shaft by which the power is transmitted from an engine to a...

 to obtain various spindle speeds and feed rates while transmitting the higher amounts of power
Power (physics)
In physics, power is the rate at which energy is transferred, used, or transformed. For example, the rate at which a light bulb transforms electrical energy into heat and light is measured in watts—the more wattage, the more power, or equivalently the more electrical energy is used per unit...

 needed to take full advantage of high speed steel
High speed steel
High speed steelMost copyeditors today would tend to choose to style the unit adjective high-speed with a hyphen, rendering the full term as high-speed steel, and this styling is not uncommon . However, it is true that in the metalworking industries the styling high speed steel is long-established...

 tools.

The inexpensive availability of electronics has again changed the way speed control may be applied by allowing continuously variable motor speed from the maximum down to almost zero RPM. (This had been tried in the late 19th century but was not found satisfactory at the time. Subsequent improvements have made it viable again.)

Toolroom lathe


A toolroom lathe is a lathe optimized for toolroom
Toolroom
The term toolroom can refer to three related concepts. The concepts have evolved over the past two centuries as technology itself has evolved.- Storing tools :...

 work. It is essentially just a top-of-the-line center lathe, with all of the best optional features that may be omitted from less expensive models, such as a collet closer, taper attachment, and others. There has also been an implication over the years of selective assembly and extra fitting, with every care taken in the building of a toolroom model to make it the smoothest-running, most-accurate version of the machine that can be built. However, within one brand, the quality difference between a regular model and its corresponding toolroom model depends on the builder and in some cases has been partly marketing psychology. For name-brand machine tool builders who made only high-quality tools, there wasn't necessarily any lack of quality in the base-model product for the "luxury model" to improve upon. In other cases, especially when comparing different brands, the quality differential between (1) an entry-level center lathe built to compete on price, and (2) a toolroom lathe meant to compete only on quality and not on price, can be objectively demonstrated by measuring TIR, vibration, etc. In any case, because of their fully ticked-off option list and (real or implied) higher quality, toolroom lathes are more expensive than entry-level center lathes.

Turret lathe and capstan lathe


Turret lathes and capstan lathes
Turret lathe
The turret lathe is a form of metalworking lathe that is used for repetitive production of duplicate parts, which by the nature of their cutting process are usually interchangeable...

 are members of a class of lathes that are used for repetitive production of duplicate parts (which by the nature of their cutting process are usually interchangeable
Interchangeable parts
Interchangeable parts are parts that are, for practical purposes, identical. They are made to specifications that ensure that they are so nearly identical that they will fit into any device of the same type. One such part can freely replace another, without any custom fitting...

). It evolved from earlier lathes with the addition of the turret, which is an indexable
Indexing (motion)
Indexing in reference to motion is moving into a new position or location quickly and easily but also precisely. After a machine part has been indexed, its location is known to within a few hundredths of a millimeter , or often even to within a few thousandths of a millimeter , despite the fact...

 toolholder that allows multiple cutting operations to be performed, each with a different cutting tool, in easy, rapid succession, with no need for the operator to perform setup tasks in between (such as installing or uninstalling tools) nor to control the toolpath. (The latter is due to the toolpath's being controlled by the machine, either in jig
Jig (tool)
In metalworking and woodworking, a jig is a type of tool used to control the location and/or motion of another tool. A jig's primary purpose is to provide repeatability, accuracy, and interchangeability in the manufacturing of products. A jig is often confused with a fixture; a fixture holds the...

-like fashion [via the mechanical limits placed on it by the turret's slide and stops] or via IT
Information technology
Information technology is the acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of vocal, pictorial, textual and numerical information by a microelectronics-based combination of computing and telecommunications...

-directed servomechanisms [on computer numerical controlled (CNC) lathes].)

There is a tremendous variety of turret lathe and capstan lathe designs, reflecting the variety of work that they do.

Gang-tool lathe


A gang-tool lathe is one that has a row of tools set up on its cross-slide, which is long and flat and is similar to a milling machine
Milling machine
A milling machine is a machine tool used to machine solid materials. Milling machines are often classed in two basic forms, horizontal and vertical, which refers to the orientation of the main spindle. Both types range in size from small, bench-mounted devices to room-sized machines...

 table. The idea is essentially the same as with turret lathes: to set up multiple tools and then easily index between them for each part-cutting cycle. Instead of being rotary like a turret, the indexable tool group is linear.

