It’s tough to beat a good engine lathe. For many shop owners, it was the first machine they purchased, quite possibly a two-fer deal that included a knee mill and a band saw. And if it was a good one, it’s still there in the corner, cranking out parts every day. But if Henry Maudslay, the inventor of the screw-cutting lathe was here today, he might argue that it’s time for an upgrade.
Perhaps you’re not ready for a full-blown, slant-bed CNC lathe. That’s okay. They’re clearly better suited for production work rather than the onesey-twosey prototyping so commonly relegated to an engine lathe.
That’s where a half-CNC or combo machine comes in. You can upload a program from your CAM system, push the green button, and watch it make parts just as you would a slant-bed. If you prefer to crank the handles, that’s fine as well, or use the CNC to turn the more difficult part features, and finish the rest of the part as you always have.
Take threading, for example. Maybe you’re better at it than I am, but I’ve scrapped out more than my fair share of workpieces after losing track of the number on the dial. With a CNC, you can take as many passes as you like and never worry about slamming into the shoulder or coming up short. There’s no more tipping the compound slide either—just plug in 29-degrees or whatever angle you want and the control takes care of the rest. The same goes for pipe threads and Acme threads, roughing out a deep bore, cutting a series of grooves—whatever you’re making that day, the CNC will take care of it.
I’m not here to push Kent USA products (well, maybe a little bit), but take a look at the 14-inch swing CSM-1440 CNC Lathe or its big brothers, the CRL-1640 and CNL-1740 CNC Lathes. Each is a good example of what’s available to those ready to make the switch to CNC.
They have all the attributes you’re used to. A geared headstock. Powered handwheels. Hardened and ground ways. A tailstock and quill. The biggest difference is, there’s a ballscrew instead of a leadscrew (making it more accurate), and servomotors rather than human muscle driving the slides. And the Aloris toolpost you’ve been using? Forget it. Most CNC flatbed lathes come standard with a four-station automatic index turret, or an optional eight-station hydraulic or electric turret available. It saves a lot of time.
There’re also different control options, conversational programming capabilities, USB and Ethernet inputs, an integrated PLC, and other geeky stuff. The point here is that a combo CNC blows the doors off an engine lathe, and is easy enough to operate that you no longer have to worry about what happens when your veteran machinists start to retire. Maybe you should take a look. Maudslay would agree.