Metal Lathe

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metal lathe3Originally designed to machine metal parts, the metal lathe has become an indispensable part of the modern manufacturing field.

These lathes take blank stock (pieces of metal) and spin them in order to facilitate cutting and shaping.

Once shaped the metal is removed from the lathe, examined for any imperfections, and then all of the rough-cut edges are smoothed off.

The Evolution of the Lathe

The idea of the lathe has been around for centuries, and it was first used to carve wood more effectively. The power would be generated from a hand crank, or in some cases by water power, and the craftsman would shape the blank to his specifications.

As technology improved and inventions like the steam engine as well as the internal combustion engine became available to drive lathes they stopped being tools that were used only for wood.

Some of the oldest metal lathes still in use date back to the early 1900s and late 1800s, but there were attempts to make these tools work much earlier than this as well.

As computer technology became a bigger and bigger part of manufacturing and industrial settings, computer-aided drafting programs were attached to robotic lathes.

Today these machines may seem like something out of a science fiction movie; you put in a blank, program the lathe, and the computer will use lasers to carve out exactly the part that you described.

The Popularity of Plastics and 3D Printing

While metal lathes are likely to remain a part of the manufacturing industry for many years to come, they may not be a practical thing for small businesses or home improvement enthusiasts to have on hand.

In this instance the metal lathe is seeing a lot of competition from plastics, and from the concept of 3D printing.

Another idea straight out of a sci-fi story, 3D printing uses machines that take a material and shape it into a fully-functional item.

Some printers can take shredded denim cloth and print a new pair of jeans to fit an individual exactly. Others can create sculptures, or other, simple items.

Using creative programming, some individuals have even printed parts that can be assembled into firearms. This method leaves most of the burden to the machine, and allows users with no machining skills to still make products they need.

While it’s still doubtful that even space age plastics and the popularity of 3D printers will completely replace the metal lathe, they are a legitimate alternative to using a lathe and traditional, hands-on machining techniques.

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