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A Full Guide To 5 Axis CNC Machining

When it comes to engineering and design, one of the most important and challenging aspects is to ensure every piece is built or shaped into the right dimensions. Creating molds is an expensive process and as such is not a widely available alternative for most individuals. Likely while 3D Printing technologies are advancing at a fast rate, not all materials can be printed with a traditional setup. So what are we meant to do when we need a unique and custom piece made of sturdy material like aluminum? Well, in that case, we can mill it or mold it ourselves.

Just like sculptors in the past, the most reliable way to make custom pieces in a durable material is to start working directly on them. Using the right tools to remove, drill and mill a material until it has taken the shape of the piece we need. When used on metal we call this process milling, and while it might sound complex right now, the fact is that technologies have considerably simplified this process for us. This is where 5 Axis CNC Machining comes in.

5 axis cnc machining
5 axis cnc machining

What Is 5 Axis CNC Machining?

To properly understand what 5 Axis CNC Machining is we first need to go over the different elements that make it name. The most important aspect to understand upfront is what exactly is CNC Machining.

CNC or Computer Numerical Control Machining refers to a manufacturing process in which the movement of a factory’s tools and machinery is dictated by pre-programmed computer software. In short CNC Machining allows us to program all the movements a machine needs to perform on material or machinery ahead of time. Which ultimately removes the need for someone to control the machine, and ensures the machine identically repeats its task every time.

When used for milling CNC Machining allows a computer to recreate a specific shape over pieces of metals over and over, which makes it ideal for mass production and particularly ornate work. And going by that logic 5 Axis CNC Machining refers to a CNC Machining process that uses a tool that can move and rotate along 5 different axes.

As such the head of the machine used for this process can move not only on the traditional X, Y, and Z-axis which accounts for our traditional understanding of depth, width, and height, but the head can also rotate on itself on two of those axes, ensuring that the machine as a whole can operate on 5 Axis. Ultimately this level of movement allows 5 Axis CNC Machining to transform raw material into functionally any design, and the range of movement also ensures the machine doesn’t accidentally crash into or ruin a previous part of the design when moving.

5 Axis CNC Machining ultimately refers to a movement-range standard that allows CNC Machining to take on more complex and challenging tasks. A feat that has improved leagues on the way parts manufacturing is handled.

Types Of 5 Axis CNC Machines

5 Axis CNC Machines come in a wide variety of shapes and designs, but the easiest way to categorize them is based on the way their rotary axes move. Meaning that the 2 axes that are beyond the traditional X, Y, Z setup are the main factor separating the different kinds of CNC Machines in the market.

Head/Head

As the name implies all the rotary axes in this configuration are ultimately located in the head of the machine. CNC Machines under this configuration have a fixed work table that keeps the workpiece solidly fixed in place, while a separate platform handles the 5-Axis movement of the tool.

This configuration is traditionally recommended for large pieces, as the design ultimately allows for ease of movement around the work area but the fine movements don’t tend to be as versatile by comparison

Table/Head

In this configuration, we have one rotary axe on the table and another on the head. Traditionally this is handled through a revolving axis in the head which limits its movement compared to a Head/Head configuration. However, a secondary rotary shaft is also found on the table which provides a wide range of motion to the machine.

The rotating motion of the table is by far the most important one in this setup and as such, it can limit its potential uses. Table/Head CNC Machines are ideal when a piece requires to be rotated to achieve its desired shape, as the rotary shaft has no limits on how much it can spin.

Table/Table

Last but not least Table/Table CNC Machines leave all the rotary axe movement to the table itself. This means their revolving axis is slightly limited, but their rotary axis is as unencumbered as it would be on a Table/Head configuration. However, this configuration ultimately leaves the machine with a reduced range of movement and is considerably slower, since table motors tend to show a decrease in speed compared to head ones.

Advantages of 5 Axis CNC Machining

Now that we’ve seen what 5 Axis CNC Machining brings to the table it’s time to take a look at the main advantages it offers compared to alternative processes. Being able to mill in multiple directions comes across as a big deal, but what is the real effect it has? Let’s find out right now.

Reduced Times

One key advantage to 5 Axis CNC Machining services is the time they save on milling processes. Since the inputs are all entered ahead of time and since CNC machines have high-speed motors they can remove a lot of material in a brief period. Meaning that as a whole 5 Axis CNC Machining services offer a notorious advantage when it comes to time spent.

Improved Finish

Thanks to the two additional axes a 5 Axis CNC Machining center can use much shorter cutting tools. This is vital to improve on the quality of the finish since shorter tools are less susceptible to vibration, and as such the finish on the material will be consistently better all over the finished piece. On top of that, it doesn’t add up much time, at least compared to traditional 3 Axis Machines.

More Complex Designs

The additional range of movement offered by 5 Axis CNC Machining has two key advantages when it comes to the shapes it can produce. It’s precision and range of movement. On one hand, the extra axes allow the cutting tool to make smaller adjustments, while the overall range of motions means the tool can approach the pieces from new angles. As a whole, this means that 5 Axis CNC Machines can handle much more complex designs and do so efficiently.

Disadvantages of 5 Axis CNC Machining

While 5 Axis CNC Machining offers countless advantages when it comes to the final results of your work, there undeniably are some disadvantages at play if you choose to use this technology. Thankfully the issues don’t lie in the quality of the machinery or the results it offers, rather it all comes down to the complexity they bring to the table.

Higher Cost

5 Axis Machines are quite simply more expensive than their 3 Axis equivalents. Generally speaking, machinery only gets more expensive based on its complexity and CNC Machining is not the exception. However, it is important to note that costs as a whole are higher even beyond the selling price of these machines. Maintenance as a whole will be more expensive, and the cost of the software is also considerably higher.

More Demanding Software

While the 5 Axis movement is the main appeal of these CNC Machining systems it’s also often the largest hurdle to overcome. The required calculations and mental processes to interpret the motions of a machine in 5 Axis are considerably more demanding than 3 Axis models. This means that mastering the software will be harder and simply planning the instructions for the machine can be a challenge. Ultimately you will need a better operator, which in its own way can also result in extra expenses.

5-Axis Machining vs 3+2 Axis Machining

By now we fully understand everything that 5 Axis Machining has to offer, but what exactly is 3+2 Axis Machining, and how it compares? While the name might make both types of machining sound very similar the truth is that 3+2 Machining has more in common with 3 Axis systems than 5 Axis ones.

In a 5 Axis system, the machine always has access to all of its rotary axes and can perform movements on any of those 5 axes at any time. A 3+2 system on the other hand is functionally a traditional 3 Axis machine that has a rotating hold tool or table on top of that. However, 3+2 machines can not move the hold tool during operation, meaning that the part can be rotated to a degree before the process, but the actual machining process still works solely in 3 Axis.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to precision and complexity 5 Axis CNC Machining is completely unmatched. The additional range of movement allows us to not only make more complex parts but also to do them faster and with improved quality. As far as performance goes a 3 Axis machine can’t match up with them. And once you have the computer instructions ready these systems also offer incredible efficiency.

Their one con is ironically their main strength: these machines are complex. Understanding movement on 5 separate axes can be a challenge, but if you have the tools and professionals required the results will be more than worth the effort.

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