All You Need To Know About 5-Axis CNC Machining

Jack Lie CNC machining expert

Specialize in CNC milling , CNC turning, 3D printing, urethane casting, rapid tooling, injection molding, metal casting,


The machining industry is one of the promptly evolving industries that keep on securing the capability of meeting modern production demands. With the continued advancement in technology, the need for complex parts has emerged more than ever before.

Due to the evolution in the machining industry, new machines are innovated considering the latest demands, such as 5-Axis CNC (computer numerical control) technologies, which use single setup or multiple computers to regulate machine tools like a router, lathe, and mill and then produce sturdy products utilizing different materials: plastics, metals, and others.

Regarding the 5-Axis, there are numerous rumors among new people that this technology might be costly, technical, and challenging to operate. Nevertheless, we are here to provide you with a realistic overview of the 5-Axis CNC machine, its benefits, and operations. Meanwhile, the quick answer to all your queries is that 5-Axis technology massively helps you get the job done most efficiently with an amazingly high return on investment (ROI).

Brief History Of 5-Axis

Earlier, machine owners used to attach additional components to improve production efficiency and accuracy. But then, the simultaneous use of multiple-axis machines was streamlined in the late ’50s or early ’60s. During the last couple of years, we have observed a lot of advancements regarding 5-Axis and hence 5-Axis machining centers, whether it is a vertical or horizontal machining center. Soon after its inception, the 5-Axis CNC machines were there in the US military, air force workshops, and aerospace industries. In short, 5-Axis proved to be a game-changer and more accessible and exceptional technology in the spectrum of CNC machines.

What Is 5-Axis CNC Machining?

CNC is one of the widely adopted methods to remove the material from metal using high-speed cutting tools. The accuracy of CNC machines remains matchless, as it enables manufacturers to have what they exactly want. Typically, CNC machines can be segregated into three main types; horizontal milling machines, vertical milling machines, and lathes. All of these types use the combination of CAD and CAM to present the final part into its desired shape.

After knowing the basics of CNC, let’s talk about the 5-Axis CNC machine, which is equipped with more axes than a typical CNC or 3-axis CNC machine. In literal meaning, the 5-Axis CNC machine can move in 5 directions instead of moving in 3 directions. Of course, the rotation and movement of the cutting tool in 5 directions bring more efficiency to the machining process.

More commonly, the 5-Axis is obtained by adding rotation or tilt to the tool spindle or work-holding platform. It is necessary for the manufacturing of parts that offer complex movement. It is also convenient for operators to accomplish five faces in one operation. So, the improved efficiency and precision of the 5-Axis machines are adding value to their services.

For determining the paths of the tool, the CAD model is fed into the CAM software, which then creates codes that instruct the machine about the speed of the cutting tool and movement of the tool. So, the 5-Axis machine can operate in the 5-Axis, including X, Y, Z, A, and B coordinate system. The coordinate system in 5-Axis works in the following manners:

X-Axis operates left to right.
Y-Axis operates from front to back.
Z-Axis operates from top to bottom.
A-Axis Rotates around X-axis (tilts backward and forward)
B-Axis Rotates around Y-axis (tilts and spins from left to right)

Advantages of 5-Axis CNC Machining

5-Axis is an advanced form of CNC machine that offers the movement of tools in five directions. The following are a few of the fundamental advantages associated with a 5-Axis CNC machine:

Fast Removal of Material

5-Axis CNC machine enables you to reduce the cycle time manifold. It excels the production in shorter periods. Essentially, it is due to its ability to allow the tool to remain tangential to the surface of the workpiece and remove more material in each tool pass, making the material removal rate from the surface faster. In this way, the cost-effectiveness of the product is also enhanced.

Minimized Steps

Making complex parts on a 3-Axis CNC machine involves multiple steps. Workpiece goes through different processes, like manually rotating the part, as the number of options available is minimal, and the tool movement is limited. But then again, in a 5-Axis CNC machine, very few steps are required to shape the material into the required product with intricate geometrical dimensions.

Enhanced Surface Finishing

Capabilities of 5-Axis CNC machine on contoured geometry result in the production of excellent surface finish. On the other hand, we know that 3-Axis machines take a long time in making such surface finish due to minor cuts that must be used to produce such results.

Elimination of Complex Fixtures

3-Axis CNC machining involves the installation of the workpiece on the fixture before machining in the required orientation for the desired feature. In contrast, this process is eliminated in a 5-Axis CNC machine. The workpiece doesn’t need additional fixtures because the part has to be fixed and operated once to get machined. Henceforth, it also reduces the cost of the fixture.

No Competition

5-Axis CNC machine is not very common in the machining arena; its efficiency and quality features don’t have any competition in the market. So, using this type of machine setup can give you multiple profits, and you can even better your production efficiency with this updated beast.

Disadvantages of 5-Axis CNC Machining

In the recent past, the 5-Axis CNC machine has earned a name in the market. As more complex product requirements evolve, the manufacturing and production industries swiftly shift to 5-Axis CNC machines. Though these machines offer rapid processes, multi-axes, and good rigidity, their application in industry is somehow minimized due to the following aspects.

