What is 5-axis CNC machining

What is a 5 axis CNC Machine?

Many CNC machines work in 3 axes: X, Y, and Z. Whilst relatively simple, this system allows for a wide range of movement and articulation with machining. As such, it’s still one of the most popular types of machining today.

As CNC machines have grown more complex and capable, new ways to moving the tools and workpieces has allowed for 4 and 5-axis machining. What sets a 5-axis CNC machine apart from the others?

What is 5-axis CNC machining?

5-axis machining is using a CNC machine that can move its tool and/or workpieces using 5 axes. These 5 axes are the standard X, Y, and Z axes that represent movement in a 3D space, with the A, B, and C rotational axes also possible. 5-axis CNC machining uses five of these six axes at a time.

Adding two rotational axes to a machining job allows the machine tools to approach a workpiece from different directions and at different angles than when using just XYZ. The three rotational axes revolve around the X, Y, and Z axes respectively.

Using combinations of these movements allows tools and workpieces to move in ways that unlock new possibilities in terms of cutting and milling.

What are the different types of 5-axis CNC machines?

5-axis CNC machines can be split down into table/table, head/head, or head/table configurations. These describe the ways in which the rotational axes might be applied to the movement of the machine itself.

Table/table – or ‘trunnion’ style – machines keep the extra axes of rotation confined to the tables, meaning the workpiece moves but the spindle (and tool) remain stationary. This is ideal for changing tools without having to account for different lengths in the numerical control data. However, it does require that the part is light yet stable enough to moved and tilted at different angles whilst being worked on.

Head/head configurations are a simple inverse of table/table, in that the rotation happens to the cutting tool while the worktable remains stationary. This is better for heavy workpieces that can’t reliably be rotated and turned, keeping their weight centred in the machine’s core.

Head/table machines are hybrids of the two, using rotary tables that rotate along the C-axis (around the Z-axis) whilst the spindle’s head uses its own rotations to better articulate the tool.

The majority of 5-axis CNC machines are table/table machines, partly due to how simple a step up from 3-axis machining they are. It is also often simpler to visualise reorientating the workpiece alone than the tool or a combination of the two.

How do you use a 5-axis CNC machine?

A 5-axis CNC machine will work very similarly to a standard 3-axis CNC machine or a 4-axis machine, although there is more technicality involved. Introducing two additional axes to be aware of and account for means more complex numerical code needed and more ways in which crashes can occur.

Ultimately, though, 5-axis CNC machines are coded and utilised in much the same way as other CNC machines, albeit with more capability afforded by their extra range of movement.

What are the benefits of 5-axis CNC Machines?

5-axis CNC machines can achieve far more complex work than 3-axis CNC machines. They’re able to reach the undersides of parts and make cuts, drill holes, and mill faces that would otherwise be tricky or impossible to reach.

5-axis CNC machines can assure higher quality work because of the extra possible approaches afforded by the rotational axes. These make parts like jigs and fixtures easier and more cost-effective to create, as well as making parts with complex geometries generally more achievable.

Skilled operators and programmers can make great use of a 5-axis machine. Though the coding needs of a 5-axis CNC mill are more complex than that of a 3-axis machine, the right people can use this to much greater effect, especially for bespoke parts.

What alternatives are there to 5 axis machining?

3- and 4-axis machining can still be chosen over using a 5-axis CNC machine, though the former two won’t be able to achieve quite as much in terms of part complexity and machine versatility. This is fine for many jobs; not every part needs the 5-axis approach. Using a 5-axis machine for a relatively simple part might be ‘overkill’, and could be the sort of thing a standard 3-axis CNC machine could handle.

However, for the most complex parts in high volumes, you’ll want to consider hiring the use of a 5-axis CNC machine.

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