Over the past few years, CNC machining technology has advanced from straightforward machine tools to increasingly complex ones. One of the most cutting-edge techniques accessible now is 5-axis CNC machining. It uses subtractive machining technology to offer limitless possibilities for part production.
5-axis machining has many benefits, including increased accuracy, precision, productivity, and dependability.
In this write-up, we will discuss the fundamentals of 5-axis CNC machining. More so, we’ll define 5-axis machining and describe how it operates while outlining the various axes. We would also discuss the forms, development difficulties, and why you should choose 5-axis CNC Machining.
What is 5-Axis CNC Machining?
5-Axis Machinists can create up to 5 faces using (Computer Numerical Control) CNC technology in a single operation. This results in a highly accurate and efficient process. The subtractive working principle is similar to sculpting, whereby you take a large piece of material and remove the excess piece using a cutting tool.
This technology is growing more important for various industries as more products demand consistent machining of five faces.
During this process, cutting instruments are moved simultaneously along five different axes. Five-axis CNC machines allow the simultaneous operation of 3-linear axes and two rotational axes to manufacture complex pieces. And this enhances the work surface tilt or tool spindle, enabling additional rotation and movement.
What does an axis count in CNC machining mean? To understand better a 5-axis CNC milling machine axes, let’s explain further.
A machining axis count refers to the number of possible directions in which the cutting tool (or raw material) can move to produce the desired result. Conventional CNC machines, for example, have three axes. As a result, their cutting tools can only move in the X, Y, and Z axes.
However, 5-axis machining enhances the capabilities of the linear axes by moving and turning the worktable. The A-axis, together with the C-axis, are two additional rotational ones.
A-axis is also known as the tilting table axis, while the table rotation axis is the B-axis. You can create more complex shapes using the A and B axes than with 2-axis CNC machines. The summary of the motion of the axes is as follows;
The X-axis moves from left to right, the Z-axis controls top to bottom, and the Y-axis moves from front to back. The A-axis rotates around the X-axis and tilts forward and backward, while the B-axis rotates around the Y, tilting left to the right.
Development of 5-Axis Machining Technology
The 5-axis machine has two different axes than its conventional equivalent. The “five” refers to the number of possible movements of the cutting tool. The additional two enable enhanced rotation and movement to obtain the best connection between the cutting tool and the material.
More importantly, this simultaneous operation allows you to process up to five sides of the part in a single pass. Five-sided machining is required for up to 60% of parts produced in CNC factories, making this method increasingly popular.
5-axis CNC milling machines, like other CNC machines, depend on computer instructions. The machine’s programmed instructions regulate the movement of the workpiece and cutting tool. More so, the process of 5-axis machining begins with creating a 3D CAD model of the desired components.
The CAD model is exported into CAM software, which converts it into a computer program (G-code). The G-code carries CNC machine instructions. The commands direct the movement of cutting tools along linear axes (X, Y, and Z).
The method allows for five-sided workpiece machining with a single setup. As a result, it reduces manufacturing time and costs, allowing you to get your products to market faster. However, keep in mind that the speed and direction of movement are determined by the type and design of the 5-axis machine.
2 Forms of 5-Axis CNC Machining
Double Pendulum Head Form
Rotational axes are situated in the head of head/head machines. Their 5-axis apex is mounted on a platform that moves through a stationary worktable while holding the workpiece in position. As a result, there will be no tool interference on the machine spindle head.
This increases the apex’s ability to move around a workpiece, making them appropriate for creating massive, heavy pieces. The machine table can resist big weights without impairing the rotational aces’ accuracy. However, the architecture of these devices restricts their rotating axis movements.
Double Pendulum Table Form
The rotating axes of the 5-axis machines are located inside the table in this configuration. All rotations occur on the table, and the head does not move.
And these machines are suited for cutting undercuts. Machinists can observe how the cuts take shape during the programming stage.
However, the machine configuration is unsuitable for cutting large or heavy components. This limitation stems from the table’s inability to sustain excessive weight.
Why Choose 5-Axis CNC Machining?
