Horizontal vs. Vertical Machining Centers

Machining centers are popular pieces of equipment that are useful for many industries, ranging from aviation to agriculture. These tools create products and parts by removing layers of a workpiece’s material with precision. Different types of machining centers have unique attributes and deliver unique results.

Learn more about the different types of machining center s and how to choose the right one for your application.

What Are Machining Centers?

Before comparing horizontal vs. vertical machining centers, let’s dive into the basics of machining centers.

Most manufacturing professionals are familiar with machining centers. You may have heard some people use terms like mills or milling machines interchangeably with the term machining centers. A machining center refers to a CNC machine that can perform the following functions including automated tool changes.

  • Mill
  • Drill
  • Lathe
  • Bore
  • Tap

CNC machining center is available in multiple configurations, most notably horizontal machining centers (HMC) and vertical machining centers (VMC). There are some significant differences between the two, but they share some similarities as well. Here are some of the key parts of machining centers:

  • Table: The milling table holds workpieces for the tools. CNC machines utilize automated tables that offer linear and transverse movement for a greater range of motion.
  • Spindle: The spindle holds the cutting tool.
  • Column and base: A machining center’s column and base support the machine and house the mechanics that move the table.
  • Tool changer: Automatic tool changers improve productivity by eliminating the need for the operator to change tooling manually between processes.

What Are Vertical Machining Centers?

Vertical CNC machining centers are the most popular type of machining center. As the name implies, VMCs are a type of computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine with a spindle attached perpendicular to the work table. The spindle holds the cutting tool currently being utilized and has an independent spindle motor to maximize power and torque during the chip removal process.

This type of machining center is ideal for work requiring precision and attention to detail. Advancing technology such as high-speed spindles and conversational control programming have enhanced VMC performance over the last few years. There are many benefits to having a vertical machining center in your shop.

6 Benefits of a Vertical Machining Center

6 Benefits of Vertical Machining Centers

In addition to its low maintenance and high functionality, there are many advantages to utilizing a vertical machining center. Consider the following six benefits:

1. Simple Operation

Vertical machining centers are typically easy to use and very user-friendly.

As this type of machining center is so popular, finding skilled workers with experience working with these tools is usually very easy.

2. Availability and Costs

A vertical machining center usually has lower upfront costs than machining centers with horizontally oriented spindles. This is, in part, thanks to its vast popularity.

Because various types of machine shops and manufacturers use these machining centers, they are often readily available and cost-effective. Additionally, the projects that require vertical machining centers often have a lower price point for consumers.

3. Precision and Accuracy

These machine tools offer excellent precision. A CNC vertical machining center can create highly accurate cuts to exact specifications. One of the greatest benefits of these machining centers is how they minimize the risk of human error.

This precision requires machines to be extremely stable. You can enjoy the added benefits of durability and stability when you work with a vertical machining center.

4. Space

An advantage to having a vertical machining center is that it takes up very little space compared to horizontal machining centers. This is especially beneficial for owners of small shops looking to make the most of their workspace. With less occupied floor space, workers can enjoy more room to move around, or you can introduce additional pieces of equipment to your workshop.

5. Visibility

The design and setup of a vertical machining center allow for great visibility while a project is in action.

While these machines are already highly precise, this open view can assist in even greater attention to detail. Thanks to the machine’s open configuration and visibility, operators have a greater chance of identifying imperfections and adjusting operations accordingly.

6. Versatility

Vertical machining centers are very versatile.

In addition to being easy to use, operators can use vertical machining centers to produce various shapes and dimensions that set this machine tool apart. From creating complex curved parts to grooves and slots, a vertical machining center can perform a vast range of tasks.

When to Use Vertical Machining Centers

There are times when a vertical machining center is preferable to a horizontal machining center. Shops often utilize VMCs for flatwork requiring tool access overtop of the workpiece or production that requires extreme accuracy and high precision. Its tight tolerance leaves very little room for human error and improves production processing.

Various industries, from the medical field to the military, utilize VMCs. Some of the most common applications of VMCs include producing parts with the following characteristics:

  • Curves: Vertical machining centers can efficiently produce complex curved parts better than other milling equipment that does not have the precision to meet highly specific requirements.
  • Usual shapes: Traditional milling techniques make it challenging to achieve unusual shapes for parts, such as a base or bracket.
  • Holes and notches: VMCs can drill holes and notches into workpieces to create parts such as fasteners for the construction industry and piston rods for the automotive industry.

What Is a Horizontal Machining Center?

A horizontal CNC machining center shares a similar design to vertical machining centers. However, its spindle axis is horizontally oriented and parallel to the work table. The spindle on an HMC also performs slightly differently than a VMC does.

This kind of machining center is best suited for large-scale and fast productions. They also generally create smoother surfaces on workpieces and require less fabrication at the end of production than vertical machining centers. In addition to reducing the need for workers and having faster processing times, HMCs have many other benefits as well.

6 Benefits of a Horizontal Machining Center

6 Benefits of a Horizontal Machining Center

There are many advantages of utilizing horizontal machining centers, including the following:

1. Speed

Shops that require quick turnarounds can benefit from a horizontal machining center. These machining centers can cut at fast speeds for better surface finishes.

A horizontal machining center’s table moves horizontally and transversely. This makes it possible to enable milling action from various angles and not solely on a horizontal plane. Shops can get all the speed without compromising accuracy and precision.

