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Horizontal Milling Machine
Brian KennedyJul 26, 2023 9:07:00 AM6 min read

Advantages of Horizontal Milling Machines Explained

Horizontal milling machines, also known as machining centers, offer numerous advantages across different aspects of machining operations. From increased efficiency and productivity to improved precision, versatility, and cost savings, horizontal milling machines significantly impact various industries. 

They provide safer working conditions, ergonomic benefits, and contribute to better chip removal, surface finish, and quality of machined parts. With their capabilities in multi-sided machining, setup flexibility, and multi-axis operations, horizontal milling machines play a crucial role in modern manufacturing processes.

What Is A Horizontal Milling Machine? 

A horizontal milling machine is a 3-axis (X, Y, Z) machine with a horizontally positioned spindle at the rear. It features a table or rotary table at the front, allowing easy access for loading and unloading workpieces.  

Many machines also include a rotary index table or a complete "B"-axis rotary with programmable rotation during machining. With some horizontal milling machine suppliers, automatic pallet changers can be integrated to further enhance productivity by eliminating idle time during workpiece loading and unloading.

What Are Horizontal Milling Machines Used For? 

Horizontal milling machines are utilized in a range of operations, including face milling, pocket milling, drilling of holes, tapping holes, precision boring of holes, and contour machining of internal and external features. Many horizontal milling machines are equipped with automatic tool changers, further enhancing their productivity. These tool changers allow for quick and seamless switching of cutting tools during the machining process, reducing setup time and improving efficiency. 

What Are The Unique Capabilities Of Horizontal Milling Machines? 

Horizontal mills excel in machining cast housings or block-like structures that require precision squareness on multiple sides. They can cut all four sides of a workpiece with an index table. By incorporating a "B" axis rotary table, the machine can machine around the exterior profile of a housing. Precision boring from multiple positions is possible, making horizontal mills suitable for bearing bores and similar features.

Key Advantages Of Horizontal Milling Machines

Horizontal milling machines offer a range of unique advantages. They come in different types and sizes, including large floor mills that allow operators to quickly set up fixtures by walking directly into the machining table. These machining centers can be equipped with multiple spindles and tool changers, enabling the efficient production of duplicate parts in a single programmed cycle. 

Pallet changers further enhance productivity by facilitating quick workpiece exchange. The horizontal spindle position of these machines provides easy access to the fixture area, allowing operators to replace workpieces while the machine is in the cutting cycle, which is more challenging with vertical spindle milling machines.

With their versatility and capabilities, horizontal milling machines find applications in various industries such as automotive manufacturing, gear-box manufacturing, oil field valve production, axle and shaft manufacturing, cannon production, and more. Let’s explore each advantage more thoroughly.

Increased Efficiency and Productivity: High-powered spindles or multi-spindle horizontal milling machines can provide high material removal rates. The chips fall to the machine's base, and augers or conveyors efficiently remove them from the work area. Horizontal mills facilitate high-volume production through automated loading using overhead gantries or robotic loaders.

Pallet changers and duplicate fixtures further enhance the efficiency of these machines in high-volume applications. Gantry handshakes and PLC communication with robotic controllers allow for quick and synchronized loading and unloading of workpieces. These automation features reduce cycle times, improve safety, and enhance productivity.

Increased Precision and Accuracy: The horizontal orientation, with a firm support base, eliminates over-hung loads or cantilevered spindle heads. This allows horizontal milling machines to handle heavier and more accurate cuts, improving precision. Finite element analysis (FEA) ensures the stiffness of the spindle stack and fixture table, maximizing machine rigidity.

Glass feedback scales on axes negate the effects of temperature variations, while thermal mapping with feedback sensors maintains consistent tool positions. Touch probes can validate part location and cutting tool tip positions, aiding in achieving tight tolerances and ensuring repeatability and consistent results.

Versatility In Workpiece Size And Complexity: Horizontal milling machines are ideal for machining cast housings, block-like structures, and other workpieces requiring multiple sides to be machined with precise squareness.

Palletized fixturing allows horizontal milling machines to efficiently handle workpieces of varying sizes and shapes. Horizontal milling machines equipped with "B" axis rotary tables can handle multi-surface machining. Adding an "A" axis trunnion further expands the capability, enabling the machining of spheroidal workpieces.

Operator Safety And Ergonomic Considerations: Most horizontal milling machines are enclosed with safety guards and feature safety-gate switches at the operator's door. These switches prevent the spindles from running when the gate is open. Operators are also positioned away from the spindle-facing fixture areas, minimizing potential hazards.

Horizontal milling machines offer ergonomic advantages due to their accessible fixture area positioned at the front. This design allows operators to load and unload workpieces without the need to reach into the cutting chamber, thereby improving both productivity and operator safety. When dealing with larger workpieces, a hoist can be utilized to facilitate the loading process into horizontal milling machines.

Multi-Sided and Multi-Axis Machining: Horizontal milling machines offer the advantages of multi-sided and multi-axis machining. With multi-sided machining, all sides of a workpiece can be cut within a single setup, eliminating the need for additional setups and saving valuable time. Horizontal mills, especially those equipped with index tables or rotary tables, enable cutting all four sides of a workpiece.

While both horizontal and vertical milling machines can have 5-axis machining capabilities, horizontal machining centers excel in multi-axis operations due to their stiffness and greater spindle power. Horizontal milling machines are ideal for complex machining operations that require precise movements across multiple axes.

Increased Tool Life and Cost Savings: There are many operational efficiencies in horizontal machining centers, such as easier workpiece handling, multiple spindles and fixtures, and improved chip evacuation, which contribute to enhanced productivity and reduced machining time. 

Horizontal milling machines can optimize cost savings and improve profitability through the use of chain-style tool changers. These tool changers accommodate multiple redundant tools, with options available for 40, 60, or even 80 tools. By incorporating redundant tools, these machines can run parts for extended periods before needing a tool change. While horizontal milling machines do not inherently offer longer tool life than vertical milling machines, their ability to run parts for longer periods without tool changes maximizes tool utilization.

Setup Flexibility And Quick Changeovers: Horizontal milling machines facilitate quick setup and changeover between different workpieces, mainly when dealing with diverse product lines or frequent workpiece variations. As mentioned before, pallet changers enable swift workpiece exchange, further reducing setup time.

Horizontal Milling Machines From Ingersoll CM Systems 

At Ingersoll CM Systems, we have extensive experience providing and rebuilding horizontal milling machines for various applications. We have provided machines with Indramat, Fanuc, and Siemens CNC controls for all of these form machines. We have even tailored competitor’s standard machines to perform ends milling and slotting of keyways. 

Our expertise lies in tooling, fixturing, and part programming, allowing us to optimize cutting cycles, calculate forces and chip removal rates, and perform complete run-offs with cycle time verification and quality studies. Contact us today to learn how we can help you. 

Brian Kennedy

I lead teams of engineers, designers, and technicians to deliver innovative solutions for complex and challenging projects in various industries. I have a proven track record of managing multiple programs, contracts, and customers, while ensuring quality, efficiency, and customer satisfaction.