Multispindle lathe



Multispindle lathes have more than one spindle and automated control (whether via cam
Cam
A cam is a rotating or sliding piece in a mechanical linkage used especially in transforming rotary motion into linear motion or vice-versa. It is often a part of a rotating wheel or shaft that strikes a lever at one or more points on its circular path...

s or CNC). They are production machines specializing in high-volume production. The smaller types are usually called screw machine
Screw machine
A screw machine may refer to a:* Screw machine , a small- to medium-sized automatic lathe that is mechanically automated via cams...

s
, while the larger variants are usually called automatic chucking machines, automatic chuckers, or simply chuckers. Screw machines usually work from bar stock, while chuckers automatically chuck up individual blanks from a magazine. Typical minimum profitable production lot size on a screw machine is in the thousands of parts due to the large setup time. Once set up, a screw machine can rapidly and efficiently produce thousands of parts on a continuous basis with high accuracy, low cycle time, and very little human intervention. (The latter two points drive down the unit cost per interchangeable part much lower than could be achieved without these machines.)

Rotary transfer machines might also be included under the category of multispindle lathes, although they defy traditional classification. They are large, expensive, modular machine tools with many CNC axes that combine the capabilities of lathes, milling machines, and pallet changers.

CNC lathe / CNC turning center



Computer numerical controlled (CNC) lathes are rapidly replacing the older production lathes (multispindle, etc.) due to their ease of setting, operation, repeatability and accuracy. They are designed to use modern carbide
Tungsten carbide
Tungsten carbide is an inorganic chemical compound containing equal parts of tungsten and carbon atoms. Colloquially, tungsten carbide is often simply called carbide. In its most basic form, it is a fine gray powder, but it can be pressed and formed into shapes for use in industrial machinery,...

 tooling and fully use modern processes. The part may be designed and the tool paths programmed by the CAD/CAM process or manually by the programmer, and the resulting file uploaded to the machine, and once set and trialled the machine will continue to turn out parts under the occasional supervision of an operator.

The machine is controlled electronically via a computer menu style interface, the program may be modified and displayed at the machine, along with a simulated view of the process. The setter/operator needs a high level of skill to perform the process, however the knowledge base is broader compared to the older production machines where intimate knowledge of each machine was considered essential. These machines are often set and operated by the same person, where the operator will supervise a small number of machines (cell).

The design of a CNC lathe varies with different manufacturers, but they all have some common elements. The turret holds the tool holders and indexes them as needed, the spindle holds the workpiece and there are slides that let the turret move in multiple axis simultaneously. The machines are often totally enclosed, due in large part to Occupational health and safety
Occupational safety and health
Occupational safety and health is a cross-disciplinary area concerned with protecting the safety, health and welfare of people engaged in work or employment. The goal of all occupational safety and health programs is to foster a safe work environment...

 (OH&S) issues.

With rapid growth in this industry, different CNC lathe manufacturers use different user interfaces which sometimes makes it difficult for operators as they have to be acquainted with them. With the advent of cheap computers, free operating systems such as Linux
Linux
Linux is a Unix-like computer operating system assembled under the model of free and open source software development and distribution. The defining component of any Linux system is the Linux kernel, an operating system kernel first released October 5, 1991 by Linus Torvalds...

, and open source
Open source
The term open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product's source materials. Some consider open source a philosophy, others consider it a pragmatic methodology...

 CNC software, the entry price of CNC machines has plummeted.

Swiss-style lathe / Swiss turning center



For work requiring extreme accuracy (sometimes holding tolerances as small as a few tenths of a thousandth of an inch), a Swiss-style lathe is often used. A Swiss-style lathe holds the workpiece with both a collet and a guide bushing. The collet sits behind the guide bushing, and the tools sit in front of the guide bushing, holding stationary on the Z axis. To cut lengthwise along the part, the tools will move in and the material itself will move back and forth along the Z axis. This allows all the work to be done on the material near the guide bushing where it is more rigid, making them ideal for working on slender workpieces as the part is held firmly with little chance of deflection or vibration occurring.

This style of lathe is also available with CNC controllers to further increase its versatility.

