5 Axis CNC Machining Explained
5-Axis CNC machines are highly advanced tools used in engineering and metalworking. They have become easier to use and program with the help of CAD/CAM software.
5-axis machines can perform more complex movements and machining operations than traditional 3-axis machines.
The rotational axes allow for rotation around the X, Y, and Z axes.
These additional rotational axes allow the cutting tool to approach the workpiece from various angles and orientations, enabling the machine to reach complex features and contours that would otherwise be impossible.
The most common configurations are A+C and B+C. The two extra axes are configured as Tilt and Rotation according to the machine tool builders specifications.
For example, A+C where the A-axis utilises a tilting mechanism around the X-axis and the C-axis refers typically to the machine table, which rotates 360° around the Z-axis.
Why Do Manufacturers Use 5 Axis CNC Machining?
There are several advantages to 5-axis machining over traditional 3 and 4-axis CNC machining.
The key advantage is that it allows you to machine at many angles in a single setup. Typically, complex parts would have to be milled with multiple machines or setups, as a single 3-axis machine does not provide the same level of access to all sides of the part as a 5-axis machine does.
With the ability to tilt and rotate the workpiece and cutting tool, 5-axis CNC machines offer greater flexibility in accessing various sides and angles of the workpiece. 5-axis CNC machines allow the cutting tools to easily reach intricate features, undercuts, deep pockets, and other difficult-to-machine areas of the workpiece.
This means you don’t have to re-clamp or re-fixture the workpiece, improving the overall efficiency of your processes.
Another typical use of the extra axes is to machine sloped/angled surfaces or planes, a task which is much more challenging to perform with a 3-axis CNC machine.
One of the most common parts machined using 5 axes is a turbine blade. As it is a complicated surface involving many different angles, 5 axes make it much easier to machine the contours of the blade.
The Benefits of 5 Axis CNC Machining
1. Cost-Effective Way of Manufacturing Complex Parts
5-axis CNC machines allow you to machine complex designs in a single setup, increasing your productivity.
Opting for a 5-axis CNC machine eliminates wasted time. By reducing the time taken to re-fixture the part, you reduce labour costs.
The less time an operator spends handling a part, the lower the overall running costs will be, and there is less chance of loading errors.
5-axis CNC machines can also save you money in many other ways, including reducing floor space requirements, increasing flexibility and spindle usage, decreasing the need for costly fixtures, and lowering inventory investment. As more complex parts can be machined in fewer setups, this, in turn, can free up staff resources for other tasks, essentially providing near “unmanned running”.
2. Improved Surface Finish and Tool life
5-axis manoeuvrability enables access to features by rotating and tilting the part in ways that a 3-axis machine cannot, potentially allowing the use of shorter cutting tools with higher cutting speeds and less vibration, resulting in improved surface finishes.
By minimising tool deflection, vibration, and heat generation, 5-axis machines can extend tool life. The ability to optimise cutting angles and use fewer tool re-entry paths also reduces tool wear. The enhanced accuracy and precision of 5-axis CNC machines also reduce tool chatter and ensure more consistent cutting forces, further improving tool life.
Reducing the tool’s vibrations minimises the chance of “chatter” marks, ensuring a better surface finish on the final part.
3. Higher part precision
Part accuracy is higher because there is no need to move the same workpiece across multiple workstations.
Furthermore, eliminating the need for multiple setups and additional operations reduces the risk of costly errors and misalignments. It also reduces the amount of waste material, leading to improved cost savings.
4. Produces very complex part
5-axis CNC machining can produce very complex geometries.
For example, parts that include many different features would, in the past, have required many setups to machine and finish the desired shape.
However, with a single setup, a 5-axis machining can complete a piece of this requirement with only one fixture.
5. Quicker machining
The multiple axes mean that the whole workpiece can be cut in one go rather than several operations, resulting in a faster output capacity. By saving users time, 5-axis machines also directly save money.
5-axis CNC machines can move the cutting tool along five axes simultaneously, allowing for complex and intricate cuts in a single setup. This eliminates the need for multiple setups and reduces machining time significantly.
Due to the high speed of 5-axis CNC machining and increased automation, there is little need for intervention or manual processes. Our 5-axis CNC machines from Quaser, Chiron and Stama can offer you a higher speed turning capability on the rotary axis, which other axis manufacturers don’t currently offer.
5-axis machines can perform operations from multiple angles without requiring frequent tool changes. This eliminates the downtime from changing tools and minimises interruptions to your machining process.
Drawbacks of 5 Axis CNC Machining
- Costly to maintain
One notable drawback of 5-axis CNC machining is the higher cost of maintenance compared to ordinary 3-axis CNC machines. This is primarily due to the increased number of moving parts and the complexity of the machine’s design. With more axes and intricate mechanisms involved, 5-axis CNC machines require specialised knowledge and expertise for maintenance and repair. Technicians and engineers who can effectively troubleshoot and fix issues with these machines are in higher demand, leading to increased labour costs. Additionally, sourcing replacement parts for 5-axis machines may be more expensive than for their 3-axis counterparts.
At ETG, we provide 24/7 breakdown support and repair services for all our machines. We aim to work with our customers to give every machine a long, trouble-free and productive life. Find out more about our CNC breakdown support services.
- Requires more complex programming
The programming required for the 5-axis is usually more complex and needs the operator to undergo a higher level of training, but many machine tool builders are introducing features that break down these barriers and simplify the programming to a degree.
- Higher skill requirement
Utilising the full potential of a 5-axis CNC machine requires an experienced operator with a certain level of skill and expertise.
As these machines can be programmed to execute intricate movements and complex machining operations from various angles, operators need to have a deep understanding of the machine’s capabilities and the principles of 5-axis machining.
Skilled technicians can efficiently set up the machine, program the required tool paths, and ensure that the machining process runs smoothly. However, the higher skill requirement of operating 5-axis machines can result in higher labour costs for companies. Hiring and retaining highly skilled operators often comes at a premium, impacting the overall operational expenses.
At ETG, we provide comprehensive CNC Operator and Programming Courses. We ensure all our clients are adequately trained on all our software and machines.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you provide technical support and maintenance services for your 5-axis CNC machines?
Yes. We provide 24/7 industry-leading support to all our customers. Our customer Support Agreements offer you the option to subscribe to a set number of hours per year, so you can spread the servicing of your 5-axis machine and keep costs low. Choose from 4 levels of support ranging from 50-300+ hours per year, and benefit from significant savings on hourly servicing rates. Find out more about our servicing and maintenance options here.
Do you provide a spare-parts service for your 5-axis machines?
Yes. We hold essential OEM spares for all our principal brands including Chiron, Handtmann, Nakamura-Tome, Stama, Quaser, and Halter, all available for next-day delivery. Need to enquire about a spare part for your 5-axis machine? See here.
Do you provide operator and programmer training for your 5-axis CNC machines?
Yes. We provide a variety of CNC machine training courses for both operators and programmers, including those that focus specifically on the programming and operation of 5-axis machines. You can view our full range of courses and book your place here.
What software do you supply to support your 5-axis machines?
We have a variety of principal software brands to support the programming and operation of your 5-axis machine. View our full range here.
What sectors do you provide 5-axis machines for?
At ETG, we provide industry-leading 5-axis CNC machines to a wide range of sectors, including but not limited to: