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What Is an Automatic Lathe?

By Alex Newth
Updated May 17, 2024
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Automatic lathe, or machine lathe, units are lathes that are fed commands from a computer or control panel and then work automatically. While these lathes can work on a variety of materials, they are primarily made to work with metal. The typical design for an automatic lathe includes six spindles, which allow the lathe to work on six pieces of metal at once. Common operations for a machine lathe include forming shapes and tools, and threading metal into screws and drill bits.

Common lathes, especially those that work with wood, are worked manually. It starts with the worker attaching the material to the lathe via two connectors. The lathe machine is only automatic in that it spins the material automatically with the connectors. Cutting is done manually via the worker moving a cutting unit in and out against the material to form a shape from the material.

An automatic lathe is all machine-controlled. The operator places metal into the machine lathe and then inserts commands via a control unit. After the commands are entered, the machine lathe follows the instructions and produces the piece according to the entered measurements. Unlike manual lathes, automatic lathes are not made for low-volume jobs. All machine lathes are made to produce medium to low volumes of equipment.

The material on which an automatic lathe can be used is varied, including wood, metal and glass. Most mechanical lathes are not made for wood or glass, thought; most are created to work with metal. This is primarily because metal is harder to work with and is the most used material in high-volume production.

Unlike most lathes, which are made to hold one or two pieces of material, the common configuration for an automatic lathe is to hold six pieces of material. All six slots do not need to be filled for the lathe to work, so small jobs can be done as well as large jobs. With most units, the lathe can be made to produce a completely different shape for each piece of material held in the lathe.

The two common operations for an automatic lathe are shaping and threading. Shaping is used to form tools from metal, or to create components for larger machines. The lathe will dig into the metal to form any shape the operator needs. A threading unit makes threads in the materials, such as those found on screws or drill bits.

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