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Opinions on hybrid manual/cnc machines


May 17, 2022
Hi All,

Longtime lurker but first time poster, I'm in a small team of ~6 techs supporting a research facility. We have a small shop with old but good lathes, another old but decent universal mill and a Taiwanese knee mill. All major fabrication goes to a seperate production workshop or outsourced, so our shop is mostly used for quick mods, repairs or urgent fabrication work almost always 1-off parts. Half the techs are ex-machinists but like me have not worked as such for many years and usually have little cnc experience. The other half are not from a machining background but have been taught basic machining skills on the job. Some (like me) would welcome some cnc capability and are not concerned about picking it back up, others are either too set in their ways or it would be too intimidating. My impression is that we would 100% still want to have the convenience of manual machinery for the sort of work we usually do.

I'm considering doing some machinery upgrade though, and want to cover all bases and not potentially miss out on new capability for those who can take advantage of it. Hence I'm looking also at combo/hybrid/'teach' or whatever they are called machinery. Something still resembling a manual machine and with handwheels but which can be used in CNC mode also when that suits. Most discussion about things like ProtoTrak lathe/mills seems to revolve around comparisons with CNC (which they obviously lose) but I'm really interested in feedback from people who have used such machines in the context of a "manual" machine. Are they a case of 'no good at either' or do they do a passable job as a manual machine?

I'm thinking along the lines of a Trak TRL1630RX lathe https://www.southwesternindustries.com/products/lathes/trl-1630rx-toolroom-lathe
DPM RX3 Mill https://www.southwesternindustries.com/products/dpmrx-bed-mills/dpm-rx3-bed-mill

Any experience good or bad would be welcomed. Who else makes such machines? Makino used to make a handwheel-CNC mill but seems not to anymore, ditto Haas with a combo lathe. Is it that these type of machines are just no good for either task and are not in demand? Being as we are in Australia it's probably not so easy to get a 'test drive' and it would be a big purchase I'd hate to buy something which ends up not suitable for requirements.

Thanks in advance


Dec 13, 2002
Benicia California USA
I work in a small shop where we do one off's all the time and repair of existing parts.....
Shop has three lathes and 4 mills with the usual support machinery...Surface grinder #2 Cinci T&C grinder
Small cylindrical grinder (universal ID/OD Myford.

My favorite mill is a Deckel FP4 NC...Wonderful machine with hand controls and conversational programming...Bit slow, but its magic at doing the "impossible" having both a horizontal and vertical spindle....Not advisable for the the light duty crowd!

By far the best lathe in the shop is my Romi M17....Hand/CNC lathe. It ticks all the boxes for me.
Not good for production but very capable at doing quick jobs or more complex shapes.....

Excellent baser iron...well made and turned out. Easy to program using the "Romi Guide" language, but still able to run standard G-code if you prefer, as well as running with hand wheels.....Pretty much you get everything.

My machine was purchased with the D1-6 spindle so work holding changes are easy.
This is a real machine using hardened bed ways and a full chip enclosure and full function tail stock.
Have mine fitted using a "MultiFix too post (more repeatable than an Aloris or wedge style knock off post.
Advantage here is that it gives lots more tool holder choices of odd jobs than you can pack in a turret.
I have 25 pre-set holders and tools on the bench at any time....

My machine is a few years old an has the Fanuc 21-i control...Bullet proof and support everywhere...
Current version i think uses the Siemens control.....Still a great machine no matter which control it is fitted with.
Lots more machine than that Trak lathe...just better all around! Personally think it also kicks ass on the Haas TRL.....
Cheers Ross


May 17, 2022
AlfaGTA - Firstly, deepest respect for your username! :D Funny enough, the FP4NC is very familiar to me, I spent a year or so during the latter period of my apprenticeship using one. Agreed it was a fantastic machine. Ours had the fixed table and travelling head (were they all like that or more like a standard FP4?). Alas, it had electronic problems and became disused and sold off for near scrap value.
The tip on the Romi M17 is exactly the sort of thing I was looking for - had never heard of them and some amount of googling looking for similar machines did not bring them up. Present equivalent would appear to be the C420, interesting, handwheels and controls on a sliding panel independent of the carriage. Effectively a full CNC lathe with electronic handwheels on the front - which seems to be the way the market is moving for this type of machine.

mhajicek - thanks and yes, on first contact with their website it does seem Trak's gear is pretty well oriented to what we do. It's a pretty sparse market here, so decent used equipment is few and far between. Gonna have to be new all the way. It would be nice to have a test drive really, but hard to achieve hence casting around here for experience.

As I do more research it becomes clear that everything is morphing more toward the CNC side of things. The newer Haas lathe has dumped the handwheels and just has them as an optional separate unit almost like a remote control. I guess this is just evolution, the hybrid machines are typically just pitched at 'transitioning' to cnc. We don't really care about that, we just want the easiest, most efficient machine for one-offs.

