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The Best Machine Shop Equipment When Budget is Tight

Starting a machine shop is a big investment. The lowest price isn’t the only thing to consider when buying your first equipment. The type of machines you purchase should not only provide you with efficiency but also a return on investment. When it comes to precision manufacturing there are several different machines that can assist with the development of a part, but when smaller shop space or limited capital budget restricts the number of machines you can purchase, you need machines that can be used for more than one type of process. This outlines the basic equipment to consider when the budget is tight to start an effective machine shop.

Manual Lathe Machine

If you are in the position to purchase only one metalworking tool always starts with a  manual lathe machine. This is the one machine tool you can, given a reasonable amount of time, of course, raw materials and basic machining skills, make every other machine tool you require. This machine used to be the basis for a  new apprentice machinist to learn; by creating their own tools. Additionally, with the addition of a vertical X-Y table mounted to the cross-slide, you can perform the most simple milling operations on the lathe. You will not have the simple capability to perform turning procedures on this milling machine, but it can be done with a high level of difficulty.

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Manual Milling Machine

Following a lathe machine, a manual milling machine is one of the most critical machine tools of the manufacturing industry. A key difference between a milling machine and a lathe is that the latter has single-point cutting tools, and the former has multipoint cutting tools. In layman’s terms, milling is nothing more than the process of getting rid of metals by putting the part through a rotating multipoint cutter. Unlike a lathe machine, a milling machine is able to hold various cutters at one point in time and operate at a high speed for the quick removal of metal. The metal removal rate for a milling machine is much faster than a lathe machine, improving efficiency.  Milling is ideal for manufacturing individual pieces regardless of batchsize, it has the ability to produce complicated shapes, and is great for precision manufacturing. Where the lathe has multifunctional capabilities, a milling machine is more focused on precision, and metal removal.

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Drill Press

A drilling machine, or a drill press, is a strong tool used to cut a round hole by turning and advancing rotary drill bits into a part. It can drill into, or through, metal, wood, plastic or other solid material. Generally, drilling cutting tools are held in a drill press by a chuck and fed into the part at changeable speeds. It is important that machinists ensure e speed and feed are set up properly, and that coolant is provided for the desired finished part. The drilling machine is useful for many other machining processes, like. plane drilling, step drilling, core drilling, boring, etc. A drill press is a great machine shop addition for creating round holes,however such a procedure can be done with a lathe machine. When multiple projects are running through your shop and the lathe is needed for other processes, the  efficiency factor of the drill press will produce better parts flow through a shop. 

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Tools and Holders for Lathe

In order to manufacture a part on either a lathe machine or milling machine, specific tooling is required. With the primary lathe machine, five types of tooling will allow for most operations. 

These include external turning tools, boring bars, drills, threading tools and parting tools. External tools are ideal for cutting the exterior of your part. This includes finishing work or roughing. Boring bars come in several different sizes, with their main purpose being to make an already existing hole larger, or to touch up the finish of a hole. Drills are perfect for creating holes. 

If you’re new to lathe procedures, you can imagine the drill as a moving part, but,  in this case, the manufactured part will be moving at a high speed and the drill tool is secured in a stationary position. Threading tools are useful in adding threads to both the exterior and interior of a part. For example, if you need to make a part that you can thread a screw into, you can utilize internal threading tools, known as tapping, after drilling the hole first. 

If you want to do the opposite and create the screw with threads, you can do that with external threading tools known as dying. Parting tools are vital to the lathe process and do a lot more than their name insinuates. Parting tools can part, groove, and cut off parts while providing a smooth finish.

rapid enterprises machine shop canada design
rapid enterprises machine shop canada design

Tools and Holder for Milling

Unlike lathe machines that require only five main tools to assist with the turning process, milling machines have a multitude of  different toolings that can be used. The most important to have, with budget in mind include just a few, beginning with end mills. End mills have cutting teeth on each side and are ideal for vertical milling procedures. Because end mills are created from either high-speed steel or cemented carbide it is difficult for them to lose hardness when in high heat. 

Typically, end mills are used in plunging, face milling, and tracer milling. Roughing end mills are another recommendation used to remove additional amounts of material from a part. Rough end mills are meant for machinists to remove high amounts of material in a shorter period of time. 

Fly cutters are mainly used on a milling machine for machining flat and large surfaces. The fly cutter is a single-point cutting tool similar to a lathe tool mounted in a holder. A ball nose cutter, also referred to as a ball end mill or spherical end mill, has a semi-sphere at the tool end. Ball nose cutters are designed to work on parts with complex surfaces. And finally, the keyseat cutter is used to correctly copy the contour of a specific surface.

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Toronto Precision Machine Shop

Other Budget Considerations

As you can see from the tooling list above, in addition to budgeting for a machine you will also need to purchase the associated machine tool. Generally, the associated tool will cost as much, or even more, than the tool itself. If you’re on a tight budget, you can look at lathes or milling machines that are in the $1000-$1500 range. After purchasing your new machine, consider looking into used tools and holders for your lathe or milling machine. This will help offset the additional cost, but still allow you to operate with the necessary tools. 

Starting a machine shop on a tight budget can be done with the right tools and supplies. When it comes to manufacturing there are several different machines for different processes, however many can be added as you grow your business. As long as you have strong machining skills  you can get things done with just a few machines. . Automated machines, for instance a 5-axis CNC machine, are great to have for speed and simplicity, however are not necessities for starting your own machine shop. If owning your own machine shop is a goal don’t let a tight budget stop you. The best machine shop equipment when the budget is tight is a lathe machine for turning or a milling machine for vertical machining. As long as you have these and their associated tools/holders, and the drive to be successful your business will be prosperous!

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