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The Ultimate Guide to 5-Axis Milling

If you’ve been wondering what 5-Axis Milling is all about, or if you’re still stuck in the 3-Axis zone and want to upgrade, you’ve come to the right place.

5 Axis CNC Engineering

Here is ‘The Ultimate Guide to 5-Axis Milling’ – giving you all the details and functions of the 5-Axis machine and the benefits of 5-Axis Milling. We’ll also include some of the ways you can save time and resources by using or investing in this detailed piece of machinery.

The Basics

5-Axis CNC Machining involves using Computer Numerical Control (CNC) to move a specific cutting tool along a series of 5 different axes. Before now, 3-Axis Milling was the way forward and today, many industries are using this machining for its simplicity and its popularity amongst other businesses.

Despite this, 3-Axis is fairly limited in its movement, only allowing machining centre tools to move in two different set directions (the X and Y) and with the main tool moving up and down (the Z). This however, is not enough to create very precise and intricate detail, which is needed in some industries requiring certain machining tasks. This is where 5-Axis Milling comes in.

The beauty of using 5-Axis over 3-Axis is the fact that the tools can be rotated in two additional ways (the A and B). These different directions enable the axes to be moved around the original X and Y, meaning that this method of machining can move in all directions; a much more accurate and detailed cut.

Imagine the 3-Axis in alphabetical order (XYZ) along with the 5-Axis (ABC). In 5-Axis machining, these new axes rotate around the original, creating greater movement and precision:

  • The A-axis rotates around the X-Axis
  • The B-Axis rotates around the Y-Axis
  • The C-Axis rotates around or under the Z-Axis.

So, despite 5-Axis being the more up-to-date and desired piece of machinery, this alone probably won’t be enough detail for you to get your teeth into. Here are all the points you need to know about 5-Axis Milling.

Why Should You Chose 5-Axis?

Eventually, a lot, if not all industries in the future will convert to using a 5-Axis machine. Technology is developing at a rapid rate and industries don’t want to be left in the dark.

Businesses know that investing in the latest technology is necessary; it’s required if they want to produce the best results in the industry and challenge their competitors. Many industries can benefit from using 5-Axis and will make any other work that previously used a 3-Axis machine more profitable.

5-Axis Machine Configurations

5-Axis machining has 3 different types of machine configurations. We’ll look at these in more detail.

  • Swivel head with rotary table

This configuration is beneficial for several reasons. By using a swivel head, the machine can handle heavier parts when running. As the table itself has a greater weight capacity, the weight of the part is distributed to the base as the machine is stationary.

The swivel head is also very versatile. There is a rotating table and extra table space so you can add another fixture or use it for finishing purposes. As well as this, by using a swivel head there will be very little tool interference and is horizontal to gain better control when machining.

  • Integrated Trunnion table

By using an Integrated Trunnion table design, the head rotates a lot more than the 90 degrees of a swivel head, enabling a greater access to parts of the piece that would otherwise be difficult to reach. There is a larger work volume and the turning and movement capabilities of the tool is significantly increased.

  • Traveling column

The biggest selling point of the traveling column is how stable is it. By the table being connected directly to the base of the machine, it is less prone to movement and is more rigid. Accuracy is therefore retained.

One of the ways in which some industries create 5-Axis capabilities is by using a tilt-rotary table. This has a number of benefits including the ability to turn a 3-Axis machine into a 5-Axis at a much lower cost to the business.

By having a tilt rotary table, it allows work to be completed at the same standard as of a 5-Axis machine. Again, the rigidity of the table allows heavy workloads without compromising the quality of the finished piece.

However, there are some limitations to consider when using a tilt-rotary table instead of an actual 5-Axis machine. As the surface area is relatively small, only small jobs should be completed and heavy cutting should be avoided.

Depending on the industry in question and the type of jobs you will complete, you will be able to make that judgement as to which method of 5-Axis would be more convenient for you.

A Guide to Software and Programming of 5-Axis

It’s greatly important to have a machinist with the correct skillset and training to operate and supervise the machine and to be able to maximise the capabilities of machining.

You will also need a trustworthy piece of software/programming that will process information fast enough. The tool path with therefore be a lot smoother without causing jerky or rough motions.

If a 5-Axis machine is purchased with the right control, then CAD/CAM (Computer Aided Design/Manufacture) won’t be an issue. Instead, Tool Centre Point Management (TCPM) is used to programme the machine to start at any point of the piece on the table. By using TCPM, the whole machine setup is a lot faster enabling you to get to work straight away.

The way this works is resourceful – the machine is given the top corner of the piece that is to be machined and it will automatically know where the machine is positioned.

