Maybe you’re like we once were and have no idea of what a CNC lathe is or does. Or maybe you’ve seen traditional (manual) lathes and wondered, “what’s the big deal about CNC lathes?”
Allow us to inform you about what these amazing machines are, what they can do, and our 5 favorite machines.
What is Lathe?
Let’s start with a basic description of what a lathe is. A lathe is a machine that holds a piece of stock material (metal, wood, Teflon, plastic, etc.) and spins that material. This is part “A” of a lathe. The second part of the lathe, part “B”, is the tool carriage. This is the part of the lathe where you can mount a wide variety of cutting tools. On a manual lathe, this carriage is typically moved around with 2 handwheels in order to use the mounted tool for cutting. Normally a manual lathe holds one tool at a time and each new tool must be manually replaced and calibrated.
So now you know what a manual lathe is. Manual lathes, or variations thereof, have existed for millennia. In fact, they’ve been around since 1300 BC!
CNC Lathe Machines
During the last century, a new player arrived on the block and changed everything. It’s CNC machines. CNC stands for “Computer Numerically Controlled” and refers to any machine that is computer-controlled. Parts that used to take an experienced Machinist many hours or even days to complete can now often be made in a matter of minutes. While CNC can stand for any computer-controlled machine, for the sake of this article we will only focus on the CNC lathe.
Remember how manual lathe tools had to be manually switched every time? Well depending on the type of CNC lathe, you can easily hold at least 12 tools, and often many more. Also, once these tools are set up, changing to a different tool is as easy as pushing a button.
But that is only the beginning of what this machine can do. There are countless variations of this machine, from a hybrid CNC lathe which is very similar to the manual with the difference being that the tool carriage is computer controlled, to a machine with a Y-axis, dual spindles, bar feeder, and parts catcher. You can even purchase machines with a robotic arm that loads the material into the machine, does all the jobs for you.
Sound very impressive but needs more visual description? Check out this link if you want to see a CNC lathe in action! Have a nice day!
Top 5 Best CNC Lathes
Here is a list of our top 5 best CNC lathe machines and links to take a look or buy one if you want to take the plunge! (Warning, they are not cheap!)
1. Haas ST30SSY
First off, the Haas ST30SSY. The ST30SSY is a very robust machine, able to handle parts both small and large. With a tool turret that can hold up to 24 tools at once and a Y-axis for milling operations, this machine is very versatile. Our favorite is the Haas control. At first, the control of any CNC machine can look daunting, but the Haas control is well designed and doesn’t take much time to learn. A huge bonus to this control is that it is virtually the same from lathe to mill, making it easy to learn any new Haas machines.
2. Okuma LU3000 EX
Second is the Okuma LU3000 EX. The LU3000 EX offers 2 tool turrets, so you can be machining two different operations at the same time. Okuma can be a bit more challenging to learn at first but is a fantastic machine once you’ve mastered the basics!
3. Haas ST40
The third is the Haas ST40. The ST40 is a beast when it comes to heavy material removal. You can customize this machine on the Hass website to include a Y-axis as well. This machine is almost twice as big as the ST30SSY and moves slower. But make no mistake! If you have big parts that need a lot of material removed, this machine will make it look easy.
4. DMG MORI CTX beta 800 TC
If money is no problem, then maybe you’ll want to consider the DMG MORI CTX beta 800 TC. This machine hardly resembles a traditional lathe anymore. With tool magazines that can hold 80 tools and a rotating machining head, this unit can do 5 axis machining. Imagination is the limit to what you can make with this type of machine. Mind you, this machine is more complex, and the operator will need more training than for the other machines mentioned.
5. Haas TL1
Last but not least, the Haas TL1 is a great option for those that are looking to transition from manual machines to a CNC, or for a start-up shop. The TL1 can be set up with single or three-phase power, meaning it can be set up virtually anywhere. This machine can handle many different tools and is much easier on the wallet.
Maybe you noticed that three of the five machines mentioned were of the Haas brand. While there are many great brands of CNC machines out there, Haas remains our favorite because of how easy they are to use. They are American made and very common. They are also very competitively priced, and they usually offer various deals on their machines.
If you are trying to decide what type of machine is best for your shop, consider what you intend to use it for. If you manufacture everything under the sun, maybe the DMG MORI CTX beta 800 TC is right for you. It can certainly handle almost anything you will throw at it.
Or maybe you make simple parts in high quantities. Then the Haas ST30SSY or Okuma LU3000 EX would fit right into your niche.
But if you are just delving into the world of CNC and don’t know if it is right for you, then start with something simpler, like the Haas TL1.