Large vertical lathes available at reasonable prices

December 5, 2017 5:17 pm

By William Leventon

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Look in a couple of nooks in the machine tool market and you’ll find what appear to be bargains for those buying big.

Take machines that produce large turned parts. Firms can have trouble outsourcing such parts because job shops can’t find affordable turning centers to do the work, according to Jerry McCarty, COO of SMTCL USA Inc., City of Industry, Calif.

“There really never was a job shop machine that would do large turning,” McCarty said, adding that large turning machines typically cost $400,000 or more. His company offers two new horizontal turning centers priced under $300,000—“30 percent cheaper than what people normally pay for this kind of machine,” he said.


Essential parts of the MVL-16 VTL. According to Momentum, all MVL models offer oversize rams and other components, as well as more horsepower and machine mass than more expensive competitors. Image courtesy of Momentum Machine Tool.


An even less affordable option has been to shell out $1 million or more for machines that can also mill, McCarty noted. “Our products are filling a niche for job shops doing just one operation—turning—on very large products.”

Priced at $269,000, SMTCL’s EHC125300 is a CNC horizontal lathe that can turn out parts up
to 3m (118″) long. Standard features of the 44,000-lb. (19,958kg) machine include a 1,000mm (39.4″) chuck, 8-position turret, steady rest, hydraulic tailstock and chip conveyor.

SMTCL’s other new machine, the EHC125500, costs $20,000 more than the EHC125300 but can produce parts up to 5m (197″) long and weighing as much as 11,000 lbs. (4,990kg).

Though the parts are big, McCarty said, the new turning centers offer accuracy that is often measured in microns.

But tolerance stackup can occur if the parts must be moved to a different machine for drilling or other secondary operations that require milling. This is the Achilles’ heel of the new machines compared with more expensive milling-capable offerings, McCarty said.

Like job shops searching in vain for affordable turning centers, customers of Jack Butts’ machine tool distributorship often complained about their inability to find a heavy-duty vertical turning lathe at what they regarded as a fair price. The problem, according to Butts, was that major machine builders weren’t showing sufficient interest in the VTL category.

The result was a  VTL market with few major suppliers, high prices and inferior product quality, according to Butts.

So in 2014, Butts and a couple of partners founded Momentum Machine Tool Co. to give customers the heavy-duty but moderately priced VTLs they had long been asking for. Momentum is headquartered in Houston, but, after founding the company, the partners purchased a factory in Taichung, Taiwan, the world’s largest source of VTLs. This factory had been manufacturing a product that was closest to meeting Momentum’s VTL design criteria.  Today, the factory turns out Momentum’s MVL-series VTLs, which meet the needs of the company’s Houston-area customers and are also becoming increasingly popular outside its home territory, according to Butts.

What’s the appeal of the MVL? “In terms of specifications, there is just no such thing as a machine that out-specs the MVL,” said John Boland, president of Spartan Precision Machinery/Momentum USA, Houston, which was established to import Momentum products into North America.


The new EHC125300 horizontal turning center from SMTCL is designed to be an economical option for job shops turning large parts. Image courtesy of SMTCL USA.


For example, a video on the Spartan website reports that the 78,000-lb. (35,380kg) MVL-16 has enough mass to provide the needed resistance to cutting forces, operates at 75 hp (55.95kW) to speed up metal removal and can turn parts weighing as much as 22,000 lbs. (9,979kg).

As far as competition goes, according to the video, there are higher-priced VTLs on the market that weigh half or two-thirds of what an MVL does, operate at just 60 hp (44.76kW) and can handle parts weighing no more than 17,000 lbs. (7,711kg).

Compared with an MVL, a competitive VTL offering might be “literally half the machine if you melt it down,” Boland said. “Nonetheless, a customer could pay $250,000 more for it because it’s built in Japan and there is a 35-year history that says that Japanese machines are well-built.”

If you’re a cost-conscious VTL shopper, however, Momentum’s more-machine-for-less pitch may be hard to resist.

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