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The distinction between a CNC milling machine and a CNC lathe

April 9, 2022

The difference between CNC milling machine and CNC lathe

In choosing to machine, a question that some users will ask is, what is the difference between a CNC lathe and a CNC milling machine, and which one is better to choose? The CNC milling machine is derived from a CNC lathe. The two are related, but there are also many differences.


What is a CNC lathe?

CNC lathes create cylindrical parts by rotating material on a stationary tool. Using a lathe to make parts is called turning.


The raw material is held in a high-speed rotating chuck - this axis of rotation is called the C-axis. The tool of the lathe is mounted on a tool holder that can move parallel to the C-axis (expressed as movement along the Z-axis) and perpendicular to the C-axis (movement along the X-axis).


On a CNC lathe, complex cylindrical geometries can be turned by changing the rotational speed of certain features by simultaneously controlling the X and Z positions of the tool holders.


More advanced lathes have automatic tool changers, part catchers for serial production, and live tools that allow some milling functions.


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What is a CNC milling machine?

Unlike a lathe, a milling machine holds the material in a fixture and cuts it with a rotating tool.


CNC milling machines can simultaneously control motion along these axes to create complex geometries such as surfaces. This main type of milling machine is called a 3-axis milling machine.


5-axis milling machines and the like can cut more complex parts, as well as machine a wide range of parts, including many different functions that cannot be done on a lathe. Milling machines, on the other hand, can be complicated to set up and program.


What's the difference between them?

The differences between them can be mainly summarized into three aspects: different structures, different operating modes, and different processing objects.

1. Different structure

The lathe is a workpiece rotating tool fixed longitudinal and horizontal walking tool to process circles and surfaces. The milling machine fixes the blank and clamps the part on the machine tool spindle through the three-grip chuck.


2, the operation mode is different

The lathe moves the part around the axis and the tool moves around the axis, while the milling machine is a fixed workpiece, and the parts are processed by moving the fixture and the milling cutter.


3. Different processing objects

Lathes can be used to process various rotary forming surfaces, such as inner and outer cylindrical surfaces, inner and outer conical surfaces, inner and outer threads, as well as end faces, grooves, knurls, etc.


The milling machine can process planes (horizontal, vertical), grooves (keyways, T-slots, dovetail grooves, etc.), toothed parts (gears, spline shafts, sprockets), helical surfaces (threads, spiral grooves), and various kinds of surface.

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How do choose a CNC milling machine and a CNC lathe?

Which method to choose for processing? It is necessary to choose according to their advantages and the requirements of the workpiece to be machined.


From the above summary, the lathe is best for making cylindrical parts, the cross-section of the part must be circular, and the same central axis must run through its entire length.


A milling machine can machine cylindrical features, but if the part is purely cylindrical, a lathe is a better and more precise choice.


More sophisticated machines, such as Swiss lathes, can cut flat features and drill vertical holes in the material. However, these machines are still more suitable for cylindrical parts.