Choosing the proper CNC lathe for the job is essential. Your lathe will be producing numerous parts, the quality of which will depend upon the standards the lathe is built to. The correct lathe is an investment. Therefore, choosing a CNC lathe should not be a decision that is taken lightly.
Microprocessor-Controlled CNC Lathes
When space and electricity are at a premium, a microprocessor-controlled CNC lathe can be remarkably useful. Rather than receiving constant instructions from an attached personal computer, these lathes can be fed their instructions once from a remote computer or a disk. Afterwards, adjustments to the design can be made using an integrated control panel. Efficient but cost-effective lathes utilize the 6502, Z80, 8086, 8088 and 68000 processors. See “Energy Conservation Considerations” later in this article.
Upgrading a Microprocessor-Controlled CNC Lathe
It is not always best to choose the highest-end model when you select a microprocessor-controlled lathe. For example, many lathes utilise the Motorola 68000 processor. Other common implementations utilise a Hitachi, Signetics or Toshiba variant. In the event that this processor is socketed, as it often is, you can quickly and cheaply replace the chip with a newer model. It is important that the replacement chip you choose is pin-for-pin and instruction set compatible with the originally-installed part.For example, a common drop-in replacement for the Motorola 68000 is the 68010. In addition to the 68000′s tried-and-true performance, the 68010 implements instruction and data caches to accelerate processing of repeat operations. This is extremely valuable in mass production tasks. The 68010 is pin-for-pin compatible and instruction set compatible with a broad range of software. A 68010 can be purchased for under $10 at many electronics retailers. You might incur a much greater cost by choosing a lathe with this processor pre-installed.
When you choose a CNC lathe, it is best to select one that has all of the mechanical parts covered. This is commonly done with a polycarbonate shield that allows the operator to see the lathing process without being exposed to moving parts or dust. OSHA regulations require many lathes to be fitted with this variety of shield.
Energy Conservation Considerations
Although older CNC lathes are cost-effective, many of them are rather power-hungry. You should analyse the power consumption specifications of any lathes that you consider purchasing. The initial higher cost of a modern lathe might help to offset energy costs down the line. Note that lathes based on PowerPC and X86 processors consume a great deal more power than those that are based on ARM and MIPS micro-architectures.
Faith Fernandez writes for Ron Mack Machinery, an Australian CNC machinery supplier with almost 50 years’ experience in the woodwork and metalwork machinery industry.