CNC Vertical Machining Center

What Is the Difference Between CNC Lathe And Milling Machine?

Aug 07, 2023

The manufacturing industry has been transitioning from one era to another, with every next era bringing in newer technologies that are fast and efficient. Hand labor was replaced by manual machining, which proved to be a fast process for the manufacturing industry. With further advancement of the manufacturing industry, yet another industrial revolution was born by numerically controlled machines in the late 1940s and 1950s.

The CNC machines, Computer numerical control machines, brought the next industrial revolution. These manufacturing machines use pre-programmed codes and software in which you give a command in the form of a program. The machine performs the given task according to the program. The CNC machines have made the manufacturing process very precise, accurate, and fast.

DNC has been introduced in which multiple CNC machines are connected to a single mainframe computer. It works like an assembly production line where the workpiece is moved from one machine to another to undergo different processes in sequence. However, our today’s topic for the article is not related to DNC(Direct or Distributed numerical control) machines.

We are going to walk you through the differences between the CNC lathe and milling machines. We will talk about how each machine is used for distinct manufacturing processes and what parts or materials differ in each type of CNC machine. So let’s get into it.  

What Is CNC Lathe?

Before we actually jump into the comparison between the CNC lathe machine and the milling machine, let’s have a brief overview of lathe and milling machines.  

A lathe is a machining tool that shapes metals or wood by rotating and cutting with a stationary cutting tool. The workpiece is rotated around a stationary cutting tool, and the unwanted parts of the material are removed to leave nicely shaped parts or workpieces. Different types of lathe machines are used for different materials and techniques. The lathe is also referred to as the mother of machining tools.

A CNC lathe machine is a turning machine that rotates the material(workpiece) around the central spindle, and the cutting tool remains fixed. The Computer numerical control eliminates the need for physical labor, and the coded instructions are fed to the computer; it controls the movement of the components.

Horizontal Lathe Machine Vertical Lathe Machine 


What Is CNC Milling Machine?

A milling machine is also a manufacturing machine that removes the material from the parts & workpieces. The vertical spindle or horizontal arbor rotates above a horizontal table in milling machines. The main purpose of the milling machine is to shave off small sections of metals to produce the final product.

The CNC milling machine also works on the principle of the manual machine. However, the main difference between the manual and CNC machine is that CNC is run through coded instructions fed to the computer. The computer program controls the movements of the components to give a nicely shaped final product.


Difference Between CNC Lathe And Milling Machine

Let’s come to the blog’s point to discuss the differences between a CNC lathe and a milling machine. So here is a detailed overview of the properties of each CNC machine and how they differ from each other. After going through the differences, you will be able to decide which machine to choose for certain operations you intend to perform. So let’s get into it.

Working Principle Of CNC Lathe and Milling Machine

The most significant difference between a CNC lathe and a milling machine is the working principle of each manufacturing tool.


Lathe Machine

The working principle of the lathe machine is as follows:

The lathe machine tool holds the workpiece or parts of the workpiece between rigid and strong supports called chucks or in-face plates. Whatever is used to hold the workpiece rotates it around the cutting tool. The movement of the workpiece against the tool allows the cutting of unwanted metal or wood parts as per the fed instructions through G-code.

If we talk about the position of the cutting tool in reference to the workpiece, it is fed parallel, at a right angle to the axis of the workpieces, or at an angle. The angle at which the cutting tool is fed affects the chip formation. The angles of 90 or 0 degrees produce the chip thickness the same as the feed rate. However, if you choose smaller angles, the chip thickness reduces and also increases the feed.


Milling Machine

The working principle of the milling machine is as follows:

The milling machine, CNC or manual, and rotary cutting tools move around the workpiece and shave off the unwanted parts to get the desired shape. The workpiece is rigidly clamped on the table using chucks. The high-speed cutter revolves around the workpiece that can be fed in longitudinal, cross-direction, or verticle angles depending on the type of milling machine.

Types Of Lathe Machines And Milling Machines

As mentioned earlier, there can be different types of CNC lathe(turning or milling machines). So let’s talk about the types of differentiation between the two manufacturing machines.

Lathe Machine

The differentiation of one lathe machine from another can be done on different bases ranging from configuration to operations.

Depending on the operations, there are three types of lathes: engine lathes, special lathes, and turret lathes. The engine lathes are the most commonly used with a smaller bench and portable machines or with larger vertical tables standing on the floor.

The engine lathes are commonly used for on-site repair workshops requiring different variations depending on the operations to be done during the lathe processing work. The special lathes and turret lathes are commonly used in special-purpose production or mass-production workshops.

Besides the operation, the classification of lathe machines can also be done based on the axis at which the machined tool is positioned. It can be a 2-axis, 3-axis, 4-axis, 5-axis, 6-axis or even more than 6-axis CNC lathe.


Milling Machine

Milling machines, on the other hand, can be classified into the following types: vertical milling, horizontal milling, or multi-axis milling. The vertical milling machines work in a way that the tools are rotated vertically, and a typical vertical milling machine has three axes at which the tooling moves vertically.

The horizontal milling machine performs the same task as vertical milling, but the tool is rotated horizontally. These machines are usually more expensive and commonly used for production machining. The third type of milling machine can come in different configurations like 3-axis, 4-axis, or more than 4-axis milling machines.

The number of axes in the milling machine determines the machine setup complexity, capabilities & efficiencies, and requirement of the software programming. The higher the number of axes, the higher the efficiency, complexity, and requirement of software programming.


