A CNC lathe with live tooling can enable operators to drill cross holes, mill complex shapes, and broach splines while the workpiece is held in the central or sub-spindle. The tools that make up this apparatus are known as driven tools, and unlike standard lathing tools held against the workpiece, they are manipulated by a powerful drive mechanism to perform these functions.
The flexibility of a live tooling lathe allows machinists to change tools as needed quickly. Rather than waiting for a tool shop to complete an order, machinists can make changes in-house, reducing overall part production times and the need to send the part out for outside production. This increases the efficiency of production processes and the speed with which new designs can be implemented. In addition, machinists can also use flexible adapters to mount standard cutters to a live tooling lathe, making it easier to switch between machining operations such as turning, milling, drilling, and tapping. The ability to swap out the holder with a face mill adapter or a tap adapter means that a single tooling system can perform various jobs, enabling shops to respond faster to changing customer orders and market demands. Having the best live tooling lathe in your shop can help you achieve tight tolerances and a better surface finish on parts. This is because areas machined with a lathe typically have a much smoother surface finish than those machined on a mill, often leaving visible tool marks. Modern live tools can run faster than 10 or 20 years ago due to improvements in gears and bearings. This translates to less stress on the machine spindle and insert, which lengthens the lifespan of these components.
Adding live tooling to a CNC lathe enables the machine to mill and turn in one setup. This eliminates the need to move the workpiece between machines and can cut cycle time considerably. This also saves on re-indexing and lost accuracy caused by moving the workpiece. In addition to saving time, eliminating secondary operations such as drilling or milling increases machining accuracy and consistency. This is especially true for smaller lot sizes that typically require multiple steps to prepare a part for production. While a standard lathe turret can take a drill, the tools are often clamped with a collet system that is less rigid and accurate than a milling spindle or chuck. That’s why it is essential to consider a shrink-fit tool holder. This method provides a faster setup time and a more precise tool-holding force than standard ER collets. Shrink-fit ER collets feature a presenter and a built-in tool length setting process. This reduces machining time, low contamination, high runout accuracy, and superior clamping force. They are an excellent choice for CNC lathes with live tooling and can be used on axial and radial cutting applications. This technology is a game changer and will enable manufacturers to take their production capabilities to the next level.
Many shops may need to realize it, but lathes equipped with live tooling can drill cross-holes, mill complex shapes, broach splines, and sculpt multidimensional surfaces in a single operation. This versatility increases a machine’s usefulness and reduces the need for multiple setups typically required in a machining center, saving time and money. In fact, for parts that qualify for turning and milling (often gears), a live-tool lathe can often provide a superior finish to an unequipped machining center. This is due to improved, more-accurate grinding processes that produce smoother gear surface finishes and advances in the design of gear teeth that allow for a higher torque output per tooth. A shop’s ability to turn and mill a part in the same setup reduces or eliminates secondary setups, resulting in less scrap and reduced floor space requirements. This can also improve quality and lead to better, more consistent part dimensions. However, machinists must remember certain best practices to get the most out of a live-tool CNC lathe. Tool stick-out should also be kept to a minimum, as excessive tool length can create harmonics and chatter that can impact accuracy and machining efficiency.
The benefits of live tooling lathes are numerous and varied, but one of the most significant is increased productivity. These machines can significantly reduce production time by allowing multiple operations in the same setup. This increases the shop’s overall throughput and helps manufacturers meet customers’ requirements more effectively. Live tooling allows for machining operations that would be impossible on traditional lathes. For instance, a shop can drill cross holes, mill complex shapes, or broach splines in the same setup as turning. This saves time and labor and eliminates the need to transfer the part to a different machine for additional machining. A quality live tooling lathe features a high level of rigidity and servo control, which are essential for producing accurate cuts that improve the surface finish of the workpiece. In addition, the machine should be designed to allow for quick and easy tool changes. This ensures the machine is always working at maximum efficiency. Selecting the correct tool output clamping system for your machine is also essential.