Buying a Vertical Machining Center An Overview of Vertical Machining Center History, Types and Popular Builders
Vertical Machining Center History & Future
Technically, a Vertical Machining Center (VMC) is a PLC (programmable logic control) mill with a cutting tool in the vertical position. Those without a PLC are called Vertical Mills or Vertical Lathes. However, in the world of machining, it’s not uncommon for any machine with a vertical cutting tool could be referred as a VMC, vertical machining center, vertical mill or vertical lathe.
When Haas introduced the first American-made vertical machining center
in 1987, they called the model the VF-1. It was priced under $50,000, could compete with foreign-made mills and had an automatic collet-indexer. Vertical machining centers were central to the transformational 3rd industrial revolution. Today, vertical machining centers can be equipped to create, report, and act on hundreds of data-points in real-time. These cyber-physical systems in context with other connected equipment are the core of the current industrial revolution, Industry 4.0.
Comparing Vertical Machining Centers
There are thousands of types of VMC’s available today from hundreds of machine tool builders. Popular machine tool builders include Haas, Mazak, Okuma, Fadal and many others. The machines vary greatly. Some are designed to make very small, precise medical parts, for example, and others make large parts for the railroad and aerospace industries. Just about every industry has parts made on VMC’s.
Comparisons between VMC’s include:
- Size and accuracy of parts that can be produced
- Number and type of tooling holders
- Ease of changing tooling
- Age, capability, and ease of use of PLC
- Support, documentation, and ease of repairs for the machining center
- Construction, materials used, weight and durability of the VMC
- Size, types, and power of spindles for cutting
- Number of axes available for cutting
- Ease of loading raw materials and unloading finished parts
The specific vertical machining center selected for an application will determine the cost of making the parts. Manufacturers must balance the cost of the machine tool with needs of the parts. The larger, more versatile and reliable the VMC, the more it costs.
Popular Vertical Machine Tool Builders
Haas, Mazak, and Okuma are a few of the popular machine tool builders of vertical mills. Each has its own strengths. For example, Haas is well-known for easier programming and economy. It has numerous machine types with similar coding for all the equipment making it easy for shops to expand without retraining. Mazak produces a wide range of custom and stock VMC’s
that are heavy-duty with powerful programming possibilities. They are leaders in computer controls and automation, making them a great choice for shops focused on lights-out production. Okuma is a Japanese machine tool builder that has developed its own hardware, software, and machine components. It has been innovative in refining the machining process with advanced technologies in coolant management, collision avoidance, and thermal compensation.
Manufacturers around the world today depend on the strength, speed, and versatility of vertical machining centers of every type.