When working with materials in a shop, two of the most common types of machines you may use are the milling machine and the lathe. The milling machine holds the part still, while the lathe rotates the part. The best machine for you to use is based on the type of machining you are performing.
Uses for a Lathe
Lathes are best used when creating a piece that is symmetrical around its origin. The type of operations commonly performed with a lathe include sanding, drilling, knurling, turning, facing, deforming, and cutting. An example of a product a lathe might create is a bowl since this piece is usually symmetrical. The cutting tool that the lathe uses is the insert cutter. The tip cuts and shapes the outside of the workpiece.
When the Lathe is Superior
Lathes are best used for creating cylindrical parts. A milling machine is able to create the exact same parts, but it will require more setup. The lathe will also cut cylindrical parts more quickly and efficiently.
Uses for the Milling Machine
Mills are usually what you need when you must create a much more complex piece. If you need a piece that is a precise shape, the lathe will probably not suffice. The milling machine is also able to engage in processes that a lathe is not capable of performing.
The most common cutting tool used by the milling machine is the end mill. This is placed inside the spindle and can spin at different speeds. Other cutting tools include the CNC router and the machine center.
The Versatility of Milling Machines
Both machines are capable of working with wood, metal, and plastics. Because a milling machine is more versatile than a lathe, though, you may find yourself using a milling machine more often unless you are often producing baseball bats or pool cues. By programming the milling machine, using the right clearances and choosing the correct tooling, you can make just about anything.
3D printers have attracted a lot of attention, but a 3D printer is not able to produce parts as quickly or accurately. The 3D printer can also be expensive to set up and cannot create very large parts.
If you cannot decide whether you need a milling machine or a lathe, one option is to head to a milling machine shop that has both types of machines. Another option is to purchase a combination lathe/milling machine. Contact a company like Aero Mechanism Precision for more information and assistance.