CNC lathe machines, also called live tooling lathes, are ideal for cutting any symmetrical cylindrical or spherical parts. Characteristically, a lathe spins a workpiece on a vertical or horizontal axis, while a fixed shaping instrument moves around it on a more or less linear path. The act of cutting a workpiece on a CNC lathe is called turning.
CNC lathes use a subtractive method to create the desired shape. With the G-Code created, a blank bar of stock material is loaded into the chuck of the lathe’s spindle. The chuck holds the workpiece in place while the spindle spins. When the spindle is up to speed, a stationary cutting tool is brought into contact with the workpiece to remove material until the desired geometry is achieved.
There are many operations that can be performed on a live tooling lathe, including facing, threading, knurling, drilling, boring, reaming, and taper turning. Different operations require tool changes and can increase cost and set-up time.
When all machining operations are completed, the part is cut from the stock for further post-processing. The CNC lathe is then ready to repeat the operation with little-to-no set-up time in between.
There are many types of lathes, but the most common are 2-axis CNC lathes and Swiss-type lathes. Swiss-type lathes are unique in that stock material is fed through a guide bushing, allowing the tool to cut nearer to the point of support, which makes them particularly useful for long, slender turned parts and micromachining. Some Swiss-type lathes also come equipped with a second tool head that operates as a CNC mill, allowing them to perform multiple machining operations without having to move the workpiece to a different machine. This makes Swiss-type lathes extremely cost-effective for complex turned parts.
Like CNC mills, CNC lathes can be easily set up for high repeatability, which makes them great for everything from rapid prototyping to low and high-volume production. Multi-axis CNC turning centers and Swiss-type lathes allow for multiple machining operations in one machine. making them a cost-effective option for complex geometries that would otherwise require multiple machines or tool changes in a traditional CNC mill.