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What are sliding head lathes?

CNC Sliding Head Lathes, also commonly known as Swiss Auto lathes, were first designed for producing precision watch parts and other mill-turn components within exceptionally close geometric tolerances.

As a modern type of machine tool controlled by computer numerical programming, sliding head machinery is capable of performing machining operations with extreme accuracy.

Sliding head lathes allow the workpiece to move in the Z-axis while the tool remains stationary. This is unlike traditional lathes where the workpiece remains in position while the tools move around it. The benefit of this is increased precision and reduced process time.

Star GB Sliding Head Lathes

How do sliding head lathes work?

The specialist technology behind sliding head lathes involves a bar being fed through the CNC machine's headstock and being grasped by a collet, with the option of an additional support via a guide bush arrangement. The combination of the cutting tools in close proximity to the workholding operation allows for a more efficient process which ensures maximum stability and accuracy.

The utilisation of the secondary/sub spindle and back-working tool post, paired with a CNC control system such as the FANUC control utilised by Star machinery, allows for a single comprehensive operation. This eliminates the requirement for operator intervention of manually changing each component between operations.

Star sliding head technology can suit various milled and turned parts up to a maximum diameter of 42mm, and our machines can be configured for producing miniature prismatic components or shafts in excess of 2m.

Benefits of sliding head technology

A significant benefit of sliding head technology is the reduction in cycle times compared to other technologies such as fixed head machining. The cutting tools in a sliding head machine are positioned very close to the workpiece which reduces non-cutting 'idle' time, while the sub-spindle allows operations to be overlapped to further reduce cycle time.

The flexibility of sliding head machines typically enables components to be produced in one-hit which removes the need for additional operations, while the quick set-up time makes short runs easy and efficient. Star machines also have the capability to operate unattended overnight "lights-out" which significantly reduces process times and cost per part.

  • High Precision: Sliding head lathes excel in producing precision components with tight geometric tolerances. The design of this machine type allows for intricate and complex machining operations to be completed efficiently with minimal input.

  • Reduced material Wastage: The design of sliding head lathes enables the efficient use of barstock with minimal remnant and exceptionally low component reject rates. This is especially advantageous when working with expensive or exotic materials.

  • Enhanced Productivity: These lathes are capable of performing multiple operations in a single setup, reducing cycle times and increasing overall productivity. They are especially effective in high-volume production environments.

  • Improved Surface Finish: Sliding head lathes can achieve superior surface finishes compared to traditional lathes. This is crucial in industries where aesthetics or precise functionality of the machined components are critical.

  • Versatility: Despite their compact size, sliding head lathes can handle a wide range of materials, from plastics and aluminum to tough alloys and stainless steel. They can also machine intricate prismatic shapes and profiles in a single operation.

  • Longer Tool Life: Sliding head lathes often employ advanced tooling technologies and techniques such as high-pressure coolant systems, optimised cutting strategies, and Step Cycle Pro chip-breaking software, resulting in longer tool life and reduced tooling costs.

  • Minimal Operator Intervention: Once set up, sliding head lathes can run autonomously for extended periods with minimal operator intervention. This frees up operators to focus on other tasks, improving overall production efficiency.

  • Cost Savings: After the initial investment cost, sliding head lathes can provide a rapid return on investment with significant cost savings over time due to their high efficiency, reduced material waste, and lower operating costs.

  • Competitive Advantage: Companies that utilise sliding head lathes gain a competitive edge by offering high-quality, precision-engineered components with shorter lead times. This allows companies to provide a versatile response to customer requirements and often win back work from overseas manufacturers.

The versatility of sliding head manufacturing makes it ideal for a broad range of industries, including but not limited to:

  • Aerospace
  • Automotive
  • Tooling
  • Electrical connectors
  • Electronics
  • Fasteners
  • Marine
  • Medical
  • Motorsport / F1
  • Nuclear
  • Oil & gas
  • Sensors

Why choose Star machines?

Star GB is the only company who are solely dedicated to sliding head lathe technology. Star machines are built at the ultra-modern Kikugawa plant in Japan and are renowned for their outstanding build quality, long-term reliability and exceptional performance.

Star Swiss Auto lathes are easy to set-up, simple to program and cheaper to run than most competitors due to the lower power consumption. Alongside the use of FANUC's user friendly CNC controls, we also offer a suite of software to help make machine investment, operation and maintenance straightforward. This includes our revolutionary Step Cycle Pro chip-breaking software, our NC Assist template-driven programming software and our SMOOSS-i remote monitoring software.

Unlike a machine tool dealer, we are a wholly-owned subsidiary with an established presence in the UK. We take care of the machine, accessories, finance, maintenance and support to ensure that you're fully covered. Star GB are also the sole UK agent for FMB bar feeders and JBS guide bush systems, enabling us to offer single-source solutions for mill-turn applications backed by unrivalled customer support.

Is sliding head technology suitable for your parts?

Star GB is home to a leading applications department who specialise in turnkey projects. Customers can rely on our expertise to deliver a turnkey project that ensures they hit the ground running with their new machine, with components set, proven and ready to run.

Do you have a component but are not certain whether it would suit sliding head technology, or are you looking to discover new machining methods and reduce cycle times? Contact Star GB with details of your next project, including drawings or photos if necessary.

The new SX-38 sliding head lathe

A full range of sliding head machines for every application up to ⌀42mm diameter

Star GB machines deliver exemplary performance, helping to meet your production needs through unmatched accuracy, repeatability and reliability. With over 1,600 machine installations nationwide up to 42mm capacity and a team of the best application & service engineers in the UK, Star GB offer complete solutions combining revolutionary machinery with expert knowledge and unrivalled customer support.

Star SX-38 sliding head lathe

The SX Series is a versatile, powerful and heavy-duty solution for machining complex components up to 42mm in diameter. 

Star ST-38 sliding head lathe

The ST Series with its 12 programmable axes is our flagship triple turret series for complex parts up to 42mm in diameter.

Star SV-20R sliding head lathe

The SV Series offers balanced turning and milling capability in guide bush / non guide bush mode up to 42mm in diameter.

Star SD-26 sliding head lathe

The SD Series is a new model capable of ⌀26mm machining, developed to give engineers the ultimate mill-turn solution.

Star SW-20 sliding head lathe

The SW Series offers significantly reduced cycle times due to its opposed twin platen and 8-station back working attachment.

Star SR-20JII sliding head lathe

The SR Series is Star's most popular range, providing exceptional performance and versatility up to 42mm in diameter.

Star SP-23 sliding head lathe

The SP Series is a new model capable of 1-inch machining that has been developed by Star to deliver outstanding versatility.

Star SB-12R Type G sliding head lathe

The SB Series is Star's entry-level range offering impressive machining versatility within a compact footprint.

Star SL-10 sliding head lathe

The SL Series is the latest innovation from Star, developed to suit small diameter machining requirements.