Four Things Job Shops Should Know When Searching for the Best Vertical Machining Center
VMCs are the workhorses of any job shop. They’re able to machine a huge variety of parts. The tooling is widely available, as are machine operators. VMCs are also less expensive than a comparably-sized horizontal or five-axis machining center. Finding the best vertical machining center for your job shop, however, can be a daunting task. How many tools do you need? Is there enough RPM and spindle power? How much axis travel is enough? These and other questions should be carefully evaluated against a job shop’s current and future requirements. Here are some things to consider before signing on the bottom line.
One of the first things you’ll notice when shopping for a VMC is that many have a 40-inch X-axis travel, give or take a few inches. There’s a good reason for this. Job shops never know what’s coming through the door from one day to the next, and having plenty of real-estate to work with is always a good thing. That said, if your shop makes nothing but small parts, the best vertical machining center might be one with less-generous travels. A smaller footprint also allows you to fit as many machines as possible into the available floor space.
How Fast is Fast Enough?
For most job shops, a 10,000 rpm, 15-hp chilled spindle is plenty fast, plenty powerful, and plenty reliable. It easily drives the most common cutter sizes, with the low-end torque needed to machine stainless steel and cast iron, and the rpm to conquer most aluminum jobs. If you drill lots of tiny holes or are an aluminum-only shop, however, a 15,000 rpm spindle might be more productive. And you might consider it a nice-to-have right now, but through-the-spindle high-pressure coolant is a game-changer As with the table travel question, the best vertical machining center brand is one that provides plenty of options.
Finding good machine operators is often the hardest part about job shop operation. One way to make it easier is by selecting a machining center with an industry-standard control. This is why all of Kent USA’s KVR-series VMCs use FANUC CNCs. They’re not only familiar to most machinists, but offer the speed, precision, and reliability to tackle any job shop work. They also come standard with the AICC high-speed machining function. This is a feature that can turn a loser job into a winner.
Constructing the Best Vertical Machining Center
Where many VMCs use ball-type linear guideways, the best vertical machining centers use ones with roller guideways. These provide longer life and support much heavier loads. Job shops also need a 4th-axis at one point or another. To avoid sticker shock later on, look for a machine that’s pre-wired. Also look for a VMC built on a Meehanite casting for the best stability and dampening characteristics. Finally, the best vertical machining center is one that’s easy to operate, with integrated wash down capabilities and automatic chip control functions.