2. Capacity

Again, a horizontal machining center is ideal for large-scale projects. HMCs typically have higher table load capacity as they do not push down, against the table, with the power of the spindle.

If your shop needs to deliver many large scale products, horizontal machining centers are ideal.

3. Chip Evacuation

When comparing a horizontal machining center vs. a vertical machining center, horizontal options are better for chip evacuation. They can produce greater throughput because of the ease of chip removal.

4. Durability

A Horizontal machining center is a sturdier option than vertical machining centers. They typically have a rigid box-way design that offers additional durability. Thanks to this structure, a horizontal machining center can often provide improved damping and increased rigidity for greater accuracy. Its durability allows for less wear and tear on the machine, further reducing costs and providing more reliability.

5. Precision

While horizontal machining centers are not as precise as vertical mills, they can still deliver outstanding accuracy.

Horizontal machining centers are perfect for large production runs because of their notable speed and precision. They also minimize the risk of human error by utilizing automated cuts and geometric dimensioning and tolerancing.

6. Decreased Costs and Increased Profits

A shop or manufacturer can get more out of their labor costs with a horizontal machining center.

These mills have great speed and capacity, so they can achieve higher production for the same labor costs, making it possible to increase your profits. Again, an HMC is highly durable, which allows you to spend less time and money on maintenance, further decreasing costs.

When to Use a Horizontal Machining Center

There are various applications in which horizontal machining centers are a better choice than a VMC.

Since horizontal machining centers can cut workpieces from various angles, they are a great choice for cutting the following:

  • Grooves
  • Slots
  • Gears

In addition, HMCs are suitable for projects that require side-oriented work or projects that require cutting on multiple sides. When working with large or heavy materials, an HMC is an ideal choice because of its stability and durability.

Horizontal machining centers have better chip evacuation than other types of mills. This makes them more suitable for applications that need clean, smooth surface finishes and faster production speeds.

When there is larger volume production, an HMC has the solid construction to handle the job. That’s why so many industries use this type of machining center, including the following:

  • Aerospace
  • Heavy equipment
  • Automotive
  • Construction
  • Agriculture

Choosing the Right Machining Center

Machining centers are extremely versatile tools that serve many different functions. It’s important to find the right fit for your shop’s unique needs. Consider the following when choosing the right machining center for your application:

Spindle Orientation

It is important to think about the spindle orientation when deciding which type of machining center to choose. As a general rule of thumb, applications that require extreme precision and attention to detail typically require a vertical machining center. In contrast, a horizontal machining center is best for lengthy or large-scale productions.

Cost and Space

Before landing on the right machining center for your shop, consider your budget. Typically, vertical machining centers cost less than their horizontal counterparts. Horizontal machining centers are more complex and come with a higher price point and increased productivity. Vertical machining centers also take up less space in comparison to horizontal machining centers.

Table Size and Axis Travel

When picking your machining center, account for table size and travel. Your table’s size should be slightly larger than the area you need for your application. Table travel, also called axis travel, refers to the maximum milling area your spindle can reach. You’ll need to assess spindle-table distance as well to find the right specifications for your needs.

Number of Axes

Next, consider how many axes your application will require. Most machining centers have three axes, a vertical one that allows you to adjust the height of the spindle and two horizontal ones to move the table in longitudinal and transverse directions. Some applications will need four or five axes, depending on the machine angles you need to reach.

Other Considerations

There are some other factors to consider when choosing the right machining center, such as:

  • Capacity needs: When choosing between horizontal and vertical machining centers, consider the machining center’s capacities and your application’s needs.
  • Spindle speed: Spindle speed is important because it affects surface roughness. Using the right speed will help maintain your tools and improve the surface finish.
  • Digital readout: Some manufacturers like having a display that tells them the distance they’ve adjusted the table for easier operation.
  • Computerized Numerical Control: CNC machines can be programmed to complete a wider variety of tasks with greater accuracy, efficiency and safety.

Vertical and Horizontal Machining Centers From KAAST Machine Tools

At KAAST Machine Tools, our CNC machining centers are effective and built with premium quality components. We have both vertical and horizontal machining centers available so that you can choose the best option for your application.

The VF-Mill series from KAAST Machine Tools offers competitive performance and rigidity. They run on the latest generation of the Fanuc Series 0i control systems, making manual programming possible for quicker and more accurate performance.

The KAAST HMC-F CNC is a horizontal machining center that offers extremely smooth heavy machining, thanks to its heavy-duty construction and sturdy base. In addition to providing impressive axis travel capabilities, this model has a 40 tool ATC and linear scales on the X, Y and Z-axes.

Contact KAAST Machine Tools to Learn More

Contact KAAST Machine Tools to Learn More

For more than a decade, KAAST Machine Tools has provided our customers with easy-to-use fabrication machines and chip-making equipment. We keep more than 70 machines in stock at all times and can deliver out-of-stock spare parts within just 48 hours.

While our headquarters are in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, we’ve installed machine tools in nearly every state. We make finding the right machine for your application simple. From horizontal and vertical machining centers to manual lathes, KAAST Machine Tools has a variety of well-built products to choose from.

Are you interested in learning more about products from KAAST Machine Tools? Contact us or request a quote to get started today!