What is CNC 5 Axis Machining?

Posted on Jul 24, 2020

CNC 5 Axis Machining

The 5 axis machining industry continues with booming growth. A compound annual growth rate of over 6 percent. This is creating people to ask the question ‘What is 5-axis machining?” The most simple answer to that question is: “a machine that is able to move a tool or a part on five axes at the same time.”

With five axis machining, users get two extra rotary axes and this creates an opportunity for an infinite number of incredible machining possibilities. The rotary axes are defined by A, which rotates around the X Axis. And B, which rotates around the Y axis. And C, which rotates around the Z axis. The combination of more axes is a machine configuration that can come in any variation of AB, AC or BC.

With the additional axes, your cutting heads can machine workpieces from all directions, enabling undercutting that only would be possible on lower axis machines if the part was re-fixtured in another machine. This is not only time consuming, it also opens the door for errors that are eliminated when using a 5-axis CNC machines.


Benefits of 5 Axis Machining

There are numerous benefits that five axis machining offers. This depends on the review but the greatest benefit varies from workshops and individual to individual. To stick to the point of this page, we will be providing as complete of a list as possible.


Cut Cycle Times with 5 Axis Machining

A common misunderstanding with 5-axis machining is that it is only effective to use with complex geometries that require advanced machining. Although this is a benefit of more axes, it is not the only one.

A great deal of parts made in CNC shops required machining on 5-sides. Many 3 Axis machines may be able to do the job, 5 axis machining will do it both faster and more efficiently.

In 3 axis machining, the cutting tool stays tangential to the surface you are cutting. More material is removed with each pass of the tool and the requirement for less set-ups result in saved time and saved cost.


Improved Surface Finish

5 axis capabilities on contoured geometry result in an improved surface finish. Five axis machining allows the parts orientation to be closer to the cutting tool. The fourth and fifth axis let the CNC shops use a short cutting tool that will vibrate less, resulting in an improved surface finish. 

Also with the improved surface finish relates to previously listed benefits that the more axes save you time. Long lead times are needed when machining with a 3-axis machine, as they require smaller cuts to create the same surface finish that can be offered on a 5-axis machine.


Machining Complex Workpieces and Shapes

You might be the most competent and experienced 3 axis CNC machinist in the world, but some parts require all five axes. This is one of the most widely recognized benefits associated with 5 axis machines. Undercutting is made easy as the additional movements allow for machining arcs and angles that could only be done before with additional set-ups and special fixtures.


Fewer Shop and Less Competition

It is important to include in the list but not every shop has a 5-axis machine. By having it your firm has the opportunity to deliver your customers something your competitors cannot, which at the end of the day is something everybody wants.


Improved Accuracy and Tool Life

CNC 5-axis machining improves accuracy and precision by requiring less set-ups in one go. More set-ups means more tolerance stack issues and room for more errors. Some parts can even be done in a single set-up, dramatically reducing the risk of error. With shorter cutting tools comes longer tool life. Five axis machines allow the machine head to be closer to the surface of the tools. This allows for the use of a higher cutting speed which ultimately leads to a longer tool life as vibration is reduced.


Save Money with 5-Axis Machining

The most important benefits we are including is most critical to machine shop owners. Saving money! All the benefits listed above are related to saving money. It is difficult to put an exact dollar value on all of these factors, but any experienced machinist can see the benefits, both near-term and long-term.

So in summary, by saving operators time, 5 axis machines save money. A better tool life means less tool replacements, and improved accuracy means higher yields. There are also many other things a 5-axis machine can save you money on including, reduced floor space, increased flexibility and spindle uptime. There is also less need for costly jigs and an overall lower inventory investment.

Although a five axis machine is certainly a significant investment, the overall decrease in expenses combined with the other benefits make it a smart choice for many workshops.

Read More: Why You Need 5 Axis Machining Centers?


5-axis Machine Types

Many applications where 5-axis machines save shop time and improve the current process.  But when it comes to 5-axis machines, there is no perfect solution.  To meet the rigorous demands of the manufacturing industry, 5-axis machines come in several configurations.  The most common variation is one with the rotary axes.  For simplicity, we will divide 5-axis configurations into three categories: Head/Head, Table/Head and Table/Table.


Head/Head Machines

Both rotary axes on a head/head machine are located in the head.  This type of machine is designed with the 5-axis head on a gantry that travels above the stationary table that clamps the workpiece.  This means the head can travel around the part making these machines ideal for manufacturing large parts.  Due to their design, these machines typically have limited travel in both the tilt and rotary axes.

See products: 5 Axis Gantry Type Machining Centers


Table/Head 5-axis Machines

This style, one rotary axis is located in the table and the other axis in the head.  The tilting axis is located in the head and has limited range. The rotary axis is located in the table and typically has an unlimited range of motion.  As the part sits on the rotary axis, this configuration is limited to the size of components it can produce.  However, a benefit of this configuration over the head/head configuration is the ability to continuously rotate the part without concern for reaching a limit.


Table/Table Type Machine

Table/table machines have both rotary axes in the table, and like table/head machines they typically have limited range in the tilting axis and unlimited range in the rotary axis.  Of the three configurations, this one has the smallest working envelope.  That being said, some table/table machines come with linear motors making them extremely fast.


Simultaneous 5-Axis Machining Versus 3+2 Axis Machining

3+2 equals 5, but 3+2 axis machining does not equal 5-axis machining. There are differences between the two that are worth mentioning. In simultaneous five axis machining, all 5 axes are moving at the same time. However, with 3+2 axis machining, a 3-axis milling program is performed while the cutting tool remains static in the 4th and 5th axis. Therefore 3+2 axis machining is sometimes called positional five axis machining.


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