The What, Why And How of 5-Axis CNC Machining

With the progress in time and technology, CNC machining has progressed dramatically. Rapid prototyping now involves high use of 5-Axis CNC machining due to its huge benefits.

What is 5-Axis CNC Machining?

5-axis CNC machining is the ability of the CNC prototyping machines to move the tool or the part in five different axes simultaneously. The basic CNC machines work in three axes, i.e., X, Y and Z however, the 5-axis CNC machines can rotate in two additional axes, A and B which gives the cutting tool a multi-directional approach to carry out the job.

Multi-axis CNC machining is also termed to be the next big thing in the subtractive manufacturing and prototyping since it can carry out multiple processes all in one go with excellent accuracy and surface finish.

Why use multi-axis CNC machining

Multi-axis CNC machining significantly reduces the cost and time in manufacturing and prototyping of complex designs. There are several advantages of multiple axis prototyping over standard CNC prototyping.

  • Minimized setup

5-axis CNC milling and machining allows you to work on almost all the surfaces apart from the clamping area of bottom and top. When working on parts requiring complex machining, you need to carry out several setups in 3-axis machining such as manual rotation to attain the required geometry. On the other hand, 5-axis CNC machines can carry out the same job in a single setup, reducing the machining time and the number of setups required.

  • Complex designs

Highly complex designs can easily be made with 5-axis machining which includes machining difficult arcs and angles that were previously only achievable via multiple setups along with a myriad of special fixtures.

Chess rook being prepared with 5-axis machining

  • Rotational accuracy

Each time the part is removed from the machine, the precise alignment that results in superior quality is lost. For example, in the case of complex CNC milling aluminum, the part needs to be kept in the machine to attain a high-quality surface finish. Multi-axis CNC machining is the only way to give extreme rotational accuracy as the task is completed in one go.

  • Better surface finish

The fourth and the fifth axes help the operator to orient and bring the part closer to the cutting tool. This result in a shorter cutting tool which is less susceptible to high cutting speed vibrations. This results in an excellent surface finish along with a huge reduction in machining time.

Detailed geometries made easy with 5-axis machining

  • Faster material removal

Another great advantage of 5-axis CNC machines over conventional CNC machines is faster material removal. Via multi-axis machining, the tool remains tangential to the cutting surface, which allows for low cycle times and helps reduce the production cost as more material is removed each time the tool passes over the workpiece.

5-Axis: Done in one?

The notion of ‘Done in one’ is a major goal for the manufacturing industry since a very long time: load a block of material into a machine, run the CNC software, and the machine removes the unnecessary part from the block. Zero setup time, the done-in-one-go is worthwhile, even if it’s ultimately unattainable given the current technology.

With that being said, the multi-axis CNC machining gets us closer to this goal than any other manufacturing process existing today; even the 3-D printing requires an additional phase of finishing. In this context, it can be said that the major constraint on 5-axis machining is the workholding since the machining cannot be done over the points of the fixtures.

5-axis CNC machining vs. 3+2 machining

Many prototype manufacturers claim to provide 5-axis CNC machining services to their clients where in reality, they tend to provide 3+2 CNC machining, which is quite different from the state-of-the-art multiple-axis machining.

As stated earlier, 5-axis machining offers tolling to be carried out at three linear axes and two rotational axes that work together to achieve the complex machining. On the other hand, the 3+2 CNC machining offers a 3-axis milling process along with two axes to rotate and hold the tool in a fixed position as opposed to changing it continuously during the conventional CNC process. 3+2 machining is time consuming and do not offer a high-quality surface finish and complexity as compared with the multi-axis CNC machining.

How to get the most from 5-Axis CNC prototyping

Collect information

Before jumping into the machining part, it is important to collect as much information as possible. Check the data collected from the client for accuracy and correctness. Also, carry out a cost analysis to determine the best machining for the job.

Simulation software

When working with a 5-axis CNC machine, it is hard at times to visually predict the collision points. Therefore, it is important, that the full use of simulation software is done to determine the collision points, monitor the length of the tool, size of the part and the interference of the tool. This way the lead time and down times can be greatly reduced.

Creative work holding

What limits the full working capabilities of multi-axis CNC milling and CNC prototyping is the workholding. Proper workholding eliminates multiple setups, reduce lead time as well as production cost.

Tooling

Tooling is a crucial part of any CNC prototyping process. It is important that your manufacturer works with high-end tools made specifically made for high-speed CNC machining.

Run kinematics

When working to achieve the specifics for each part, it is better to run the kinematics to improve the accuracy. To better understand the positioning and precision of the tooling and workpiece, it is important to run the kinematics beforehand so to understand the positioning of the cutting tool to its best.

5-axis CNC machines are expensive; therefore, not many manufacturers have them. However, they tend to reduce the manufacturing time by a huge extent and can create complex geometries out of a single block of material. If you require your prototyping done, it is important that you do it with a company that has a sound 5-axis machining setup. At Wayken, we employ the modern 5-axis CNC machines and ensure our client’s top-notch prototypes and products.