What is automatic tool changer and how it works?
What is automatic tool changer and how it works?

ATCs are generally used to improve the capacity of a machine to work with several tools at one time, but they can also be used to change out worn or broken tools. There are generally two types of automatic tool changers – rotary-style and linear-style – which vary in the number of tools present within the changer.


An automatic tool changer typically consists of:

  • Base
  • Gripper arm
  • Tool holder
  • Support arm
  • Tool magazines (where the tools are stored)


How does an automatic tool changer work?

Once set up on your CNC machine, an automatic tool changer follows a quick set of steps to swap tools in and out. Here’s how it works.


The tool change command is given to the machine via the computer.

The tool to be changed assumes a fixed position known as the “tool change position.”

The ATC gripper moves to that position to pick up the tool.

Internally, the spindle opens or closes the chuck to exchange tooling before returning back to work.

In a matter of seconds, an ATC enables you to switch tools automatically without any need for human involvement (apart from programming the change).


What are the benefits of an automatic tool changer?

An automatic CNC tool changer has numerous significant benefits in the shop, including:

  • Ability to switch between a large number of tools without requiring a human operator
  • Increased accuracy
  • Increased efficiency
  • Reduced labor cost
  • Reduced downtime and total production time
  • Increased tool storage capacity
  • Increased machine versatility
  • Increased safety for employees and equipment
  • Ability to change larger and heavier tools with ease
  • Increased edge finish due to more appropriate tooling per process
  • Increase your efficiency and production quality

Our in-house engineering talent has extensive expertise in motion control and always aims to provide hobbyists and shop owners alike with unmatched precision, efficiency, and versatility.


The two primary types of ATC camboxes:

Vertical ATC Cambox VS Horizontal ATC Cambox

Here are some of the differences between the two:

Vertical ATC Cambox:

1. Orientation: A vertical ATC cambox is mounted vertically above the spindle of the CNC machine.

2. Tool Change Speed: Vertical ATC camboxes typically have faster tool change speeds as they use gravity to aid in tool changes, allowing the tool to drop down quickly into the spindle.

3. Compactness: Vertical ATC camboxes take up less horizontal space, making them a popular choice for machines with a smaller footprint.

4. Stiffness: Vertical ATC camboxes are stiffer and provide more stability, resulting in higher accuracy and better finish quality.

Horizontal ATC Cambox:

1. Orientation: A horizontal ATC cambox is mounted horizontally beside or under the spindle of the CNC machine.

2. Tool Capacity: Horizontal ATC camboxes have larger tool capacity and can hold more tools than a vertical ATC cambox.

3. Maintenance: Maintenance of a horizontal ATC cambox can be easier than a vertical ATC cambox as it is located at the side of the machine and does not require overhead access.

4. Accessibility: The horizontal orientation of the ATC cambox can make it more accessible for tool change and maintenance, making it a preferred choice for certain types of machining applications.


How to choose the right automatic tool changer for your needs

Automatic tool changers can be incredibly beneficial for any manufacturing or machining operation. They allow for quick and easy tool changes, reducing the amount of time spent on manual tool changes, and increasing production efficiency. However, with so many types of automatic tool changers available on the market, it can be challenging to choose the right one for your specific needs. In this article, we will discuss some of the essential factors to consider when choosing the right automatic tool changer for your needs.

1. Compatibility and Flexibility:

When selecting an automatic tool changer, it's crucial to ensure that it's compatible with your existing machinery. Compatibility includes matching the tool holder type, spindle taper, and the tool changer arm's size and design. You'll also want to look for flexibility in the tool changer's control options, such as manual, automatic, or remote operation. This allows you to adjust the tool changer to fit the specific needs of your machining operation easily.


2. Capacity and Efficiency:

When choosing an automatic tool changer, consider the number of tools required for your operation. Select a tool changer with a capacity that suits your requirements. Choosing a tool changer with a small capacity may lead to a tool shortage, which means frequent tool changes resulting in production delays. Additionally, you should choose an automatic tool changer with high efficiency in tool changing. This means it should have a fast and precise tool changing process, so your production processes can run at peak performance.


3. Tool Quality and Performance:

Ensure that the tool changer you select is designed to handle your operation's tools physically. This means that the tool changer should be able to handle the weight, size, and shape of your tools without damage or breakage. Furthermore, choose an automatic tool changer designed to deliver reliable and precise tool performance, increasing your machining operation's accuracy and speed. Using an automatic tool changer with high precision and accuracy guarantees optimal results and maximizes your production efficiency.


4. Cost and Maintenance:

The cost of an automatic tool changer is an essential factor to consider when making your purchase. Several factors can influence the price of a tool changer, such as the tool capacity, configuration complexity, and the company's brand. You'll need to balance your budget and the features offered by the tool changer. It's also essential to consider maintenance costs and frequency, as well as the availability of technical support and repair services.

In summary, when choosing an automatic tool changer, it's crucial to consider several factors like compatibility, capacity, efficiency, tool quality/performance, cost, and maintenance. The choice of the right automatic tool changer will depend on the needs of your machining operation and your budget. We hope this article provided you with valuable information on how to choose the right automatic tool changer that fits your requirements. With the right automatic tool changer, you can improve your production efficiency and achieve better results.


We offer a variety of CNC machine automatic tool changers as well as many accessories that are compatible with ATCs, including dust docks, containment skirts, aggregate and c-axis attachments, and more. Our tool changers are available in both linear and rotary solutions with 5 or 10 positions on most models, with the option to start with 5 and update to 10 at a later date if needed.

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