All You Need to Know about Five-Axis Milling Machine

Posted on Dec 12, 2020

5 Axis Milling Machine

A five-axis milling machine incorporates two additional rotary axes so that a complex part can be machined on all five sides. Learn more.

Today's five-axis machining technology is the best proof that the machining industry is constantly growing, and there are plenty of reasons to take advantage of it. As machining technology advances, demand for complex parts is surging more than ever. This involves the utilization of machinery that is both highly efficient and accurate, and a five-axis milling machine is the perfect representation of these requirements. 

The milling machines in the modern era are born to fulfill what we described above, most notably by incorporating the 5-axis technology. Five-axis milling machines allow access to all five sides of a prismatic workpiece. This piece of equipment is so prevalent these days that it is used in a wide variety of applications. Not to mention that they are obtainable at a surprisingly affordable cost. 

The five-axis milling machines are characterized by the ability to work on complex parts. They are capable of generating intricate workpiece features or contours that could otherwise be accomplished with a conventional milling machine. Whether you are new to 5-axis technology or just machining in general, you are going to learn the fundamentals of the five-axis milling machines in this article – the complexity revolving around 5-axis operation and the configuration will be addressed. 

What are Five-Axis Milling Machines?

The idea of “5-axis” and CNC milling machines are often tight-knit. As a matter of fact, the term typically refers to moving a part or a cutting tool on five different CNC axes simultaneously. A three-axis machining center moves a part in two directions (X and Y), while the tool moves upward and downward on the Z-axis. A five-axis CNC milling machine, on the other hand, can rotate on two additional axes – A and B – which enables the cutting tool to approach a workpiece from all directions. 

:: Read More: What is CNC 5 Axis Machining?

Why Incorporating 5-Axis Machining? 

As mentioned previously, the hallmark of 5-axis machining is the ability to work on a wide spectrum of part sizes and shapes effectively. But do not let it fool you that its purpose is only to machine complex parts. While it does excel at that, any project that involves machining on all five sides of a workpiece in a single setup will require a five-axis unit. It is also not to say that a three-axis milling machine cannot get a similar job done, only that it may require two or more setups to produce the same, intricate features of the part. 

This leads to another reason why a five-axis milling machine is often preferred. The done-in-one approach eliminates the need for additional setups, which in turn reduces the likeliness of errors every time the part is repositioned. In a nutshell, the verdict is quite simple, a five-axis machine is superior because the operation is considerably streamlined, including the total setup, machine time, and fixturing ease. 

3+2 Vs. 5-Axis Machining: The Difference

Another popular configuration, 3+2 machining, is also able to get all five sides of a part machined, which is also why it is more often than not confused with 5-axis machining. Although both are supplemented by two additional axes, they are not exactly equal. You are often required to decide between a 3+2 and 5-axis to see which one is more profitable to your operation. 

The defining difference of a 3+2 configuration is that a tiltable rotary table is adopted to achieve the two additional axes to position the workpiece, and is often a simpler and less expensive way to accomplish five-sides machining. To elaborate better, vertical machines are usually used to achieve a 3-axis setup, but over the course of technology advancement, rotary tables are implemented to grant the additional two rotary axes, resulting in a 3+2 configuration. 

The prevailing advantage of adopting a 3+2 set up in a vertical milling machine is that it enables a part to be machined from all sides. As with a 5-axis configuration, additional setups are eliminated, and cycle times and costs are reduced. A 3+2 unit also uses a shorter, more robust cutting tool compared to a regular three-axis machine, resulting in superior dimensional stability. 

On the other hand, the main benefit of a 5-axis milling machine is that it expands the limits on the types of part geometries you can work on. For complex automotive, aerospace, or medical parts, you’ll generally not go wrong with 5-axis machining. But do keep in mind that you don't always need full 5-axis machining for all of your parts. A 3+2 setup may be sufficient, if not more efficient, at times, where the machine runs a 3-axis milling program with the cutting tool fixed in a tilted position using its two rotational axes. 

Furthermore, many tend to be intimidated by the part programming embodied in 5-axis machines. However, CAM systems have evolved so much over the years that they have become much friendlier to use. This leads to better processes and faster programming, and many have learned to capitalize on this high-end software to improve their overall production.

With the above said, it is difficult to say whether or not 5-axis machining is better than 3+2 machining. What's more important is to take various factors into consideration when deciding between one of these setups, such as the cost structure of your business, the parts to be machined, etc.

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