A lathe machine or lathe is primarily a machine tool that rapidly revolves the work piece on its axis for carrying out a broad variety of functions that includes shaping, cutting, turning, drilling, sanding, deforming, knurling, boring, polishing, grinding, threading, etc. A fixed cutting or abrading tool is applied on the work piece, which may be made of metal, wood, plastic, etc; and the unwanted material is thereby removed from the work piece in order to produce a symmetrical object. Earlier woodworking lathes were used, however nowadays a variety of metalworking or metal lathes are generally utilized.
A metal lathe mainly comprises of the headstock, tailstock, and bed. They are used for accurately machining and removing relatively hard materials that includes different kinds of metals, from the work piece using a tough cutting tool. This cutting tool is fixed to a solid tool post, and is moved against the work piece using a wheel. It may be manually operated or gear driven, and electrically or electronically controlled. A variety of cutting tools are available in diverse sizes and shapes such as round, square, triangular, diamond, etc.; depending on their application.
Different types of lathe machines are now manufactured and supplied globally that includes the light duty lathe, medium duty lathe, heavy duty lathe, extra heavy duty lathe, all geared lathe, imported lathe, turret lathe, CNC lathe, etc. Each one has special features and performs a specific operation as described further.
Turret Lathe: They have a cylindrical tailstock which spins around a vertical axis, in order to move the various tools towards the work piece, as well as the headstock. It looks very similar to the capstan lathe. However, it is not fixed and just lies right on the bed. The turret is basically an indexed tool holder that permits to quickly, easily and simultaneously perform multiple cutting operations, each with a different cutting tool. Here the operator does not have to install and uninstall the tools or control the tool path. This is because the tool path is controlled by the machine, either by a jig-like mechanism or through a servo mechanism. Turret lathes are commonly utilized for repetitive production of similar parts.
CNC Lathe: Computer numerically controlled or CNC lathes are the latest variety of lathes that are unique and very accurate. They are simple to set and operate, and can rapidly perform monotonous jobs. The object to be produced is pre-designed, and the tool path is pre-programmed either by a CAD/CAM process, or manually by a programmer. The work piece is then loaded on the machine, and set as required. The lathe thereafter continues to automatically manufacture the required product, with intermittent supervision of the machine operator.
A CNC lathe is digitally controlled through the computer menu. The program may be altered as required and displayed on the computer screen, together with a computer generated view of the process. These high speed CNC lathes are very useful for cutting curved shapes and complex forms without using any special shaping tools.
Applications and Uses of Different Types of Lathe Machines
Lathe machines come in different types and each one has its own set of utility. The automatic lathe changes its tool automatically and the need for changing tools is eliminated. The components which lathe manufacturers add have high dimensional accuracy and some of them are useful even in laboratory experiments. The flow of production gets better as the lathe are large and complex machines go a long way towards improving the quality and quantity of production. The automatic lathe manufacturers provide lathe with a single or multi-spindle version and fall into the category of high performance, high-speed lathe which is excellent for mass production.