The development of CNC (Computerized Numerical Control) technology has revolutionized many industrial sectors, including mechanical manufacturing. In this context, CNC milling machines, both vertical and horizontal, have become indispensable tools in workshops and factories around the world. Consequently, the decision between vertical and horizontal milling machines is crucial for many manufacturers. In this article, we will compare these two types of CNC machines, analyzing their advantages, disadvantages, and optimal applications. With our guide, you will better understand which of these tools will be the best solution for your specific production needs.
What is a vertical milling machine?
Metalworking technology requires specific production and specific tools for each of its processes, and the vertical milling machine is one of the most suitable and fascinating tools for those passionate about the production, processing, and transformation of metals and their properties. Below you will learn everything you need to know about this machine. A vertical milling machine is a machine tool that removes metal from a workpiece using a rotating tool - called a cutter, a rotating part with several hard metal teeth, lips, or plates. It is a power tool with a longitudinal traverse and a rotary motion, which works in the machining process by removing material through abrasion or chip removal. In this type of machine, the spindle is perpendicular to the table, which ideally facilitates step or alternate machining to create mechanical parts, making straight grooves, shaped grooves, or recesses. The vertical milling machine is used for the following:
- machining flat surfaces,
- making grooves,
In addition, these machines can process a variety of materials, such as:
What are the functions of a vertical milling machine?
The function of a vertical milling machine is to use a cutter to roughen materials. In addition, these cylindrical tools use cutting edges to cut parts or products to be produced. According to this principle, virtually any project can be produced if the machine can use the required tools and move the manufactured parts in all necessary axes. Thanks to advances in technology, the vertical metal milling machine has become a very versatile tool for metalworking companies, as it provides excellent flexibility in the production of industrial parts. The term "Vertical Milling Machine" comes from the vertical positioning of the spindle, which is the part of the machine that holds and rotates the cutting tool, such as the cutter.
Functions of a vertical milling machine
Milling: This is the basic function of a milling machine, to precisely remove material from the surface to be machined. A vertical milling machine can mill various surfaces, including flat, curved, and angled, and make grooves and holes.
Drilling: With its vertical spindle position, the vertical milling machine can also function as a drilling machine, allowing precise drilling of holes.
Reaming and threading: The vertical milling machine can ream holes to a specific diameter and perform threading, creating threads for bolts and nuts.
Surface machining: With this tool, the surface can be smoothed, providing a high level of finish.
Programmability: With CNC vertical milling machines, one of the key features is the ability to program toolpaths, allowing the automatic production of complex parts with high precision and repeatability.
A vertical milling machine can offer even more features and capabilities depending on the specific model and configuration.
What are the advantages of a vertical milling machine?
The vertical milling machine is an easy-to-machine tool, although it may initially seem complicated. It is undoubtedly intuitive even for an inexperienced operator who can work with several machines simultaneously. This machine reduces operator fatigue and provides more excellent operator safety, an example of simplicity and reliability. In addition, the vertical milling machine helps achieve better precision, consistency, and quality of the products produced. Its simplicity allows the flexibility to change designs or models quickly, enabling the quick execution of urgent orders.
What are the disadvantages of a vertical milling machine?
CNC vertical milling machines have many advantages, but there are also some limitations and disadvantages that are important to consider:
Cost: CNC milling machines, including vertical models, can be quite expensive, both in terms of initial purchase costs and ongoing operating costs. This includes the need for regular maintenance and parts replacement.
Limitations on part size and shape: Vertical milling machines have some limitations regarding the size and shape of parts that can be efficiently machined, especially compared to horizontal milling machines. For example, long and heavy parts can be difficult to hold in a stable position in a vertical milling machine.
Performance during heavy machining: Vertical milling machines may not be as efficient as horizontal milling machines during heavy machining operations such as deep milling.
Tool wear: In vertical milling machines, especially those operating at high speeds, cutting tools can wear out faster, increasing operating costs.
It is essential to carefully consider these factors when selecting a milling machine for a specific application.
What are the types of vertical milling machines?
There are two types of vertical milling machines:
A fixed-axis vertical milling machine consists of a single part - a table that supports the work table so that it can move perpendicular to the spindle, which moves parallel to its axis. Because of the axis arrangement, this type of milling machine is suitable for grooving and making grooves of considerable depth in long-term work.
As for the vertical turret milling machine, its most interesting feature is that the spindle does not move when cutting or machining the workpiece. The table has a longitudinal movement and is perpendicular to the spindle.
How is a vertical milling machine built?
In the shortest terms, it is a machine tool with a vertical spindle. In its case, the cutter is placed on the spindle, which rotates to produce a cutting motion. The main limitation of this machine tool is the force perpendicular to the axis to which the cutter can be subjected during table feed.
Among vertical milling machines can be distinguished:
- products with tilting heads - which offer good versatility,
- machines with fixed heads - which lose in versatility but gain in robustness.
In some cases, the milling spindle has an axial offset in vertical milling machines with a tilting head.
What is a horizontal milling machine?
A horizontal milling machine is a type of milling machine in which the spindle, the part of the machine that rotates the cutting tool, is positioned horizontally. The above orientation affects the types of operations that can be carried out with a horizontal milling machine and the types of parts that can be effectively machined with it. Unlike vertical milling machines, which are more commonly used for surface machining and complex-shaped workpieces, horizontal milling machines are typically used for heavier machining operations, such as:
- deep milling,
- particularly groove milling,
- pocket milling.
How is a horizontal milling machine built?