Complex Programming Needed

5-Axis CNC machine has complex processing as compared to 3-Axis CNC machine. Three linear motion, two rotational motions, and other complex trajectories are not easy to understand and imagine. Therefore, a very trained and experienced person must do this complex programming. Any mistake in programming can even reduce the machining precision and surface quality.

Costly Machines

The price of 5-Axis machines is far higher than the 3-Axis machines available in the market. Moreover, the software needed is costly, making the 5-Axis machine highly expensive. The maintenance of the 5-Axis machine is also complex than other simple machines, which further increases the cost of this technology. Along these lines, the product produced on a 5-Axis CNC machine might cost more than the similar product made on the 3-Axis machine.

Highly Technical Operator Required

5-Axis CNC machine involves complex processing technology, from programming to machining, which needs a highly trained technical operator to spearhead the machining process. It also makes the 5-Axis machine incompatible for some industries as the labor cost shoots out of hand.

Types of 5-Axis CNC Machine

CNC machines are widely used in industry to perform several tasks efficiently. The 5-Axis CNC machines are available in different types following the demands of the manufacturing industry, differing mainly in the arrangement of rotary axes. Anyways, the main types are the following.

Head/Head

This type of CNC machine has its rotary axis in the head. The workpiece is fixed, the tool moves in five dimensions around the work, and the 5-Axes apex platform enables it to perform the task. It eliminates the worries of tool interference of the spindle head of the machine. The fixed table allows the 5-Axis apex to move around the workpiece, perfect for manufacturing large parts. They are designed so that minimal movements in the axes are permitted.

Table/Head

This machine has two rotary axes, one rotary axis in the table and another one in the head. The revolving axis lies within the head with a restricted range. The rotary shaft is situated in the table, with limitless scope. Due to the part resting on the rotary axis in the table, this arrangement limits the number of produced items. This type is more advantageous than the head/head arrangement because the part can revolve without reaching a particular limit.

Table/Table

All the rotary axes are situated in the machine’s table in this type of technology, and the revolving axis’s scope is also limited. But it has an unlimited range of the rotary axis. This setup has a narrow range of work envelopes and slow speed but is still suitable for specific products. However, the other types are faster due to the definite motors in their setup.

How Can We Get Most Of The 5-Axis CNC Machine?

A part manufactured via a 5-Axis CNC machine has more desirable qualities due to reduced part handling, more machine accuracy, and speed resulting from 5-Axes within the machine. Indeed, you can imagine these qualities for a part being manufactured on more than one side. So, you can open new doors of opportunities to your business by setting up a 5-Axis CNC machine. It can help you perform tasks that you could not do with traditional machining tools or 3-Axis CNC machines.

For instance, before 5-Axis CNC machines, you had to go through extensive fixtures and install different tools and steps in the process because otherwise, the required work was not possible with ease. But 5-Axis machining centers have made it easy for you to automatically make product parts of your choice in a brief period by just providing a design to the machine.

However, to effectively help you through your jobs, you must learn to get the maximum out of your wise investment of a 5-Axis CNC machine. Only then would you be able to obtain the maximum efficiency through the machine with excellence in product finishing. Given that, let’s look at some ways to improve the working of the 5-Axis CNC machine.

5-Axis machines are supplied with desirable features that we cannot utilize sometimes. Realize that it seems weird when something costs you higher than its competitors and your expectations while not using the features. So, the following is brief information about the software and controls of 5-Axis CNC machines to help you get the maximum out of them.

Tool Center Point Control

Using this control can shorten the cycle time of your part. The quality of the machined surface is also improved by it. Besides, it compensates for the rotary axes’ fluctuation in the part program, providing stability to the process. Likewise, it simplifies the process of machining by achieving this all in the background of CNC Control by activating only one code.

Dynamic Fixture Offset

By this, you can drastically improve the working of the machine. Dynamic fixture offset is a feature that enables the machine to develop other coordinates when you provide only one coordinate of the work. You provide one work coordinate, and it’s all done; the machine will do the remaining task on its own. Consequently, a part program of the machine is simplified manifold.

5-Axis Axis Auto-tuning

The machine performs tuning automatically through this feature with precision. It helps compensate for the geometric errors, including volumetric accuracy, and can be easily adjusted in a minimal time (10 min). Most importantly, it doesn’t require a skilled operator to perform the job.

Posture Control

The rotary angular changes are drastically minimized by enabling the minor axis inversions. It sets the tool to reduce fluctuation or turnover during the part surface machining. Besides, it sometimes produces jerks when not using this feature and prevents the machine from working smoothly.

Super Nurbs

Nurbs stands for non-uniform rational basis spline, shortening the control feedback loop. The OSP control predicts a range of tolerance and produces a spline that is best for the job to be done. It minimizes redundancies and offers a smoother tool path. This feature is a must for a machine built to perform accurate, high-speed machining for high-quality surface finishes.

High-Speed and High Accuracy

It features the production of work parts with super speed and accuracy near to perfection. Machines control the acceleration and feed rate following the machine characteristics command shape. In addition, it minimizes the cycle time while maintaining the nominated machine’s accuracy.