Many industries benefit from the capacity to move the cutting tool and workpiece on up to five faces at the same time. It enables low-cost and efficient fabrication. Choosing between 5-axis machining centers and other techniques can be difficult.
There are numerous aspects to consider to make the best decision. Here are some reasons for choosing 5-axis machining.
High Repeatability and Precision
Because manual machining requires more setups than CNC machining, machinists lose exact alignments during fabrication. On the other hand, minimal setups in 5-axis CNC milling limit the possibility of errors and improve the accuracy required to attain exceptional quality.
The wide varieties of 5-axis machines on the market now avoid the need to reposition workpieces at various angles during cutting. As a result, you can expect better machining tolerances. Furthermore, certain machine setups permit the use of shorter cutting tools. This extends the tools’ lifespan and assures repeatability.
Simple Setup Procedures
A 5-axis CNC machine can machine five surfaces at the same time. You may need different setups for traditional 3-axis machining to operate on items with several faces. However, 5-axis technology allows for the machining of curved parts and other multi-faced pieces in a single structure. This enables you to produce complicated geometries with fewer setups.
Cost-Efficient and Time Saving
Due to the process’s great speed, 5-axis machined items are frequently produced in a single operation. The single setup involved saves time and money. Furthermore, using shorter cutting tools with longer lifespans minimizes the need for regular tool replacement, saving money and time.
Machining of Complex Shapes
The extra rotation in this machining method allows for more complicated designs and geometries.
The machine enables the continuous cutting of arcs and angles that were previously only achievable with many special fixtures.
The 5-axis milling technique may rotate pieces to reach required geometries in a single operation, avoiding the need for sophisticated fixtures.
The Development Difficulties and Limitation
Regardless of the numerous advantages of 5-axis CNC machining, it comes with quite some difficulties; here are some of them.
The price of a 5-axis CNC machine and its necessary software is considerable. It’s higher than what is required for 3-axis machining centers. Similarly, the machine is more difficult than those traditional machine tools. This impacts the machining costs of 5-axis machined items.
Adding two more motions and their positional trajectory are abstract and complex. For example, to process a layer, these conditions must be met;
These are required to avoid collision and interference and ensure the proper amount of interpolation motion. As a result, achieving the requisite machining precision, accuracy, and surface quality necessitates more programming difficulties.
Higher Operator Requirements
5-axis CNC milling is a sophisticated technology that requires advanced programming, machine setup, and operations. As a result, highly skilled technical operators are required for the process. This frequently results in higher labor costs.
Difference between 5-axis and 3-axis
People tend to mix up these two methods due to their procedural similarities. Continuous 5-axis machining, often known as 5-axis CNC machining, involves the continuous rotation of cutting tools along five axes. 3-axis machining, on the other hand, runs a 3-axis program. The cutting tool is locked at an angle during this process. This angle is determined by the two rotary axes.
The primary advantage of 5-axis CNC machining over 3-axis CNC machining is speed. The latter entails the machine constantly stopping and resuming between tool orientations. On the other hand, the former completes the cutting in a single operation. Furthermore, 5-axis machining is better suited to complicated surfaces, whereas 3+2-axis CNC machining is best suited to plane processing.
Because 5-axis machines use fewer clamps and no specific fixtures, the machining cost is cheaper than that of 3-axis machines. However, you should be aware that the programming required for 5-axis technology is significantly more difficult than for 3-axis machining.
You should fix the material block in a machine bed or vice when using a 3-axis milling machine. The rotating drills or cutting tool connect to a spindle and move on the part of the X, Y, and Z axes to remove shavings and create a precise, finished part.
Continuous 5-axis CNC machining allows the cutting tool and the workpiece to rotate and move at the same time, saving time and allowing operators to create complicated designs with organic surfaces. Although continuous 5-axis CNC machining improves surface smoothness, speed, and dimensional stability, it has the greatest cost per part.
6-axis machinery can increase your production, whether you’re developing complicated machinery for a high-end aerospace project or basic parts for a consumer-grade automobile. Some projects may require the advanced capabilities that the additional two axes provide, while others will profit from the reduced work and errors. A 5-axis machine also might expand your production capabilities.
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