Machines allow many industries to streamline their production processes. With the right type of machinery, workers can quickly manufacture items in a uniform and precise manner and businesses can cut back on their operational costs. Currently, there are hundreds of different types of equipment used by manufacturing businesses. One fine example would be the milling machine. Essentially, it’s a piece of equipment workers use to file metal parts into their desired shape, size or design.

How does a milling machine work?

The milling machine was developed back in the 18th century. Its precursor model was used to create the tiny gears inside clocks. A few years later, manufacturers started making ones for the metalworking sector. Earlier models are specifically designed to rely a lot on the machinist’s precision and accuracy. While the latest ones or the CNC mills are run by computer programs or algorithms.

At first glance, you might mistake it for a circular saw that simply slices a material into smaller portions. However, upon closer inspection, you can see that it cuts a workpiece into a specific shape. It can also create flat surfaces, smoothen edges, and drill holes with threading depending on the type of attachment used.

The milling or cutting attachments spinning at a high speed removes some parts of the workpiece. The machinist feeds the stock into the equipment to create the desired results.

You can also find stark differences between the orientation of the moving and the stationary components of certain mill models.

Types of mills

Mills are classified into two general types namely, vertical and horizontal. The key difference between the two is the orientation of the spindle, a component of the mill that holds the cutting attachment. While the two mill types work similarly, it’s important to understand that they have varying capabilities

Vertical milling machine

The cheaper vertical variant only works best for those who need to make metal parts in small batches. Additionally, while it’s relatively more user-friendly compared to horizontal type, it heavily relies on the operator’s skills and mechanical proficiency. Operators need to eyeball their measurements as accurately as possible to get superb product finishes.

Here are some uses of the vertical mill:

  • Die sinking large steel blocks
  • Removing of stock on metal plates
  • Indexing and machining slots and holes

Horizontal milling machine

The horizontal type, on one hand, comes in extra handy for businesses who want to amplify their production capabilities. However, this type of equipment tends to be more expensive. As a result, it’s a less popular choice. On top of that, there’s a scarce number of operators who can expertly use a horizontal milling machine.

Below are some of the key uses of a horizontal mill:

  • Cutting several grooves into the material
  • Working on projects with multiple planes or sides
  • Inserting slots on heavy and hard metals such as copper, stainless steel and titanium

Manual vs CNC Mills

Mills can also be classified as manual or CNC. Earlier models make use of a manual system. A lot of companies prefer using the manual model because it doesn’t cost as much as the CNC type. Moreover, it doesn’t require programming, which means traditional machinists can use the equipment with great ease.

However, companies who want to produce metal parts that are more precise and uniform prefer using CNC mills over the manual type. While CNC machines tend to have a high upfront cost, it allows manufacturers to cut their labor budget. CNC mills are also the better choice for manufacturers who need to produce items in large batches.

Key components of a milling machine

When using any piece of equipment, it’s crucial to understand how each of its components works. For both horizontal and vertical mills, you can find the following main parts:

  • Base – The base serves as the equipment’s foundation and cutting fluid’s reservoir. It’s usually made of cast iron so it can fully support the tool and workpiece.
  • Spindle – It’s an immovable part that holds the attachments such as arbors and cutters.  
  • Column – It’s another fundamental supporting part of the equipment. It also houses the driving gears and motor.
  • Table – It’s a stationary part that holds the workpiece in place while moving it towards the cutting tool. The table is mostly equipped with clamping bolts to secure the workpiece. 
  • Knee – With it, the machinist can adjust the distance between the workpiece and the tool. It can either be powered by mechanical parts or hydraulic pumps.
  • Saddle – The saddle provides horizontal movement to the workpiece. 
  • Arbor – It’s one of the mechanical parts of the equipment. It serves as the spindle’s extension and allows the machinist to control the movement of the tool.  
  • Arbor Support – Horizontal mill machines are mostly equipped with arbor support. Essentially, it holds the arbor and attaches it to the overhanging arm. 
  • Cutting tools – These are the attachments used to shape a workpiece. Each tool is used for different purposes.

With proper use of the essential parts of the mill, a machinist can complete a wide range of metal fabrication tasks.

What do milling machines do?

Both vertical and horizontal mills are quite versatile. They can be used on both flat and irregular working surfaces. They can also serve various functions. Besides machining into large blocks of material, mills can also be used for routing, planing, keyway cutting, and die-sinking. The key to the versatility of the equipment is the extensive selection of tool attachments available.

Each tool comes in a specific shape and size so they leave distinct marks. Below is a list of the usual tools used and the function they serve.

  • Miller cutters – These are used for various operations such as smoothing surfaces and cutting shapes onto the surface of the material. 
  • Gear cutters – This type of tool creates gears by cutting teeth into the workpiece.
  • End mills – They cut materials in an axial direction. These are used in cutting slots, facing edges and plunging.
  • Slitting cutters – Create narrow slits or remove material on the stock surface.  
  • Bevel cutters – Makes bevel cuts into the stock material.
  • Staggered tooth cutters – These cut deep slots and provide maximum chip clearance.
  • Finishing end mill – Leaves a smooth and clean finish on the workpiece.

There are plenty of other mill machine tools in many factories. Some notable examples include corner rounding end mill, keyseat cutters, carbide face mill, and T-slot cutter.

To maximize the use of the equipment, metal fabrication companies often opt for knee type milling machines. Factories mostly provide manufacturing companies exact specifications in order to create a piece of bespoke milling equipment.

WMW Machinery’s Milling Equipment

Milling machines are useful for a lot of businesses. Their versatility makes them a good investment especially if you’re in the metalworking niche. Are you looking for a manual or CNC mill? WMW Machinery can customize one for you. Get in touch with our team today!