What Is 5 Axis CNC Machining?

Posted on Jun 17, 2020

5 axis cnc machining

CNC machining (computer numerical control) is a subtractive manufacturing process that removes material from a solid block. It creates highly complex and precision parts. Multiple tools are used during this process by cutting in at least three axes simultaneously. A 5-axis CNC machine can move tools and parts in five different axes at one time. The axes are called the X, Y, and Z axes along with the A and B axes.

In subtractive manufacturing choosing the best machine for your particular production need is very important. From material selection to geometries to setup times and more, the right machine can lead to increased production efficiency and cost savings. In the medical industry, parts that require high tolerances and can be composed of complex geometries often use 5 axis cnc machining. This reduces the number of complex part setups required when machining multiple axes to their respective datums.

:: Read more: The Ultimate 5-Axis CNC Machining Guide: The Basics

The Axes in CNC Machining

5 axis CNC machining are paths that the parts or tools can move along simultaneously. The main axes: X, Y, and Z, are part of the basic Cartesian Coordinate System first proposed by the mathematician and philosopher, Rene Descartes in the 1500s. This is used to describe three-dimensional space and can be represented as three perpendicular lines going in different directions. The three axes intersect at a point in the center called the origin which is used as a reference point to measure the length along each axis.

The last two axes, A and B, are more difficult to understand. These two axes rotate around the main X and Y axes and can be seen as the part of the object moving down the main axes. The additional axis called C which rotates around the Z-axis also exists but is not usually used in CNC machining processes.

How Capable Are 5 Axis CNC Machines?

A 5 axis CNC machine produces very precise results. These advanced CNC machines are capable of creating complex workpieces from aluminum, steel, brass, and polymers. And this is all done by using five kinds of distinct motions relative to the workpiece. For example, billet aluminum machined along the X, Y, and Z axes in addition to two rotational motions of the workpiece. These additional motions provide enhanced flexibility and precision. This is not possible with traditional 3-axis machines. 5-axis machining can produce highly complex and aerodynamic parts, this type of machining has been used to produce landing gear, bulkheads, and more.

Heavy material removal, or lightweighting, is a common technique in aerospace and automotive design. Lightweighting has increased the demand for 5 axis machining. And it is growing in demand within these industries as well as others. 3 axis machining can easily remove weight during the roughing process, but that technology cannot provide the clean finishing required for specific parts requiring high-precision as well with minimal part setups.

Reduced cycle time is another major advantage for 5 axis CNC machining versus 3 or 4 axis CNC machining and 2D machining. A 5 axis CNC machine has the ability to manipulate intricate shapes in one setup. Fewer setups equal decreased potential of tolerance issues between each part datum. If you reduce the number of setups, lead times are shortened. Therefore small runs of parts can move quickly through the production process, and customer responsiveness is heightened. By minimizing movement of parts into the work fixtures, on average, 40 minutes per piece can be spared. For prototyping and small batch production, this time savings represents significant cost savings. With a single setup, the 5 axis machine is able to machine materials and create 360 degrees of freedom to machine within each axis.


The Fixture and Jog Reductions

5 axis machines can machine essentially every surface. This helps reduce the need for multiple setups or special jigs and fixtures. Due to the range of motion of its cutting head and extra rotational axes, these machines can reach 5 sides of a part. This means there will be less re-fixturing required and fewer unnecessary setups. This not only saves cycle time, but also saves money and operator error. In addition, with multiple setups, there is always a possibility of incorrect alignment each time the part is moved.


5 Axis Machine Help Reduce Labor Cost Per Part

Through opting for a 5 axis machine, wasted time and subsequent cost which happened each time a machine operator touches a part can be eliminated.  When reducing the time taken to re-fixture the part, labor costs are also been reduced. That is, the fewer the time an operator needs to touch a part, the lower the cost will be.


Benefits of Choosing A 5 Axis CNC Machining System

Advanced systems are considered superior to traditional 3-axis machines and their popularity continues to grow each year. The additional A and B axes expands an infinite number of manufacturing capabilities. The cutting head and tools can now approach the workpiece from nearly all possible positions. This ensures easy machining without requiring the repositioning of the entire system. This is not possible on machines with less than five axes unless the part is repositioned.

Additionally, less material handling takes place with the product due to the reduction in the amount of repositioning required. This leads to time savings and reductions in human errors as well as production costs. Complex parts can now be created using the additional axes, and jobs that only require three axes can be completed faster using a 5-axis machine. This is because the cutting tool stays tangential to the cutting surface, which in turn removes more material on each pass.

Another benefit of this process is an improved surface finish. This is because having different orientations of the parts allows for the product to get closer to the cutting tool. This leads to less vibration of the tool and an overall smooth surface finish. Design software such as Autodesk’s PowerMill can help complete this process by offering a vast library of tool paths for greater optimization and minimal manual polishing.

5 axis CNC machines are versatile manufacturing machines that benefit from employing up to five different axes simultaneously. Three linear axes and two rotational. Their processing abilities are more diverse than a normal 3-axis CNC machine. 5 axis CNC machines can be equipped in such a way as to eliminate multiple setups and can thus reduce the need for constant supervision, increasing efficiency and achieving single-setup machining or “Done-In-One”. A 5 axis CNC machine is an added workhorse for any machine shop. If utilized efficiently, it can make complete parts without any extra setups. This dramatically reduces downtime.


Benefits of 5 Axis Machining to Various Industries

• Automotive Industry

The auto industry requires high production volume with a critical requirement for quality and consistency. Each component needs to fit within a specific tolerance for safe vehicles. Most components in the auto industry are made using low-cost high-volume processes like stamping, plastic injection and casting. However, these economic and fast techniques require advanced and highly accurate tooling and this is an ideal situation for 5 axis machining.

• 5 Axis Machining in the Medical Industry

Like the aerospace industry the medical industry has an extremely stringent requirement for quality. Certain medical parts may have a direct and immediate effect on a person’s health or survival rate if there are detrimental quality issues. Some medical components have organic shapes machined out of exotic materials to enable them to be implanted into a patient. 5-axis CNCs can both machine these types of materials and handle the organic shapes of such implants. Apart from implants there is also a need for 5-axis on other medical-related applications like medical impellers and CT scanner components.

• 5 Axis Machining in the Energy Industry

The energy industry is a major component of other industries. It is huge and incorporates many different advanced capabilities and technologies. From power stations to solar power systems and even more exotic technologies like fusion, there is a requirement for advanced components. This demanding specification of engineering, materials science and manufacturing is due to these intensive requirements. And there is a need for machining systems that can reliably produce advanced components and this is where 5-axis machinery really shines.


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