Patented in the 1870s, learn how the original Swiss Screw Machines evolved into what we know today.
Developed in Switzerland, Swiss screw machines originally produced parts for the watch industry. At the time, any part produced with a lathe required an operator to turn handles and push levers to make each part. CNC Swiss Machining automated the process with a camshaft that generated the motion required of each tool with each revolution of the camshaft.
These machines were known as automatic lathes in Europe, but in the United States, they were called screw machines and were known for their production of screws. The Swiss screw machine designs were refined in Moutier, Switzerland, and sold globally to produce precision parts for numerous industries.
At the beginning of WWII, Switzerland had three manufacturers building these machines: Tornos, Bechler, and Petermann. The demands for Swiss machined components needed to support the war effort in the US were considered a strategic imperative, but these three Swiss companies could not meet the demand. As a solution, the US government acquired the details of the Swiss machine tool specifications to produce copies in US factories. The War Production Board appointed three companies to make copies of the Swiss designs: George Gorton Machine Co., City Electric Company, and Gibbs.
The three companies converted their production line to support the strategic need for Swiss screw machines since they were critical to the war effort. George Gorton Machine Company produced a copy of the Petermann P-7, The City Electric Company, CECO, manufactured a copy of the Bechler A-10, and Gibbs duplicated the Tornos R-10. These machines were not equal in quality to their Swiss-built predecessors, but their components were interchangeable with the original Swiss equipment. The US quickly built hundreds of machines that could supply the essential products needed for the war effort. One could argue that without these Swiss screw machines, we could have lost World War II.
Today, the Swiss screw machine has continued to evolve with the adaption of CNC controls and a rearrangement of the tool slides. Compared to the early machines, they offer a modern, highly flexible, and productive platform. With the addition of a fully powered counter-spindle (also called a sub-spindle), today’s Swiss machines often have the capabilities of two lathes and a milling machine. These capabilities enable manufacturers to achieve high precision production that supports an even broader list of industries.