So a more fundamental question to those who have CNC's and manual machines in the shop. A job comes in, a proprietary 4" SS blank vacuum flange needs to be bored and weld prepped to take a 2" tube welded in. You have manual and cnc lathes available, neither with tools set up. Which do you go for?


Mar 26, 2019
If your in an academic or research facility I'd consider how money is budgeted.. It is one thing to get a one time buy approved but another consideration is how flush your front office is with money in case your purchase becomes a money pit.

Best would be a simpler CNC machine tool with a good track record of supporting their technology long term with training, parts and service. Some gov't or academic environments are unlikely to have CNC savvy machine repair people on staff so any service will have to be contracted out which may or not pizz off the money guy in the front office.

I bought a Trak SX1630 about 5 years ago, and although it is a very basic tool room type CNC they have been excellent with any tech questions I have had over the years. They have sales/demo offices near most major cities.

Edit in response to "You have manual and cnc lathes available, neither with tools set up. Which do you go for?"

Obvious answer is with a "toolroom" type CNC with handwheels you have both and can do all, or part in either manual or CNC mode. Not the most efficient but if your seeking to transition to CNC each time you cut a part you gain more experience and confidence. Most of the machines come with Aloris/Dorian tool posts so with the CNC lathes all your tools are set up in advance so all you really need do is touch off the tool enter the value desired. It actually works quite well.
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May 24, 2020
I just went through this recently debating whether or not to replace my manual Bridgeport with a better condition knee mill that had a 30 year old Trak age 2 controller...

After the first few weeks it's been an awesome upgrade and a great boost for my work, I would do it again in a heartbeat! It can be used in manual mode with the DRO no problem, however the more I use it, the more I find myself punching in programs for one off stuff too.

The other day I was cranking the wheel doing a batch of bolt hole layouts manually when in the middle I stopped and asked myself WTF I was doing them for manually?! I have a cnc! I punched in the program and was off to the races.

I haven't had any technical issues yet, but the few times I reached out to SWI, the company that makes Trak, they've been very responsive.


May 11, 2017
Minneapolis, MN, USA
Obvious answer is with a "toolroom" type CNC with handwheels you have both and can do all, or part in either manual or CNC mode.
Unfortunately, modern "toolroom" machines have been becoming less and less suited for manual use, with non-optional full enclosures or obstructionist guarding. Can you even run a new Hass "Toolroom" lathe with the door open?

I grew up turning the handles with my nose 2" from the work, so I could see the tiny parts I was working on, as soon as I could see over the bed of my grandfather's lathe.

In answer to OP's question of which I would go for, manual or CNC, it would depend on the requirements and the cost of failure. If the stock is cheap, I have extra, and the requirements are loose, I might do manual. If the tolerances and surface finish requirements are steeper, or if I only have one shot at it, I'll go CNC. In large part that's because I have way more hours on CNC equipment, so that's where I'm most confident and capable.


Dec 14, 2009
From my experience I would look at a machine that fits your work envelope but also has excellent dealer support and enough units out in the field to have user support as well. Neither was available on my Romi so I sold it.

Buick Power

Aug 18, 2020
I'm late to this discussion but I was a part time (part of my day) machinist doing R&D 3D printed alloys mostly. They got in a new Kent 5 series mill with MillPwr control. So it's a giant Bridgeport with Conversational programing. I fell in love with it. Just putting in your coordinates and doing the work manually is worth the price of admission, no more cranking handles to positions. But have it drill all the holes then interpolate them to size(s) is great. Plus contours and repetitive passes, engraving, etc. Then you can get more elaborate actual programs. I liked it so much that I found a similar used one and put it in my two car garage and I absolutely love the capabilities. I've made all sorts of stuff from engraving artwork to all the structural pieces for a heavy crane. I just took over a one man manual shop at work where I do aerospace test support. We just put in to get a Kent 5 series with Millpwr and upgrade all tooling to Cat40. That will increase this shop to approximately equivalent to 1.5 to 2 people.


Aug 10, 2003
Bitterroot Montana
I have both the Prototrak mill and lathe. SMX and SLX controllers. Perfectly usable as manual machines and will run CNC. I manage to get everything done with the canned cycles in the controllers and some creative fixtures and cutters. Haven;t done any G-code, but the machines will take it. Obvious downside is no tool changer. But if you are only making a few of something it is not an issue. One tip: buy the enclosed table with the mill. You can then reasonably use flood coolant


Oct 10, 2009
Just bought some machines from a shop with some Haas TL-3's. They don't care for the old ones and the latest version is a complete pile of shit according to the guys who have to use it.


Hot Rolled
Sep 25, 2012
I was looking at a new Prototrak bed mill in 2018. They have a super screwed up sales model where dealers compete with factory sales guys and Soutwestern Industries wouldn't give me the time of day when I asked questions. One memer here suggested an Atrump instead and that is the route I went. Glad I did.