Want to grow your lathe workshop with a CNC machine?
If yes, a CNC lathe machine is your best bet, as you stand to increase efficiency and volume of production.
You might be using machining tools like metalworking lathes in your workshop, as they are needed for turning operations to create cones and spheres, among other cylindrical shapes.
Even as traditional engine lathe machines are still used in modern-day machining workshops, their limitations are an open secret. More so after their CNC counterparts have become not just affordable but also readily available on the market.
But how exactly do CNC lathe machines make a difference in machining, you may ask?
A CNC lathe machine turns your metalworking device into a high-precision and high-speed turning capable system. That’s exactly why CNC machine varieties have become an indispensable part of the production process at workshops.
Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?
You see, producing high-quality components on a large scale requires both accuracy and repeatability at a fast pace. And as a machinist, that’s something you can’t accomplish without a precision CNC lathe conversion kit for your metalworking projects.
Buying a CNC lathe machine requires a huge investment upfront, so you can’t afford to get an inefficient device. But you can rest easy, as we compiled a comprehensive list of things you should consider before buying a CNC lathe machine.
So let’s dive in.
#1. Decide on the size of your CNC lathe machine
The most important thing you need to consider before buying a CNC-capable lathe is the size of the unit.
CNC lathes are mostly measured by their swing and size, which are often shown as a pair of numbers.
For instance, in a CNC lathe machine-sized 12 X 20, the initial number, i.e., the swing size, denotes the distance between the lathe bed and the headstock center. And that’s the maximum workpiece radius that you can mount between the center of that particular lathe machine.
That means if you have a lathe machine with a swing size of 12 inches and a workpiece sized 15 inches, the workpiece will be too oversized to fit at the center of your lathe machine.
Similarly, the second number shown on the lathe machine denotes the distance between the tailstock and the headstock. Called the bed size, it has to be above 20 inches for a standard 15-inch workpiece to fit in.
So you should factor in the size of your workpiece before buying a lathe machine. You see, the CNC machine has to be large enough for your workpieces to fit in well.
#2. Make sure that your workshop can handle the lathe machine
CNC lathe machines can be large, weighing hundreds of pounds, and that holds even for those with smaller bed sizes.
In fact, floor-mounted lathe machines meant for heavy-duty operations can be even larger. They can weigh thousands of pounds depending on their size and operation type.
So you should measure the floor space of your workshop before you buy a CNC lathe machine. A precise measurement of the floor area will ensure that your lathe machine won’t exceed the area in the workshop.
You see, CNC lathe machines are available in all shapes and sizes, from large workshop-sized industrial-grade lathes to small bench lathe kits. So you can easily choose one by factoring in the type of your operations and the location of the CNC lathe in your workshop.
However, you’ve got to ensure that your workshop has the required electrical supply to run the CNC lathe machine. That’s because lathe machines require a lot of energy to run, something smaller workshops lack.
You might have the right energy supply if you already have a lathe machine in your metalworking workshop. Still, it’s good to check the power supply, especially if you’re a newbie adding a small-sized CNC lathe to your home workshop.
With the floor size and energy requirements sorted, you can rest assured as your workshop will produce high-precision workpieces.
#3. Get acquainted with the basics of a CNC lathe machine
Before you start working on your CNC turning machine, it’s good to learn the basics of all things CNC. And that’s why we have explained here the essentials of a CNC lathe machine and its operations, so let’s have a look.
The CNC lathe machines are mainly made up of four primary components.
First up is the lathe bed of your CNC machine, which can be either pivoted or fixed. You need a lathe bed to hold the lathe structure firm and support it.
Second, comes the headstock of the lathe machine, something you need to hold your workpiece while you’re machining.
Third, you have the tailstock that provides clamping and supports long material pieces.
Finally, there’s the lead screw of the lathe machine. You need one to advance the lathe’s carriage in sync with spindle rotation.
The headstock and tailstock hold your workpiece between the centers.
Some lathe beds have removable pieces right below the headstock, allowing you to carry out turning operations even on such workpieces that exceed the swing radius of the lathe.
There are various types of lathe machines that you can find on the market, the most common ones being standard powered engine and turret lathes.
Even as you can work on multiple materials with most CNC lathe machines, they’re usually categorized into metalworking and woodworking lathes. And since woodworking lathe machines aren’t as powerful as their metalworking counterparts, you can’t use them for heavy machining.
#4. Get a lathe machine designed to match your requirements
Before you buy your brand new CNC lathe machine, it’s good to figure out the type of machining you need. That way, you can choose a lathe machine designed for operations matching your precise requirements.
For instance, if you need to carry turning operations on a crankshaft 48 inches long, you shouldn’t get a lathe machine maxing out at 44 inches.
You can get your CNC lathe custom-built either from scratch or by getting a non-CNC machine repurposed for your needs. In fact, you can even get your manually controlled engine lathe converted into a fully-fledged CNC unit using CNC conversion kits.
Interesting, isn’t it?
#5. Go for direct-drive spindles over belt drive ones
The spindle on your metalworking CNC lathe machine can be either belt drive or direct drive. When choosing between them, you should go for a direct drive spindle as it ensures a much faster variable speed compared to belt-driven spindles, thus resulting in a short cycle time.
You see, belt drive spindles belong to the older generation of lathe machines and can slow down your operations.
So with a direct drive spindle on your CNC lathe machine, you can reach a speed from 0 to 6000 rpm in less than half the time as belt-driven spindles.
However, a belt drive spindle can still be the right option if you are looking for small-scale CNC machining. But you should make sure that the spindle provides the power and precision you need for your workpieces.
#6. Check the spindle speed, torque, and horsepower
Most modern-day CNC lathe machines are designed for workpieces of specific diameters. And workshops usually go for a CNC lathe capable of machining the workpiece of the largest diameter.
For instance, if you want to cut a 2-inch diameter bar, you should go for a lathe machine designed for small-scale turning operations. That’s because a small CNC lathe machine can cut workpieces much faster, all while maintaining the right amount of torque and horsepower.
Similarly, if you’re working on a large workpiece, a large lathe machine with higher torque will be apt since bigger and bulkier workpieces need higher torque and slower spindle speeds.
#7. Turning tools for the CNC lathe machine
When you get a CNC machine for your lathe mill, you also need to buy some CNC machine tools.
Even as your CNC lathe machine comes pre-equipped with a jaw chuck, you still need a faceplate for various types of lathe machining. Also, you will need cutting tools like facing, grooving, parting, etc.
#8. A CNC lathe that is worth the money
A CNC lathe machine is your one-stop solution to add speed and accuracy to your machine shop operations.
Needless to say, these machines are expensive. So you should get one that gives you the most value for your money. Choose a CNC lathe that offers unmatched precision, as that is something you do need to scale your machining business.
An interesting history of lathe machines
A CNC lathe machine has become a must-have for metalworking workshops across the world.
But, did you know that people have been using lathe machines for more than two centuries?
Lathe machines in their heyday were used only in the woodwork units. However, in the 1800s, Henry Maudslay modified and adapted these lathe kits for metalworking operations. That made them ideal for industrial settings, making their demand skyrocket during the industrial revolution.
Over the years, engine lathes increased the capacity and power of these machines.
In the modern age, CNC lathes have taken precision and production volume to a whole new level, offering leverage to workshops no matter their size.
Wrapping it up
A CNC lathe machine is something that every production unit needs, be it aerospace, toolmaking, or automotive manufacturers. That’s because CNC lathes are too versatile and can perform a broad range of tasks.
In fact, many CNC lathe kits offer variable spindle speeds and also tool holders, allowing you to change the tooling even in the middle of operations.