5 Axis CNC Mills Pros and Cons

Posted on Jun 15, 2020

5 Axis CNC Mills

You often heart that 5 axis cnc mills are going to boost your productivity and help you create complex parts in one setup. This is absolutely correct and the other side of the story is also the challenges this type of complex machine will create in your workshop.

How Do 5-Axis CNC Mills Work?

A 5-axis machine can remove material on every surface except for the clamping area and the bottom. When working on contoured parts or parts that require machining on several planes, you need a few setups on the 3-axis machine to achieve the complex geometry through manual rotation.  5-axis technology completes the job in a single set up, reducing the number of fixtures and part manipulation and helping you save time. 

5-axis machining refers to a machine's ability to move a tool or workpiece in five different axes simultaneously. Basic machining in a CNC mill (cnc milling machines) operates on three main axes, X,Y and Z. However, a 5-axis CNC mill can rotate two additional axes, A and B, which give the cutting tool a multidirectional approach.

:: Read more: 3 Methods of Constructing 5 Axis CNC Tool

Benefits of 5-Axis CNC Mills

5-axis machining capability creates a cost-effective manufacturing solution of sophisticated design. Below are some of the main benefits of 5-axis machining:

Low Volume and Complex Geometries

The additional axes available with 5-axis machining means you can achieve complex shapes and part designs. With the 5-axis machine, you have access to a machining range of angles, arcs and undercuts that were previously achievable only through multiple setups and multiple fixtures and jigs. Ultimately, 5-axis machining eliminates the need to create complex fixtures as you can setup the part once and rotate in a single process to achieve the desired geometry.

Improved Rotational Accuracy

Every time you setup a part from a machine, you lose the precise alignment that allows you to achieve superior quality. Unlike 3-axis machining, 5-axis mills increase accuracy by allowing you to complete a part in a single set up. Therefore you create multiple and complex shapes without losing the precision required to maintain ultimate quality.

Higher Cycle Times and Throughput with Better Surface Finish

In 5-axis machining, the cutting tool remains close to all cutting surfaces, allowing for low cycle times and shorter tools.  This helps save costs as you remove more material each time the tool passes and you can do it with increased speeds due to lower tool heights.

The fourth and fifth axes help you have the part closer to the cutting tool. This allows you to use a shorter cutting tool, which reduces vibration at extremely higher cutting rates. This ultimately improves and leads to a better surface finish. It also cuts cycle time. When using a 3-axis machine, you must take smaller cuts each pass.

Usually when you hear about 5-Axis CNC machining, the first thing that comes to mind is it’s expensive and difficult to operate. But is 5-axis machining really like this? The following will highlight the challenges of a 5-axis CNC machining.

With 5-axis machining technology, the problem of re-positioning the workpiece at complex angles in multiple setups removes the issues with accuracy. It can also vastly reduce the total cycle time while increasing the precision. The high cost of making multiple jigs in the traditional way has also been saved. 5-axis machining can process complex parts, such as drilling, taper machining, and complex surfaces that were not possible with traditional machining methods.

Quality Surface Finish & Complex Shapes

5 axis CNC mill also helps create surfaces with a quality finish. The location of the parts is much closer to the cutting tools in 5-Axis machines. The last two axes will let one use short cutting tools, which reduces vibrations and this will lead to a total quality improvement and fine surface finish.

The other good thing about 5-Axis CNC machines is that they cut intricate part geometries. Many parts require five axis machining. The extra movements in this type of arrangement give room for manufacturing angles and arcs. Before, they would need additional set-ups and unique fixtures.

High Production Throughput

The 5-axis machines can effectively reduce the machining time and idle time of the parts. They have a large range of spindle speeds and feed rates, allowing the machine to perform powerful large cutting capacity. The 5-axis machining is entering an era of high-speed machining. The rapid movement and positioning of 5-axis machining and high-speed cutting processes reduce the turnaround time for semi-finished products and improve production efficiency and precision.

Less Competition in Machine Shops

Not many shops have a 5-Axis CNC mill machine. Having one will elevate you a step higher above your competitors in production services. You can give your customers something your competitors cannot offer. You should try out this type of machine setup and enjoy the benefits such as higher revenues and production solutions, efficiency and product quality.


Challenges of 5-Axis Machining

Obviously, people have realized the advantages and importance of 5-axis CNC technology in the manufacturing and production industry. Once people encounter complicated setbacks in designing and manufacturing complex surfaces, they will turn to 5-axis machines. The main technical requirements for CNC machines are multi-axis, high speed, good rigidity, and high power. However, in the machining industry, the use of 5-axis machining to do some jobs is not as extensive as we think, for the following reasons.

High Costs of 5-Axis CNC Mills

On one hand, the cost of purchasing a 5-axis machine and the software needed is high. Sometimes the total cost of ownership is much higher than the cost of standard three-axis machining centers. However, the maintenance required itself is more difficult than the general machines. These aspects also directly lead to the cost of 5-axis machined parts will be slightly higher than ordinary 3-axis machining jobs.

CAD/CAM Complex Part Programming

As the 5-axis machining is different from 3-axis, in addition to the three linear motions, there are two rotational motions involved. The spatial trajectory of the synthetic motion formed is very complicated and abstract, which is generally difficult to imagine and understand. For example, in order to process the required space free-form surface, it is often necessary to pass multiple coordinate transformations and complex spatial geometric operations. We must also consider the coordination of the motion of each axis, to avoid interference, collision, and the appropriate amount of interpolation motion. To ensure the required machining precision and surface quality, the programming difficulty is a challenge for a small machine shop.

Advanced Operator Skills Required for 5 Axis Mills

5-axis machining is a processing technology with advanced technology that requires the operation by a highly skilled technician. From programming to machine operation and setup, it’s different from usual 3-axis machines. Thus the highly technical requirements may also translate into a higher labor cost.

So the benefits of a 5 axis CNC mill are usually numerous. But a workshop must take into consideration the whole range of challenges posed when they buy a 5 axis machine. A comprehensive review of the requirements should be undertaken in order to avoid making an expensive mistake.


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