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Heavy Part Turning - Tips & Tricks We Use

Heavy Part Turning
Heavy Part Turning - Tips & Tricks We Use
Posted May 31, 2019

Whether it’s wheels or axles for railway cars and turbine blades, in the world of machining there are heavy parts that need turning. You may notice these parts being transported by truck or train throughout the country; and, behind every piece of heavy metal lies a story. As the metalworking industry continues to make incredible breakthroughs in micromachining — and even nanomachining — the processes that drive metalworking forward are changing.

Today, it's all about speed, throughput, and production cycles. But, can these micro-principles work when they're applied to massive, heavy structures? When working with heavy parts, you need to find a metalworker who understands heavy part turning and that they are using best practices in machining to handle those parts.

In this post, we're going to look at some heavy part turning tips-and-tricks we've picked up over the years and that we use daily to deliver lasting products to our customers.

Understanding Heavy Part Turning

Heavy part turning involves using a cutting action on the outside of a large, heavy object, which decreases the diameter of the object and creates axis-symmetry. Heavy part boring would be used to create cylindrical cutting actions on the inside of a heavy object.

Almost always, heavy part turning is performed using a lathe (often with CNC). Another critical thing to keep in mind is that you may have heard metal turning in the context of metal spinning — since some manufacturers call their metal spinning operation metal turning. The key difference between metal spinning and metal turning is that metal turning removes material from the object, while metal spinning adds material to the object to create axis-symmetry.

While heavy part turning shares many commonalities with small-part (or light-part) turning, there are a few things to keep in mind when you perform turning on large parts.

#1) Horizontal or Vertical?

Here at Vineland Manufacturing we almost always use horizontal milling to turn big parts. There are exceptions, such as certain heavy plates where turning is being performed on a single side of the object. But, for the majority of our clients, we use a horizontal lathe.

There are three reasons for this:

  1. Horizontal lathes can be angled to better control the plethora of scrap chips that are being produced and fed onto conveyors.
  2. Horizontal lathes allow you to add clamps and tailstock to support the heavy piece.
  3. It’s more difficult to maintain a tolerance ±0.001 with a vertical lathe.

Again, there are specific nuances to choosing the correct lathe. This is why you need to work with a manufacturer that is experienced in heavy metal part turning.

#2) Use an Experienced Operator

The single most important tip that we have for our clients is to work with someone who understands heavy metal turning. Thousands of metalworkers can handle metal turning operations. But, turning heavy parts requires a completely different mentality as well as unique operations, workflows, and strategies.

Here are 4 reasons to use an experienced operator for your heavy turning project.

  1. They understand which tools are needed and what level of live-tooling is required; they also often have custom machines (or modified machines) built to handle large workloads.
  2. They understand the care that it takes to handle heavy turning parts. Since one part is so expensive, time-consuming, and labour-intensive, expert operators will utilize careful and meticulous workflows.
  3. They know how to achieve incredibly good tolerance levels. Small adjustments to shop temperature, weight, and hundreds of other variables can impact the final tolerance levels. Experienced operators will understand all of the nuances (like thermal deformation and vibration) and take them into account throughout the turning process.
  4. Experienced operators have the training necessary to use best practices on long projects. Unlike small turning, where throughput and speed are the biggest variables, heavy part turning requires keen attention-to-detail and incredible delicacy. You're handling a single, valuable piece of equipment that requires care, constant inspection, and a forward-thinking mindset.

#3) You Have to Nail Setup and Support

One of the most important parts of heavy part turning is the setup. You have to make sure that the part is secured thoroughly. Even the slightest amount of part movement can jeopardize the entire project.

When you're working with a large part, things like counterbalancing and securing are key. A large part can throw a spindle off cycle even if it's only going 500 rpm — so you have to think about weight.

You can use jaws, clamps, or custom securing solutions to hold the pieces down (this is why horizontal lathes are so vital). But it's essential to use equipment that can adequately handle the part.

Again, an experienced operator is critical here. There are plenty of complexities involved in turning a round piece. Once you start adding in heavy pieces that have off-balanced weight distribution and unique shapes, the turning project becomes hyper-specific. Experienced operators will be able to leverage the work they did on past projects and training to customize each workload.

#4) How to Handle Cutting Parameters

For the most part, the larger the part, the lower the speed your spindle needs to turn. While heavy turning doesn't always require larger tools, it almost always requires a heavier machine. And, when you combine heavy machines, gravity complexities (horizontal lathes fight gravity) and heavy torque together, you need to know what you're doing.

Some projects may require standard edges, while others may require custom tooling. And, some projects may need liquid cooling, while others simply need temperature-controlled environments.

Cutting parameters differ by-the-project with heavy part tooling. Remember, each project is going to be wholly unique. And the processes that go into making that project work will likely differ.

#5) Taking Your Time

One lesson we remind ourselves of daily is — take your time. Turning big parts requires big patience. Between securing the part, live-tooling, custom tooling, temperature control, vibration control, regular inspection, unique parameters, and time-consuming setup, heavy part turning is anything but monotonous.

As the industry glides towards faster output and full automation of smaller parts, heavy part turning requires patience, attention-to-detail, and lots of love and care. Each part is like a work of art, and the well-functioning finished part is the single most important asset in the metal turning process.

Do You Need Heavy Part Turning?

Are you looking for an experienced team of operators who are ready to handle your heavy part turning needs? Contact us. No matter the scope, shape, size, or difficulty of the project, Vineland Manufacturing is prepared to offer the solution you need.


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