Most CNC Swiss-style lathes today use one or two main spindles plus one or two back spindles (secondary spindles). The main spindle is used with the guide bushing for the main machining operations. The secondary spindle is located behind the part, aligned on the Z axis. In simple operation it picks up the part as it is cut off (aka parted off) and accepts it for second operations, then ejects it into a bin, eliminating the need to have an operator manually change each part, as is often the case with standard CNC turning centers. This makes them very efficient, as these machines are capable of fast cycle times, producing simple parts in one cycle (i.e. no need for a second machine to finish the part with second operations), in as little as 10–15 seconds. This makes them ideal for large production runs of small-diameter parts.

Additionally, as many Swiss lathes incorporate a secondary spindle, or 'sub-spindle', they also incorporate 'live tooling'. Live tools are rotary cutting tools that are powered by a small motor independently of the spindle motor(s). Live tools increase the intricacy of components that can be manufactured by the Swiss lathe. For instance, automatically producing a part with a hole drilled perpendicular to the main axis (the axis of rotation of the spindles) is very economical with live tooling, and similarly uneconomical if done as a 'secondary operation' after machining by the Swiss lathe is complete. A 'Secondary operation' is a machining operation requiring a partially completed part to be secured in a second machine to complete the manufacturing process. Generally, advanced CAD/CAM software uses live tools in addition to the main spindles so that most parts that can be drawn by a CAD system can actually be manufactured by the machines that the CAD/CAM software support.

Combination lathe / 3-in-1 machine


A combination lathe, often known as a 3-in-1 machine, introduces drilling or milling operations into the design of the lathe. These machines have a milling column rising up above the lathe bed, and they utilize the carriage and topslide as the X and Y axes for the milling column. The 3-in-1 name comes from the idea of having a lathe, milling machine, and drill press all in one affordable machine tool. These are exclusive to the hobbyist and MRO
Maintenance, Repair and Operations
Maintenance, repair, and operations or maintenance, repair, and overhaul involves fixing any sort of mechanical or electrical device should it become out of order or broken...

 markets, as they inevitably involve compromises in size, features, rigidity, and precision in order to remain affordable. Nevertheless, they meet the demand of their niche quite well, and are capable of high accuracy given enough time and skill. They may be found in smaller, non-machine-oriented businesses where the occasional small part must be machined, especially where the exacting tolerances of expensive toolroom machines, besides being unaffordable, would be overkill for the application anyway from an engineering perspective.

Mini-lathe and micro-lathe


Mini-lathes and micro-lathes
Micro lathe
A micro lathe is a machine tool used for the complex shaping of metal and other solid materials. Micro lathes are related to lathes but are distinguished by their small size and differing capabilities, application, use, and locations...

 are miniature versions of a general-purpose center lathe (engine lathe). They typically have swings in the range of 3" to 7" (70 mm to 170 mm) diameter (in other words, 1.5" to 3.5" (30 mm to 80 mm) radius). They are small and affordable lathes for the home workshop or MRO shop. The same advantages and disadvantages apply to these machines as explained earlier regarding 3-in-1 machines.

As found elsewhere in English-language orthography, there is variation in the styling of the prefixes in these machines' names. They are alternately styled as mini lathe, minilathe, and mini-lathe and as micro lathe, microlathe, and micro-lathe.

Brake lathe


A lathe specialized for the task of resurfacing brake drums
Drum brake
A drum brake is a brake in which the friction is caused by a set of shoes or pads that press against a rotating drum-shaped part called a brake drum....

 and discs
Disc brake
The disc brake or disk brake is a device for slowing or stopping the rotation of a wheel while it is in motion.A brake disc is usually made of cast iron, but may in some cases be made of composites such as reinforced carbon–carbon or ceramic matrix composites. This is connected to the wheel and/or...

 in automotive or truck garages.

Feed mechanisms



Various feed mechanisms exist to feed material into a lathe at a defined rate.

Bar feeder
A bar feeder feeds a single piece of bar stock
Bar stock
Bar stock, also colloquially known as billet, is a common form of raw purified metal, used by industry to manufacture metal parts and products....

into the cutting machine. As each part is machined, the cutting tool creates a final cut to separate the part from the bar stock, and the feeder continues to feed the bar for the next part, allowing for continual operation of the machine.

Bar loader
A bar loader is a variation on the bar feeder concept in that multiple pieces of bar stock may be fed into a hopper, and the loader feeds each piece as necessary.

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