Most metal fab shops and CNC machining professionals have both milling and lathe machines. Both CNC machines employ the same principle of subtractive machining — you begin with a block of raw material and then shape that block to your desired from though CNC machine techniques. Although these processes are similar, they do have distinct differences. Understanding these differences can help give you a more in-depth understanding of CNC capabilities, allowing you to maximize equipment capabilities and optimize project efficiency.
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The primary difference between lathes and milling machines is the essential relationship between the workpiece and the tool.
With a lathe, the workpiece spins about its axis. The tool stays stationary. This process is sometimes called “turning” and is a common method used to create cylindrical parts. Other common operations performed on a lathe include drilling, threading, boring, and grooving.
Whereas a lathe rotates the workpiece, a milling machine does the opposite — the tool rotates while the workpiece stays still. By utilizing this type of setup, you are given more flexibility when approaching the workpiece, which allows for more intricate and complex designs.
As you have probably gathered after reading the above descriptions, the most suitable time to use a milling machine is when you need versatility. Not only does the design of the machine allow for more flexibility, but it also offers a wide array of available cutting tools. In short, for intricate parts, a milling machine is used.
Lathe machines, on the other hand, are much more limited in their potential applications. This being said, they are the superior choice for cylindrical parts. Lathes are especially useful when you need the precise and consistent production of cylindrical parts. A CNC lathe machine will be able to handle this.
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