Mechanical Knowledge

Everything you should know about 5-axis CNC Machine


What is 5 Axis?

In the world of machining the basic principle is to start with a block of material and remove the unnecessary bits. With a 5-axis machining process you can move a tool in five different axes simultaneously.  Basic computer numerical control (CNC) machines remove material using only three axes, X, Y and Z.  The 5-axis machining tool has two additional axes, A and B, which allows your cutting tool to have multidirectional capabilities.  Each axis is described here:

X axis = Left and Right.

Y axis = Back and forward.

Z axis = Up and Down.

A axis = Clockwise and counterclockwise rotation (horizontal plane)

B axis = Clockwise and counterclockwise rotation (vertical plane)

What is 5 Axis


Advantages of the 5-axis CNC Machine

Switching to the 5-axis CNC machine for 5-sided machining solves many problems your shop may be facing. Overall, it saves you time and money. Here are some of the other advantages:

1. Reduces lead time and increases efficiencies due to single setup (sometimes referred to as “done in one”.

2. Reduces need to find qualified machinist, which closes the skills gap.

3. By tilting the cutting tool or the table you avoid collision with the tool holder which also allows better access to part geometry.

4. Eliminates excessive setup costs.

5. Improves tool life and cycle time which also reduces cost and delivery time pressure from the customer.

6. Increases productivity which makes each part more profitable.

7. Brings new opportunities.

8. Less programming related costs.

9. Requires less fixtures and tools.

10. More efficient process for 3-axis parts as well.

11. Increased spindle usage.

12. Optimized floor space.

13. Reduced labor cost per part.

The 5-axis CNC Mill or 5 Axis milling machine offsets the skills gap because you have more capabilities with fewer machines. This reduces the need for locating and hiring more skilled employees. Better efficiencies bring increased productivity because you are no longer flipping parts for a single setup. It is also easier to switch from one job to another quickly which reduces pressure from your customers. If you select the right 5-axis CNC Machine you can basically do more with less.

5-axis machining also enables shorter cutting tools to be used because the head can be lowered towards the job and the cutter oriented towards the surface. This results in higher cutting speeds without excessive loads on the cutter. This increases tool life and reduces breakages and downtime.

A higher surface finish is obtained because the shorter cutters reduces vibration of the tool during deep cores or cavities that you experience with 3-axis machines. This also removes the need for hand finishing.

You can also machine extremely complex parts from solid materials that would otherwise need to be cast. Using a 5-axis CNC Machine for prototypes and small runs can run much quicker and for a lot less money. This can reduce your lead times of one or two weeks instead of two months or more if you had to create castings which makes customers happy.

5-axis machining can provide huge time savings in the drilling of holes. While this may seem trivial in comparison to the difficulty of machining a complex core or cavity, drilling a series of holes with different compound angles is extremely time consuming. Using a 3-axis machine requires a different set-up and must be used for each hole. With a 5-axis CNC Machine, the head can be oriented along the correct axis for each hole automatically, allowing drilling to be completed much more quickly.

Training for Using 5-axis CNC Machines

Most customer issues are not a result of an error in the machining, but the lack of training of personnel and having communication go correctly from the routing to the machine. The operators must know before they get started that they are going to have enough tools in the magazine to finish the part.

Programming a 5-axis CNC Machine is done through a CAD/CAM program, which stands for computer-aided design & computer-aided manufacturing. CAD/CAM software is used to design and manufacture prototypes, finished products, and production runs. An integrated CAD/CAM system offers one complete solution for design through manufacturing. The machinist or operator is required to learn all the basics and understand how different metals cut in different situations. It may be best to start slow and try different things daily to learn the nuances of the machine in different situations.

Types of Applications for 5-axis CNC Machines

This method of manufacturing is popular for industries such as aerospace because it enables the machining of extraordinarily complex parts. Materials may include carbon fiber, aluminum, titanium and even wood for artistic and design applications.

There are two general application categories for 5-axis machining: machining complex 3D shapes and conventional machining of tilted surfaces.

When machining complex 3D shapes on the 5-axis CNC Machine, the two rotary axes are utilized to keep the cutting tool normal to the surface being worked one. In the beginning of five-axis machining programming for 3D, work was labor intensive and required the geometry of each workpiece to be transferred manually from the design to the computer by keyboard. This process has been improved by using CAD/CAM software to make the process seamless from concept through design to production.

5-axis CNC Machines also allow traditional machining on tilted surfaces. Their two rotational axes enable them to machine sloping planes, a requirement that requires multiple holdings on a 3-axis machine. They can therefore be used for many conventional tasks like milling, boring, reaming, tapping, and drilling, where the task axis is not normal to the machine table. Some training is needed to operate the machine in this mode, but far less than is required to master its full 3D capability.

In both cases, the difficulties related to creating 5-axis programs have been simplified over the years. Additionally, the two categories have little in common. A machinist will be able to master the five-axis technology with less difficulty because he or she must learn only one specific application.

3D Printing VS 5-axis Machining

Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is considered by some to be in direct competition, but others feel they will be complementary processes. 3D printing can allow parts to be designed that could not be designed in the past. It is more likely the two methods of manufacturing will work together, allowing the turning or milling machine do what it does best, and the 3D machine do what it does best.

3D printing would not be the best choice if you need to mass produce a part, because it is limited in speed and accessibility. CNC machining offers great dimensional accuracy as well as many compatible materials include wood, metals, and plastics.

Both methods are compatible with a wide variety of materials, however, 3D printing is more focused on plastics. 

Though both methods are very competent and useful technologies, the most appropriate one will depend on the material, geometric complexity, manufacturing volume, and budget. Sometimes the solution may include both.


This article introduce 5 Axis, 5 Axis Machining, 5-axis CNC Machines and difference between 3D Printing and 5-axis Machining.


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