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What Is a Cutting Machine Tool?

Ray Hawk
Ray Hawk

A cutting machine tool is a device, usually powered by hydraulics, electrical motors, or more advanced methods, that is used in industry to cut a variety of materials. Typically, the purpose of cutting machine tools is to fabricate metal which cannot be easily cut or shaped by hand-tools. There are literally hundreds of different kinds of cutting machine tool designs, which results in them being classified by the type of cutting they do. Common classifications include lathes designed to do rotary cutting around a horizontal axis, boring and drilling machines for cutting holes or slots in surfaces, and knurlers and flangers which cut projecting beads and ridges into surfaces.

Since cutting machine tool specifications are often built around tough materials like metals or leather, 21st century technology has gone beyond using typical rotary bits and saws to shape materials. Several types of machine tools now employ thermal-, plasma-, and gas-cutting systems, and some also use high-powered lasers. A high-temperature cutting machine tool like a plasma cutter generates an arc of ionized plasma gas at around 20,000° Fahrenheit (11,000° Celsius), which is over three times as hot as a typical oxyacetylene torch. Most of these expensive tools are controlled by computer numerical control (CNC) programs to ensure a highly precise and efficient cutting process.

A laser cutter is used to cut a sheet of metal.
A laser cutter is used to cut a sheet of metal.

Other technologies employed in cutting machine tool designs include water jet and oil jet cutting and the use of ultrasound. Water jet cutters are so powerful that they can cut granite, and can attain an accuracy level of 0.005 inches (0.013 millimeters). They work by pumping a fine stream of water that contains an abrasive substance at a surface, at anywhere from 40,000 pounds per square inch (PSI)(276 mega-pascals) to 100,000 PSI (689 MPa). Ultrasound cutters work by setting up high-frequency vibrations in the material being cut, and are used in cutting both fabrics and metals.

Using cutting machine tools is requiring more and more training as they become more sophisticated, customized, and expensive systems. Computer Numerical Control (CNC) training to run most of these tools is now offered through courses at a wide variety of community colleges and technical schools worldwide. Often, buying a cutting machine tool will lead to the multi-national manufacturer offering certified on-site training for the employees who will use it.

Automated cutting machine tool equipment is also beginning to take a dominant place on the factory floor. Robotics systems are often used for this purpose, as high-powered, rapid cutting of metals can be a dangerous process. This arena often turns to laser cutter designs for the cutting machine tool, with estimates that, as of 2008, over $2 billion US Dollars (USD) in laser cutting systems were sold. It is estimated that, by the same year, 45% of all sheet material cutting in Asia, 37% of it in European nations, and 17% of it in North American countries such as the US and Canada, was done entirely by some form of laser-cutting machine tool.

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    • A laser cutter is used to cut a sheet of metal.
      By: Kadmy
      A laser cutter is used to cut a sheet of metal.