How to Operate a CNC Machine

CNC lathes can be found in a wide range of industries. This type of  tool makes it much easier to produce complex parts that would take considerable time and expense to produce on a manual lathe. Though it does take a lot of skill and training to operate a CNC lathe, the results have a positive impact on the final product and the company’s bottom line over using traditional manual lathes to create a similar product. 


How To Use a CNC Lathe 


When it comes to figuring out how to operate a CNC lathe, in addition to being taught the basics through formal training, it is important to have the operator’s manual on hand. If you’ve acquired your equipment from a used CNC lathes dealer, you may need to source the operator book from the manufacturer or online. Always be sure to follow the below best practices:


  1. Make sure the unit is fully powered down before beginning. You reduce the risk of accidents by ensuring the unit is off when loading the material. 
  1. Firmly load and secure the part you are working on. You will do this by holding the stock within the chuck and securely tightening the screws at each end of the stock. 
  1. Choose and load the tooling. A CNC lathe can use a variety of machining techniques and tools to produce the desired result, but you need to program which option you want it to run. Once you make the selection, load the parts into the tool turret. The program design will dictate which tools are needed. 
  1. Turn the coolant pump on and relocate the nozzles to where the streams are hitting the tip of each tool head. 
  1. Ensure the tools and parts to be tooled are calibrated. Using the tool offset screen for a visual, make sure the tools will be working where you expect them to by moving them toward the tool setter. If you zero the piece correctly, you will ensure that both parts are functioning in sync. You will set the X and Y offsets for each tool being used. 
  1. Load and execute the program. Once the components of the lathe have been set up, you can execute the program. You will either input the new commands through a USB or upload a previously stored program and let the machine run. Watch for a few moments to ensure the machine is working correctly, and take action immediately if something goes wrong. 


Tips for Beginners Using a CNC Lathe 


The first few times you tool up your new or used lathe, it can be easy to get thrown off or confused by the different elements. These tips can guide you as you learn how to move between jobs that will require different tooling. 


  1. Have a rough turning tool. If you will be moving and peeling a lot of stock quickly, you need a sturdy tool that is both economic and long-lasting. An OD Roughing tool is ideal, and it can be used as a facing tool. However, this can be a problem if your job needs a lot of facing done, as it can wear out more quickly and skew the results. 
  1. Choose between left-hand or right-hand turning tools. While many CNC users and machines allow for the flexibility to choose their preference, many of the least-expensive and most prevalent tools are manufactured in a right-hand version. Switching to a left-hand-tooling can improve the rigidity and strength of the turning center, as the force behind the machine is thrown directly into the machine’s bed for a more stable tooling process. 
  1. Use a finishing tool when possible. Too many CNC machinists will try to use the same tool for both roughing and finishing, but this doesn’t produce the most polished end result. Using the same insert on both a roughing tool and a finishing tool can provide a better-looking finish, but the best option is to work with a separate insert for both the roughing and finishing process. 
  1. You need a parting or cut-off tool. Most jobs that require cutting several different pieces off a bar stock will be best completed using a parting tool. Since this may happen frequently, it is wise to dedicate a turret station for the parting tool. Replaceable blade inserts are efficient and ideal, and inserts can be angled to reduce nibs or be used to do tight turning work. 
  1. Purchase carbide boring bars. Your boring bar is going to get a lot of use, so keep extras on hand. These elements work in tight spaces and have a tendency to wear down quickly. Purchasing carbide bars that are thicker can extend longevity and boring rigidity. 


If you are interested in upgrading your CNC machine, we carry a wide selection of used CNC machine lathes at Premier Equipment. Contact us today so we can help you find the right equipment or machinery for your operations. 

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