Hwacheon Machine Tools Co. Ltd compares and contrasts horizontal machining centres (HMCs) and vertical machining centres (VMCs) and explains the uses of each. Article by Stephen Las Marias.
South Korea-based Hwacheon Machine Tools Co. Ltd is a pioneer in the Korean machine tool industry, and one of the first companies in the world to develop smart operating systems and automation software for CNC machine tools.
Its roots come from a local foundry, where founder Kwon Seung Gwan initially worked as an apprentice mould maker. His grit, determination and attention to quality earned him the confidence and respect of the owner, who eventually entrusted the stewardship of the foundry to Kwon in August 1945. The company was later established on December 20, 1945 and became the foundation of Hwacheon.
First known as Hwacheon Machine Works, Kwon incorporated Hwacheon Machine Tools Co. Ltd. Designing and building the first lathe machine in Korea, Kwon played a key role empowering Korea’s fledgling manufacturing sector, which was just recovering from the Korean War.
Kwon built on his success later in 1959 with the development of the country’s first direct-coupled belt-driven lathe machine. In 1964, Hwacheon added a feather on its cap with the development of the country’s first gear-driven automatic lathe.
Over the next two decades, Hwacheon focused its energies on R&D. Around this time, the company also established its own manufacturing division. This set the stage for a string of other ‘firsts’ within the South Korean Industry, such as the first NC lathe machine; the first NC milling machine; the first CNC copy milling machine; and the first NC four-axis lathe machine. In 1987, Hwacheon developed the country’s first horizontal machining centre, a multiplex machine tool with automatic tool changer.
The next era saw Hwacheon enjoying steady growth as it shifted its gears towards modern R&D, focusing on using information technology (IT) to reduce manual work. During this period, the company built larger and semi-automated machine tools, including a vertical high-speed machining centre. In 2001, it started its automobile parts business—producing initially up to 30,000 cylinder blocks—with its horizontal machining centre (HMC).
More than 70 years since its founding, Hwacheon has grown to become one of world’s leading CNC machine tool manufacturer with a solid reputation for reliable quality products. Today, the company is a fully integrated machine tool maker offering highly specialised CNC lathes, CNC milling machines, multi-axis machines, and smart machines for a wide spectrum of industries.
In an interview with Asia Pacific Metalworking News (APMEN) magazine, Hwacheon’s Klaus Ludwig, managing director of Hwacheon Asia Pacific Pte Ltd, and vice president of Hwacheon Machine Tools Co. Ltd, talks about the current trends shaping the machining industry, and their customers’ challenges and how they are helping them address those issues. He also talks about horizontal machining centres (HMCs) and vertical machining centres (VMCs), the uses of each, and their advantages and disadvantages.
Name one of your company’s key competitive advantages.
Klaus Ludwig (KL): Strong mechanical design and build. All machines are designed and built in-house. Only components like CNC control, bearing and linear guides are purchased from reputable suppliers in Japan and Germany.
From casting to machining of its spindles—all are manufactured by the company in South Korea.
What challenges are your customers facing?
KL: This very much depends on the area and industry. However, one common obstacle being faced practically everywhere is the lack of qualified and motivated manpower. That’s why automation, even the simplest automation solutions, are increasingly implemented around the world in manufacturing.
How is your company helping your customers address their problems?
KL: Our company offers a number of effective automation solutions for our turning and machining centres. At a higher level, our SMART machines are developed to minimise the effect of human involvements and the potential for errors.
We have started with this technology many years ago. Today, we are the only company that is able to offer a real smart machine—just sending the CAD file to the machine, press four buttons, and the SMART Machine does the rest.
Tell us more about HMC and VMC.
KL: VMCs are mainly standard three-axis machines, where the milling head/spindle is positioned vertically. Such VMCs can be designed in a traditional C-frame design or as double-column machining centres.
Five-axis solutions are available too, such as our M-series or the newer D2 five-axis machining centre. All have their spindle vertically positioned.
Standard VMC are the most sold machining centres in the market. They are generally lower in price compared to an HMC, subject to specification and quality, of course.
Meanwhile, HMCs are, in a basic configuration, 3+1 machining centres. Three-axis linear (X–Y–Z) plus one rotary axis (B-axis) to position the mounted workpiece. The spindle is positioned horizontal, providing the possibility to work on four sides of a workpiece by rotating/positioning the part to the spindle.
There are also full four-axis versions available, where the workpiece mounted on the B-axis can be rotated as an axis and synchronised to the three linear axes.
HMCs are normally used for higher production volumes as they usually have an integrated pallet changer. Also, as materials and parts can be replaced/exchanged while the machine is operating, HMCs provide reduced downtime.
How would you differentiate a HMC from VMC? Are there specific applications wherein one is better to use than the other?
KL: Standard VMCs require lower investments for job shops—as such they are more commonly used. They are also easy to use and operate.
VMCs are typically used in two- to three-axis operations. A fourth axis (NC Rotary Table) is optional, available but smaller in sizes. Usually, they come without a pallet changer system, while automation is done by robots. However, VMCs used for mould and die are precision machining centres with higher spindle speeds.
On the other hand, HMCs require higher investment—but they are cost-effective when it comes to mass production. One advantage of an HMC is chip removal—due to the nature of its design, chips easily fall to the chip conveyor. Its multi clamping features offer more economical and efficient production solutions. Their pallet system also provides higher productivity. However, HMCs are rarely used in mould and die. Our H8 however, is being used due to its rigidity, available spindle design and speed, as well as achievable accuracy.
How do you position your machining centre solutions in the market?
KL: Hwacheon has solutions for mass production of automotive parts—the A600 is especially designed for this application. This machine is designed to be used as a line machine, meaning, several machines will be placed next to each other and loaded/unloaded by an overhead Gantry system. To save space, the machine width is very slim; in this way, the point to point distance for the loading system is kept very short.
In fact, we use a line of 10 machines with a fast overhead gantry system in our own automotive part production, where we manufacture crankshafts and cylinder blocks.
For extreme tough material and operations, we have our H6 and H8 HMCs. Their extreme rigidity, highest overall machine weight, and the strongest spindle in the market—at 1,650Nm torque—set them apart from any competitor.
For large, heavy and accurate parts, our AF 16 and AF 30 are providing excellent machining platforms and capacities. Whether oil & gas or machine tool parts, these machines provide excellent performances.
Whether a customer is looking for mass production or for a machine that can handle even the toughest material, Hwacheon has a solution available.
What trends do you see as you look out at the metalworking industry in Asia?
KL: Over the past years, the trend has been toward more complex machines and effective automation solutions. Of course, there are still those customers who believe a ‘cheap’ machine and equipment makes them competitive; but the industry in Asia is evolving—and it must evolve from cheap manufacturing to more quality products.
Batch sizes have become smaller, while real mass production is rare. Faster deliveries and cost-effective operations are the key today. And this requires good equipment and machines, as well as higher level of operators—because one operator is able to handle multiple machines. This has become the norm.
Finally, what advice would you give your customers when it comes to their machining processes?
KL: First, look at your current standard first. Can you receive orders for the higher quality parts—which come with higher benefits—or should you decline it? How fast can you switch from one part order to the next? What is your level of scrap? How many set-ups do you need to produce your parts? What makes a manufacturer different from the others? Cheaper machines and equipment or higher level capabilities?
Plan your machine purchase in advance, not only when you have the order to produce and you are forced to buy any available machine in the market. You may finally not get what you need and wanted.
With a few simple questions, a customer can determine their level of competitiveness, and where they should improve or focus their efforts on.
For more information on Hwacheon, visit https://hwacheonasia.com.
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