Innovative Machining Approaches

5-Axis Machining: For the Toughest Manufacturing Challenges

Some complex jobs require 5-axis machining, a specialty technique that offers unrivaled precision and flexibility. But 5-axis machining does come with some special considerations. Builders should only work with manufacturers that have the skills and experience to know if this amazing, but complicated, procedure is truly necessary.

What is 5-Axis Machining?

5-axis machining enables machine tools to move on 5 different axes at once. Traditional 3-axis tools are limited to movement on just 2 axes, X and Y, with the tool itself moving along the Z axis.

The 5-axis model adds two additional rotary axes, the A and B axes. This allows operators to move the machine or cutting pieces in different directions without having to move to a new set up. Imagine a square box as a part. A 5-axis tool can access all sides of the box for machining or drilling, while a 3-axis setup only allows access to one side.

There are two kinds of 5-axis machining techniques: 5-sided machining and simultaneous 5 axis.

5-sided machining allows the tool to orient only to the sides of the box. This limits work to 90-degree rotations and requires the operator to position the tool, do the work, then reposition. Simultaneous 5 axis, on the other hand, enables tools to work on all sides at the same time.

Generally, fewer than 20 percent of jobs call for 5-axis machining because of the unique considerations that go along with using this technique.

The Considerations of 5-Axis Machining

While 5-axis machining does offer a number of unique benefits, the complexity of the technique demands careful consideration before implementation:

  • It is more expensive.
  • It requires specialized training for operators, programmers and planners.
  • It requires specialty software.
  • There are more variables to consider, such as verifying that nothing is hit with the head and that the operator stays within the travel limits of the machine.

The Benefits of 5-Axis Machining

Once a machinist has determined that the best course of action is to proceed with 5-axis machining, they can expect to see the following benefits on your project:

  • Reduction in set-up time. Since the machinist can access all sides of the box, they don't have to spend labor time repositioning the component.
  • Greatly improved part quality. Because there is no need for the machinist to clamp and unclamp the part, and instead simply positions the machine, there are no errors created through multiple set ups.
  • Parts can be machined more quickly and more efficiently.
  • Tools from 3-axis machines can be used interchangeably on 5-axis machines.

When Does it Makes Sense to Utilize 5-Axis Machining?

Some parts call for specialized geometry that can only be created with 5-axis machining, such as impeller blades and fan blades. In other cases, different areas that require machining have an especially tight tolerance relationship with each other. 5-axis machining may also be necessary if a part can't be held in a way that is accessible to the tools.

None of these circumstances are obvious, and only the most experienced manufacturers can identify when 5-axis machining is truly necessary. They have to analyze each job on a case-by-case basis, determine if the technique is appropriate and propose alternative methods when it is not. Since most manufacturers don't own the expensive equipment required for 5-axis machining, builders should make sure their manufacturer has the contacts and relationships required to contract the work out to a reliable vendor.

For jobs that require 5-axis machining, the technique can give machinists an unrivaled level of precision and flexibility for working with specialty parts that have unique geometry or especially tight tolerances. There are enough considerations, however, that it shouldn't be used if the job can be done another way, which is why it is so important to work with a team that understands the process and can identify the situations that call for its use.