However, if CAD/CAM is the desired method of programming then there are benefits to this too. You will need to purchase the most suitable CAD/CAM package to suit what your industry is.

For example, a larger aerospace or medical job will need a completely different package that for a smaller job. Whichever package you need, the CAD/CAM method will provide a library of cutting strategies that will enable you to instantly get going.

There are many options to choose from including those that will allow you to get complete tool axis control and collision avoidance. The assembly of your tools can be checked to ensure high quality and safety at all times.

How to Avoid Collisions

There is software that will help to remove the chances of high speed tool collisions. With collision-avoidance software, you can load a 3D model of the part to be machined and the tools that will be used in the process.

This program then goes through every motion and movement of the cutting process and analyses whether the process will run into any problems or whether the total running time of the job is clear from any incidents.

The software will then be able to catch the problem before it happens if the piece to be machined is fitted to the machine correctly. Obviously, a collision in a job really must be avoided, especially if a job is high cost.

If a collision does happen, this will be expensive in that machinery must be replaced if damaged. Also time will be an issue, resulting in deadlines being missed and jobs not completed. It is worth considering this invaluable type of software when you first invest in or research a 5-Axis machine.

The 5-Axis machine has a great benefit of high productivity, but this also comes with a risk of errors and it’s vital that you check your machine is in good working order. With 5-Axis, there is a tool detection system, not only to see whether a tool is broken, but to also find the direct point where the breakage is.

The system also allows you to detect tool length and location, measure angle and radius and to detect any chips in the piece, which will then stop the machine. If a tool is broken or missing, the machine will also check this, along with verifying that the correct tool is being used before a cut is carried out.

Pros of 5-Axis

The main selling point of a 5-Axis machine is its ability to create complex and detailed pieces in a single set up, saving the risk of incorrect alignment of the machine if there were multiple set ups to carry out. This will therefore be a big time saver.

Time is saved during setup and by the machine giving a better finish during the cycle and no extra time is taken to then begin polishing and finishing off the piece after machining has ended.

The 5-Axis machine can be used with much shorter cutting tools than the previous 3-Axis. The cutting tool is tilted from the piece that is being machined to enable greater reach.

The head of the tool can be lowered which is an advantage – the size and orientation of the tool enables higher speeds and reduces the risk of tool breakages or the tool getting damaged.

Tool life is increased because of this which again, saves time of replacing a broken tool and also the cost of obtaining a new one.

By having shorter cutting tools, the vibrations from the machine are significantly reduced than when using a 3-Axis machine. The reduction in vibrations means a much neater finish with less follow up work to complete.

As 5-Axis has more rotary axes, it has the ability to create more in depth and complex shapes than ever before, and more sides means increased accuracy. This is great for creating prototypes that must be done fairly quickly. Months of work can be transformed to weeks, increasing the amount of time saved.

The 5-Axis machine is designed for use with several different materials including:

  • Stainless steel
  • Titanium
  • Plastics
  • Copper
  • Alloys

Place the chosen material into the machine, run the program and leave the machine to create your desired piece in a reduced time.

Industries that Benefit from 5-Axis

Many industries could benefit from a more precise piece of machinery, including:

  • Aerospace
  • Medical
  • Marine
  • Oil and Gas

Depending on your industry, there are certain issues that need to be taken into account before committing to anything. The type of machine and the software used are main points to consider as there are different benefits for each as mentioned above.

A Summary

The 5-Axis machine is a powerful one which doesn’t need constant machinist supervision while work is being completed. The machine saves time and money and is a great option for creating large volumes of finished goods quickly.

It offers so many different manufacturing processes, including cutting and milling to ensure the perfect finish to your work. You may want to consider a 5-Axis machine if you are a business that needs to produce a high volume of completed goods in a limited timescale.

The detail in finished goods by using a 5-Axis is extraordinary. Exact and intricate details can be achieved in a fraction of the time of other machines.

Chances are your business has some sort of CNC machine completing work for you, however now might be your time to upgrade. Your production level will be sure to increase and will make your day to day challenges much easier.

Investing in a 5-Axis machine is definitely something to be considered. If your business uses a similar machine frequently, then you can benefit from 5-Axis. It is sure to increase your productivity and efficiency and in turn, become more profitable.

However, if you are not in the position to invest in a 5-Axis machine yourselves, you can look into outsourcing your more intricate work to a company that has already invested in and is trained in using a 5-Axis, so will therefore be able to operate it on your behalf.

By completing work in a fraction of the time, the production cost of each item made will decrease, enabling a cheaper price to customers. Satisfied customers will result in repeated custom, so it is worth the research into 5-Axis.