Now that we have understood the main function that a horizontal milling machine can perform, it is time to learn about its construction:
- Table: this is where the part for roughing is placed. It must be firmly fixed to ensure operator safety.
- Handwheels provide movement in Cartesian axes and can move the material held on the table.
- Head: this is where the device that holds and secures the cutting element, commonly known as the cutter, is located.
- Motor: an indispensable part of a horizontal milling machine, where we can find power, RPM, and torque. These features depend on the model and application of the horizontal milling machine.
- Gearbox: depending on the material we want to work with, we will need one or another speed. This part of the milling machine allows us to adjust the speed to make the finish as good as possible.
There are many types of horizontal milling machines, and depending on their layout the above primary components for creating a machining operation may vary.
How to operate a horizontal milling machine?
We first need a large, solid piece of the material we want to work with to start the milling machine. From this solid block, we can begin to make the desired shape, being able to make any type of workpiece. Then, to make cuts, we need a head in which the cutter will be integrated and responsible for making movements. Regarding these movements, there are different types of cutters on the market, which are used in different ways. They allow several unique details and shapes to be obtained during machining. In this case, the horizontal milling machine has a cutter that extends outward. Therefore, the movements we can make will be above or below the part we want to roughen.
What are the advantages of horizontal milling machines?
Horizontal milling machines are particularly effective for producing large and heavy parts, such as those used in the aerospace or automotive industries. They can also be configured with multiple spindles, allowing multiple sides of a part to be machined simultaneously.
Although horizontal milling machines are less versatile than vertical milling machines, they are extremely efficient at performing their specific tasks, making them a valuable tool in many manufacturing environments.
What are the disadvantages of horizontal milling machines?
Like vertical milling machines, horizontal milling machines also have their limitations and drawbacks that are worth knowing. These include:
Space requirements: Horizontal milling machines are usually larger than vertical ones and may require more space in the workshop. This can be a problem if space is limited.
Cost: Unfortunately, horizontal milling machines tend to be more expensive than vertical milling machines in terms of initial purchase and operating costs. In addition, the tools used in horizontal milling machines can be more expensive to replace.
Access limitations: In horizontal milling machines, access to the workpiece can be difficult due to the position of the spindle and table. This can make it difficult to precisely position the workpiece.
Performance in delicate machining: While horizontal milling machines may be more efficient for heavy machining, they may not be as precise as vertical milling machines for delicate and detailed CNC machining.
As with vertical milling machines, the key is understanding the specifics of your machining operation and choosing the right type of milling machine.
What is the difference between a horizontal milling machine and a vertical milling machine?
As the name suggests, the main difference between horizontal and vertical milling machines is the axis orientation. Horizontal milling machines have cutters on a horizontal axis parallel to the table, while vertical milling machines have an axis perpendicular to the table.
Because of this difference, each milling machine is used for different machining tasks.
On the one hand, the horizontal milling machine is used for grooving with a wide range of combinations in terms of groove types and depths. On the other hand, on a vertical milling machine, we can work on parts with offset machining and can include rotary parts, which in a continuous finish are ideal for low-volume work. As you can see, the difference between the two machines is palpable; just look at the types of finishes each generates and the fabricated cuts each pursues. Both can accept components or accessories that give them additional features, but they can't be used for the same tasks because they were created for different areas in the CNC industry.
Which milling machine generates more costs - vertical or horizontal?
Both vertical and horizontal milling machines are critical components of most CNC machining shops, but they differ in cost. When choosing between these two types of machines, it is necessary to consider several factors related to this aspect.
Vertical milling machines are usually less expensive than horizontal milling machines. They are often chosen by small and medium-sized companies that are just starting in CNC machining or have a limited budget.
Horizontal milling machines can generate higher maintenance costs. Due to their complex design, they may require more frequent maintenance and service. Tool replacement for horizontal milling machines can also be more expensive.
Vertical milling machines tend to be more energy efficient, lowering operating costs. While horizontal milling machines may be more efficient in terms of production, often consume more energy.
Although horizontal milling machines are more expensive to purchase and maintain, they can provide higher profitability in the long run. Their ability to perform heavy machining operations and make precise cuts can speed up production and increase efficiency.
The final choice between a vertical and horizontal milling machine depends on several factors, such as the type of machining, available space, budget, and the company's long-term goals.
Trends and the Future of milling technology
In the world of CNC machining, there is no shortage of technology trends. Both vertical and horizontal milling machines continue to evolve, adapting to the changing demands of the industry. Which type of machine is worth choosing due to market developments, and what trends are currently shaping it?
Increased automation is a trend that affects both types of milling machines. As technology advances, milling machines are increasingly equipped with advanced control systems and robots that can automate the milling process. While automation can be costly at the outset, in practice, it can significantly increase efficiency and reduce errors in the long run.
Digital tools such as CAD/CAM systems are increasingly used in milling machines, enabling precise design and programming of milling operations. Both vertical and horizontal milling machines are taking advantage of these modern technologies, enabling the fast and accurate creation of complex parts.
With growing environmental awareness, milling machine manufacturers strive to create machines that are more energy-efficient and less harmful to the environment. This includes both vertical and horizontal milling machines.
Another significant trend is the emergence of hybrid milling machines, which combine vertical and horizontal milling functions. The above machines are capable of performing different machining operations, providing greater flexibility and efficiency.
In conclusion - both vertical and horizontal milling machines have a bright future in CNC machining. Both types of machines are evolving to meet the growing demands of the industry, and the choice between them depends on specific needs and production goals. Each product has advantages and disadvantages, but before using them - you need to outline the goal you want to achieve.