Which Operations Are Done On Lathe Vs Milling Machine?

It is very important to discuss what operations can be performed on different CNC machine centers and machining tools. And it is also where the milling machine and CNC lathe differ from each other. So here is what can be done with a CNC lathe or milling machine.


Lathe Machine

A CNC lathe is usually the best option if you’re working with round, conical, or cylindrical pieces. The CNC lathes can help you create uniform parts, objects, shapes, etc., across cylindrical or conical surfaces. In short, if you want symmetrical cylindrical parts, go for lathe machines without a second thought. The most common parts or workpieces that lathe pieces work with are disc cams, screws, crankshafts, knobs, shafts, etc.

The common operations that can be performed on lathe machines are as follows:

· Boring

· Threading

· ID or OD grooving

· Parting

· Drilling

· Tapping


Milling Machine

On the other hand, milling machines are more complicated and can access the workpieces in different orientations. It allows the machine to curate complex and intricate workpieces or parts. A CNC mill can perform the operations if you want to create flat surfaces, planes, edges, holes, or grooves.

The common milling processes are as follows:

· Face milling

· Plain milling

· Gear cutting

· Straddle milling

· Profile milling

· Angular milling

· Side milling

· Thread milling

· Form milling

· End milling


Which Materials Are Best Suited For CNC Lathe Vs Milling Machine?

If we talk about which materials are best suited for each type of machine, CNC lathes and milling machines are not much different. Both CNC lathes and machines are designed to work with metals like aluminium and steel. Besides, other metals like copper alloys, brass, or alloys having titanium, nickel, or carbon can also be machined on lathes or mills.

However, when choosing the right metal for the machine or the right one for the metal, consider the material’s hardness, melting point, flexibility, conductivity, etc. These factors influence the right choice of the machine. For instance, many lathes and mills might not be designed to work on tough metals, or others might be designed to work for tough metals. If you choose a flexible metal to work on the second type of machine, it might crack or bend the metal easily, making it hard to work on.


Types Of Chucks Used On Lathe and Milling Machines

Finally, the chucks also differentiate between CNC lathes and milling machines. A chuck is a type of clamp that holds the object during the machining process. Chucks are commonly used for objects with radial symmetry, like cylindrical or conical workpieces.


Lathe Machine

The lathe chucks are an essential part of the lathe machine and are installed on top of it. The lathe chuck can be operated manually or with a power supply. The types of lathe chucks you can use are as follows:

· Magnetic chucks -Magnetic chucks are ideal for holding thin workpieces that are not conventionally caught in non-magnetic chucks. You can check out the magnetic chucks for CNC lathes here:

Radial Pole Electro-Permanent Chuck 

· Four Jaw Independent Chuck –The stepped jaw is driven separately with separate screws. Therefore, these chucks can hold and clamp any shape, be it square, rectangular, round, or any other irregular shape.

· Three-Jaw Universal Chuck –The most commonly used chucks are three-jaw chucks in which all three jaws are at 120-degree angles to each other. These chucks are suitable to hold round or hexagonal workpieces or parts.

· Other Types –Besides the commonly used chucks, there are other types of lathe chucks as well, including collet chuck, drill chuck, combination chuck, etc.


Milling Machine

If we talk about the milling machine, specialized milling chucks are used that have high accuracy, high gripping power, low runout, and are very versatile for thick shanks used in heavy milling applications. The milling chucks have a unique gripping mechanism in which a series of angled needle bearings between the nut and holder provides consistently great holding power.

However, electromagnetic chucks are used on CNC milling machines for intricate parts and milling operations. Magnetic chucks are the best choice when a consistent clamping pressure is required in milling operations. These chucks allow higher accuracy and precision of machining processes.


What Parts Do CNC Lathe And Milling Machines Produce?

When you’re working with the CNC Lathe and CNC Milling Machines, the following parts can be developed:


Fittings are used for a secure connection between different parts, requiring high precision during development. Therefore, precision CNC machining allows to develop the fittings with precise dimensions.


Housings correspond to the smaller parts of the machine that come in contact with the outside objects. These parts can also be developed with CNC machines.

Suspension Arms

Suspension arms are significant when elevating components of a machine to a specific height or angle, which demands high accuracy. Therefore, the precision process of CNC machining is perfect for the development of such parts.

Other parts

CNC machines like lathe and milling can also be used for developing rollers used in conveyor systems, ball joints for moving adjoined components to certain angles and directions, brackets to provide support for several machines, valve bodies, spacers, machine shafts, spindles, etc.


How To Choose Right Chuck For Securing Workpiece?

Choosing the right chuck for securing a workpiece depends on the material thickness, the machine used, the operations performed, and the clamping pressure required. For instance, if you want to choose the lathe chucks, you can’t use the ordinary three-jaw or four-jaw chuck to hold the thin workpieces. The jaw pressure of ordinary chucks can bend the think workpieces. Therefore, electromagnets or permanent magnetic chucks are best for such cases. They provide high accuracy and precision with secure holding of the material without deforming or bending. Similarly, magnetic chucks are the preferred solution for high-precision jobs in CNC mills.

If you are unsure if your machining process requires the magnetic chucks, you can reach out to us, and our experts will guide you on picking the right machine for specific operations, selecting the material, and choosing the chucks for your machining processes.

Reach out to us now to contact us or send an inquiry about the magnetic chucks for lathes or milling machines. 

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