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What Is Machine Tool Design?

A programmable logic controller may be used in machine tool design.
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  • Written By: Ray Hawk
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2014
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Machine tool design involves the design, building, and construction of machine tools used for a variety of industrial purposes. Types of machine tools commonly used in today's industries include lathes, drilling machines, and milling machines, as well as transfer, grinding, and honing machines. Each machine tool design must take into account the load the machine will be required to handle, who will be using the machine tool, and the stresses on key components, as well as its power requirements and how much of its function will be automated.

Several key aspects of the various types of machine tools must be focused on by the machine tool designer. The first of these is the frame, or chassis, upon which the tool is built. It can be a cast, fabricated, or constructed frame that will house all the motors, tables, and controls that the tool requires. Often these frames are built from steel or cast iron, but a modern machine tool design may also utilize a composite plastic framework. The key function of the frame is that it must be able to withstand and dampen the effects of long-term vibrations, heat, and sound to make the tool more effective and reliable.

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Other components often included in a machine tool design are slides and rails, which are guides that allow movement of tables and spindles. Two primary forms for these exist. The box way slide, or rail, is the standard, and the easiest to build, with good dampening ability and resistance to shock, though it is often difficult to repair and replace. The roller way design incorporates a bearing between the slide and rail, making it more versatile and easier to position. Roller way designs take up more floor space, however, and, due to their increased complexity, are usually more expensive to build.

Electric motors in machine tool design come in one of three varieties. Spindle motors are most common, and are shaft-driven. Feed motors give power to slides that move worktables, and are often referred to as servo motors. Linear motors provide movement in one linear direction via a rotor connected to the slide, and are usually small and lightweight.

A machine tool design must also have controls, which can be manual or based on various microprocessors, such as the programmable logic controller (PLC). The software that works with the PLC generates a machine tool part using computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) programs and computer numerical control (CNC) software to execute CAM and run the tool. This software controls removable tools and bits made of hardened tungsten carbide that are the focal point of the machine tool design.

The machine tool market is expected to continue to grow, fueling an ever-present need for machine tool design graduates. Estimates state that in the year 2015, it will be a $80.7 billion US Dollar (USD) global industry, supplying nations throughout Europe and Asia in such industries as aerospace, wind generation, and automotive sectors. The North American market is seen as mature, whereas aging machine tool equipment for cutting, grinding, honing, as well as lathes, milling machines, and more will be replaced by newer models that are in high demand elsewhere.

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