Advanced Precision Machining

Comparing Traditional Vertical vs. Horizontal CNC Machining Centers; What's the Best Fit for APM's Machine Shop?

[February 2, 2015] Return on investment (ROI). The ever-popular metric in a business climate takes on added significance today as many CNC machine shop owners face the challenges presented by evolving economic factors. The good news for the precision machining sector of the manufacturing economy is that many indicators continue to forecast positive growth. Across our industry, demand for milling and machining services has increased. Production is up, jobs are being filled, and resulting profits are allowing for much needed capital expenditure on new CNC machine tools. At Advanced Precision Machining, our long-term growth initiatives include investment in new high speed machining technology. Currently, the bulk of our machine shop services are provied using the finest, more traditional vertical CNC milling machines available, including Hurco and ProtoTRAK. However, as we continue with our expansion plans, the addition or switch to a horizontal high speed machining center (HMC) is one item that is up for consideration. We have to explore the pros and cons though and ask ourselves, is the return worth the significant investment?

Many small and medium sized CNC machine shops, including APM, satisfy demand for most machining orders with vertical CNC milling machines (VMCs). They are by far the leading piece of precision machining equipment utilized on the shop floor today. This technology employs a spindle in a vertical orientation, working with gravity, allowing for the removal of material from the top of a workpiece. VMC's possess 3, 4, or even 5-axis capability allowing for a range of possibilities in shaping parts. The addition of pallet changers can increase productivity by shortening cycle and load times. They traditionally have proven more versatile than their horizontal counterparts and have relatively simple CNC controls to program. Perhaps the most important consideration involves cost. VMCs are far less expensive than their horizontal counterparts. So in a nutshell, if you are a smaller machine shop where money is tight and experience is limited, or if you haven't acquired the necessary skills and experience to run a HMC, and you don't need to fill high capacity orders, VMCs are a good option.

With a staff of dedicated and expert CNC machinists, APM's precision machine shop continues to expand, and we have begun to explore the option of adding a horizontal CNC machining center into our line. Cost is a major obstacle. According to The Association For Manufacturing Technology, the average HMC costs $375,000 vs. just $115,000 for a VMC. However, today's HMCs have the potential to double the capacity of the two VMCs we currently run. HMCs are designed with the spindle in a horizontal orientation. This configuration allows for uninterrupted production work. A two-pallet workchanger can be loaded on one side while CNC machining occurs on the other. In addition, the horizontal orientation orientation lets workpiece chips fall out of the way aided by gravity, resulting in less cleanup time, longer tool life and better finishes. You get what you pay for with an HMC. They are built well with a heavy design and more rigidity for high volume capacity, and are configured with many more options to improve productivity. Buyers can choose to add axes, tombstone capabilities, pallet changers, spindle coolant, additional vises and more.

Increasing productivity, throughput, quality, and floorspace all while reducing labor costs are all compelling arguments for the purchase of a new HMC for APM's machine shop. The return on investment for us may well be worth the capital expenditure. Time will tell, but as business conditions continue to improve, the justification for this piece of CNC machining technology seems more and more likely.

The following article from the Smarter Finance USA blog provides a good analysis of some financial considerations.

APM is dedicated to manufacturing the highest quality precision parts while providing the best customer service experience in the machine shop business. For additional information or to request a quote, please visit or call 303-776-1910.


About the Author


Gerry Dillon is a co-founder, current owner and certified CNC machinist at Advanced Precision Machining (APM), a full-service machine shop located in Longmont, Colorado. Before making his home in the United States in 2000, Gerry was born and raised on the emerald isle of Ireland and took an interest in milling and machining from an early age, ranking #1 in the Irish National Apprenticeship Program. In 2005, he partnered with his friend and colleague, Kirk Tuesburg, currently APM’s machine shop manager, together launching what’s grown into a leading Colorado machine shop. Gerry brings over 30 years of machining experience to the shop floor, and is certified in all aspects of geometric dimensioning and tolerancing. 



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