The Ultimate 5–Axis CNC Machining Guide The Basics

Posted on Jun 4, 2020

The Ultimate 5–Axis CNC Machining Guide The Basics

5-axis CNC machining is an advanced processing method that allows for the manufacture of complex parts while maintaining or even increasing cutting accuracy and component quality. During 5-axis CNC operations a tool or a part moves on five different axes simultaneously.

Conventional machines operated on three axes, X, Y and Z. With 5-axis CNC technology two rotational axes are added to the mix. Thanks to these A and B axes, manufacturers and machine shop owners can benefit from a simultaneous, multidirectional CNC machining approach (read more about the differences between Simultaneous 5-axis CNC machining and 3+2 machining below).


5-Axis CNC Controls

The 5-axis CNC machining process including the movement on all axes is carried out via computer numerical control (CNC) technology. Once set up by the operator the CNC controller automatically performs all cutting steps in a very efficient and reliable manner. Therefore the CNC controller is crucial to successful 5-axis machining operations. However, what is true for conventional machining centers is even more so for 5-axis CNC machines: it is very much about the quality of the unified result, including machine base structure, guideways, drives, cutting tools, etc along with a seamless integration of the CNC controller and its software.

These incredibly powerful 5-axis CAD and CAM CNC software solutions come with manifold and advanced programming options and built-in anti-collision and post-processing functions that can be altered and customized in countless ways. With the right setup such 5 axis machines can operate 24/7 if necessary with long periods without any direct attendance whatsoever, thanks to remote control and alert functions (such as the Rexroth Controller on the Bors S5 5-Axis Machining Center provides)

:: Read more : 5 Axis Machining expanding the possibilities


Advantages of 5-Axis CNC Machine Tools

1) Complex Machining Capabilities
5-axis CNC machining makes it possible to cut intricate parts that would require casting or additional manufacturing steps with traditional machining methods.

2) Increased Productivity
As modern 5 axis machines make simultaneous machining possible, you can cut your parts and components from all sides and angles in a much shorter time and also more accurately. The additional 5th axis via a rotary table (e.g. the MF630 from Quaser)  or a movable spindle head ( see the UR1000 by Takumi) reduces the number of CNC processing steps, shortens your manufacturing chain and therefore increases your overall productivity.

3) Shorter Lead Time
Especially important for industries with extremely short time to market expectations such as the automotive or the aerospace industry. 5 axis machining not only speeds up the manufacturing process it also allows for new, more efficient ways of cutting and milling the same part and also tool-wear compensation strategies. In some cases, this can reduce the lead time from several weeks to just a few days.

4) Cost Reduction
Due to the speed boost from 5-Axis CNC machining compared to 3+2 setups or 3-axis machining that involves recalibration and reprogramming, the overall production time and as a consequence the cost per part decreases drastically.

5) Single Setup & Automation
Though the programming requirements and automation process might seem overwhelming at first when switching from a 3-Axis CNC to a 5-Axis CNC machine, the productivity gains definitely outweigh the initial effort: more accurate cutting, smoother surfaces finishes, and faster cutting speeds all in one setup.

6) Greater Accuracy & Flexibility
A 5-Axis CNC machine offers much more precision and machining flexibility than a 3- or 3+2 Axis machine. When it comes to machining complex parts with intricate details for the aerospace or medical industry, the overall performance and accuracy of a 5-Axis CNC machine with a dedicated controller will ensure that your finished product meets the quality, safety, and reliability specifications.

:: Read more : What is 5 axis cnc machining and why do you need it?


True 5-axis Machining versus 3+2 Axis Setups

Just because it’s a CNC machine that operates on five axes doesn’t make it a true 5-axis CNC machining operation. If you have a setup with a 3-axis machining center with a rotary table mounted on top of it then you have what is usually called a 3+2-axis machining solution. Let us take a closer look at the differences between simultaneous 5 Axis machining and 3+2 machining. A 3+2 setup (also called 5-sided or positional 5-Axis CNC machining) can be a good and budget-friendly option to transition into 5-axis CNC machining, for example with a trunnion-type 5-Axis CNC rotary table (such as this one from Goushin).

You will however see yourself confronted with a few limitations compared to a 5-Axis CNC machining center that was specifically designed for multisided machining (Check out the CNC Takang AX-320 5-Axis Machining Center). The most obvious and biggest one is the speed factor since the 3+2 setup comprises a separate 3 axis machining program with the part locked into position via separate A/B axes indexing program. Whereas with true (simultaneous) 5 axis machining your CNC machine tools’ three linear axes (X, Y, Z) and two rotational axes (A, B) all engage at the same time and controlled by the same program to manufacture complex components. A dedicated 5-Axis CNC Machine also offers more control options such as TCPC, 5-axis auto-tuning, dynamic work offsets, and other features making the setup and the machining process itself much more operator friendly.


Main 5-Axis CNC Machining Applications

In the beginning, 5-axis CNC machine tools were almost exclusively used in the aerospace industry to meet very specific complexity and high-accuracy and complexity requirements. This has definitely changed over the past decade. Today, roughly 60% of all parts manufactured with machine tools require 5-sided CNC machining, making 5 axis machining centers more and more popular across all industries.

The most common applications of 5 Axis machines can be found in the following industries:

The automotive industry with its sophisticated and precise requirements was one of the first industries to make use of 5-Axis CNC technology. With simultaneous multi-axis manufacturing, complex geometries can be manufactured with ease while ensuring that the CNC machine tool remains tangent to the part during rapid multi-directional cutting steps. Many car parts like gearboxes, drive axles, headlight, backlight, chassis and wheel components are manufactured with 5-Axis CNC machining technology.

The manufacture of planes requires smooth shapes and contoured edges for a lot of different components. The precision and accuracy that a 5-axis CNC machine can achieve is immeasurably valuable for the aerospace industry as their parts are very complex, unique, and geometrically intricate requiring advanced cutting operations. The possibility of machining parts in one setup is of the utmost importance for aerospace parts to maintain the highest precision possible. This is exactly why aerospace markets rely on 5-Axis CNC technology.

5-axis machining is also widely used in medical equipment manufacture. When it comes to medical parts, precision is key as rigorous healthcare standards have to be met. Cutting small and intricate parts requires the accuracy that only a 5 axis machines can provide while keeping the time and money investment at a feasible level.

​Many military equipment components are also on the list of frequent applications for a 5-axis machine: submarine parts, turbine and compressor blades, high-performance engine and weapon parts, and many others.  

And there are many more such as parts and components for the energy sector, food processing equipment, and pharmaceuticals. 5-axis CNC machining is very versatile and the possibilities are endless.


5-Axis CNC Machining on MTS Exhibition

If you want to learn more about 5-Axis CNC Machining Technology why don’t you have a look at some of the 5-Axis Machine Manufacturers that showcase their models on our site? Alternatively, you can also use our Search Engine to find any 5-Axis related product.

If you are interested in a more in-depth look at everything Manufacturing Industry related make sure to check out our MTS Industry Channel. In this show we introduce new products and trends while visiting manufacturers in their facilities!
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