5 Axis CNC Machining Explained
5-Axis CNC machines are some of the most advanced innovations within the engineering sector and metalworking industry. With technological advances, they have become simpler to use, configure and program using CAD/CAM software.
At first glance, the concept of a 5-axis CNC machine may seem strange. The three “normal” axes are X, Y, and Z.
However, the two extra axes in 5-axis may refer to either A, B or C axes. Rather than completely new axes, these refer to rotation around the X, Y, and Z axes.
Notably 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 Machining?
There are several advantages to 5-axis machining over traditional 3 and 4-axis 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.
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 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 Machining
Cost-Effective Way of Manufacturing Complex Parts
5-axis machines allow you to machine complex designs in a single setup, increasing your productivity.
Opting for a 5-axis 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 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”.
Improved Surface Finish and Tool life
5-axis manoeuvrability enables access to features by rotating and tilting the part that a 3-axis machine does not, potentially allowing the use of shorter cutting tools with higher cutting speeds and less vibration, resulting in improved surface finishes.
Reducing the tool’s vibrations minimises the chance of “chatter” marks, ensuring a better surface finish on the final part.
Higher Part Precision
Part accuracy is higher because there is no need to move the same workpiece across multiple workstations.
Produce very complex parts
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. When making complex parts such as turbine blades and aerospace airframes, 5-axis CNC machinery maximises productivity by reducing the cycle times.
As a result, this allows manufacturers to compete in aerospace, automotive, medical and other major industries.
The multiple axes mean that the whole workpiece can be cut in one go rather than several operations, resulting in a faster ouput capacity. By saving users time, 5-axis machines also directly save money.
Due to the high speed of 5-axis machining and increased automation, there is little need for intervention or manual processes. By using some of the 5-axis machines from Quaser, Chiron and Stama’s ranges can off you a higher speed turning capability on the rotary axis, which isn’t currently something offered by other axis manufacturers.
Drawbacks of 5 Axis Machining
Costly to maintain
The 5-axis machines cost more to maintain, as they have many moving pieces, making them more challenging to fix than ordinary 3 axis machines. Because 5-axis machines are costly to maintain, the repair cost is slightly higher.
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
As the 5-axis CNC machine can be programmed to carry out an advanced set of movements, it requires an experienced operator to have a certain level of skill to program the machine and ensure that it runs without any issues. These highly skilled technicians can translate into higher labour costs for the company overall.
At ETG, we house a vast range of 5-axis CNC machines, from Chiron and Quaser machines to STAMA. Contact us today if you’re interested in saving time and money on your CNC machining.