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5-Axis CNC machining Explained

Sep 07, 2023

CNC machining is a subtractive manufacturing approach that enables producers to produce high-precision parts efficiently and affordably. Using cutting tools, CNC machining removes extra raw material from workpieces to produce precise finished products made of materials like plastic, metal, and composites.

CNC machining technology has advanced recently, from simple machine tools to more sophisticated ones. CNC machining with 5 axes is one of today's most advanced processes. It employs subtractive machining technology to provide infinite part creation possibilities. This technique employs cutting tools that operate on five axes to cut workpieces into desired shapes and sizes.

5-axis machining improves accuracy, efficiency, and reliability. Due to their more axes, 5-axis milling machines are more capable. Computer Numerical Control (CNC) fully automates and manages the process. Thus, many reliable CNC machine shops use this technology for precision CNC machining.


What is 5-axis CNC machining?

In this process, cutting tools are moved along five axes simultaneously. 5-axis CNC machines have three linear axes and two rotational axes that work together to make complicated parts. Usually, this gives the worktable or tool spindly more tilt, which lets it move and turn more.

With a 5th axis, machinists can make up to 5 faces at the same time. Because of this, the process is very quick and accurate. It also means it can make complex structures and features with few setups. Since 5 faces of many parts need to be machined constantly, this process is becoming more useful in many industries.

Let's discuss what an axis count means in CNC machining to help you understand the axes on a 5-axis CNC milling machine. A machining axis count is the number of ways the cutting tool (or raw material) can move to make the product. Normal CNC machines, for example, have three-axis counts. So, they can only move their cutting tools along the X, Y, and Z axes.



The cutting tool moves as follows:

• Sideways on the X-axis

Vertical on the Y-axis

Back and forth on the Z-axis

5-axis machining centers make the linear axes more useful by letting the worktable tilt and rotate. The A-axis and the C-axis are two more ways that things can rotate. The A-axis is also called the tilting table axis, and the B-axis is the table rotation axis. With these axes, CNC machines can work on shapes with more complicated shapes than 2-axis or 3-axis machines. In the table below, you can see a summary of how the axes move.





Left to right


Front to back


Top to bottom


Rotation around X-axis (tilts forward and backward)


Rotation around Y-axis (tilts from left to right)


How Does 5-Axis CNC Machining Work?

Like any other CNC machine, a 5-axis CNC machine uses computer instructions to move the cutting tool and the workpiece to make the part you want.

The first step in the 5-axis CNC machining process is for the designer to make a 3D CAD model of the part they want to make. They can use programs like SolidWorks and Autodesk Inventor for this. Next, the machinist sends this CAD model to CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) software, which turns the drawing into a computer program (also called G-code).

The G-code has instructions that control how the cutting tools move along the linear axes (X, Y, and Z) and how the worktable moves along the rotary axes (A and C) to make the needed parts.


5-Axis CNC Machining Configuration styles

Depending on the configuration you select, one of the three rotational axes of the 5-axis CNC Milling Machine will be utilized. A trunnion-style machine and a swivel-rotate-style machine are the two primary configurations.


Trunnion Style

The 5-axis CNC Milling Machine with a trunnion uses an A-axis that rotates around the X-axis and a C-axis that rotates around the Z-axis.


Swivel Rotate Style

A swivel-rotate-style 5-axis CNC Milling Machine utilizes the B-axis, rotating around the Y-axis, and the C-axis, rotating around the Z-axis.


Types of 5-Axis CNC Machines

5-axis machines can help you improve your machining process and make your work easier to scale up. There are many different kinds of these machining centers to meet the needs of the manufacturing industry.




Head/Head machines have axes of rotation in the Head. Their 5-axis apex is on a platform that moves through a fixed worktable, which keeps the workpiece in place. So you won't have to worry about tools getting in the way of the spindle head of the machine.



Head/Table machine setup has one rotating axis in the Head and the other in the rotary table. Their axis of rotation is in their heads and has a small range. On the other hand, the rotary shaft is in the table and has a wider (unlimited) range.



In this setup, the rotary axes of the 5-axis machines are inside the table. So, the Head doesn't move, and all rotations happen on the table. Because of how they are made, these machines can cut undercuts. Also, since the Head doesn't move, it's easy for machinists to see how the cuts will be made when they are programming the machine.


Advantages of 5-Axis CNC Machining

Many industries benefit from the ability to simultaneously move the cutting tool and workpiece on up to five faces. It enables the efficient and cost-effective fabrication of complex parts.



Easy Setup Operations

A 5-axis CNC machine can work on five surfaces at the same time. For standard 3-axis machining, you may need to set up the machine more than once to work on a part with more than one face. The 5-axis technology makes it possible to machine parts with curves and parts with many faces all in one structure. This means that you can make parts with complicated shapes with fewer setups.


High Precision and Reliability

With more setups than CNC machining, manual machinists lose precise alignments during fabrication. Minimal setups in 5-axis CNC milling reduce errors and improve accuracy for high-quality results.

Modern 5-axis machines eliminate the need to reposition workpieces at different angles during machining. Thus, improved machining tolerances are assured. Some machine configurations allow shorter cutting tools. This prolongs tool life and repeatability.


Fast Cutting Speed

5-axis machining ensures that the cutting tools are parallel to the cutting surfaces. This makes it possible for more material to be removed each time the tool turns. So, it cuts down on cycle times and machining costs.


Improved Surface Finishes

In this method, the extra axes ensure the workpieces are aligned correctly, bringing them closer to the cutting tool. So, you can make the shapes you want with shorter cutting tools. These shorter tools can cut at very high speeds with almost no vibration.


Common Uses of 5-Axis CNC Machining

5-axis CNC machining can make parts useful in a wide range of industries because they are efficient and can be made in complex shapes.



5-axis CNC machining can help companies that make medical equipment make devices, implants, and other equipment that need to be made with extra precision to meet strict healthcare standards.



Another industry where 5-axis CNC machining is used to make the needed parts. Some of the uses include parts for submarines, high-performance engine components, turbine and compressor blades, smart weapons, sensors, stealth applications, and even nuclear weapons in some cases.


Yangsen: Your Smart 5-axis CNC Machine Partner

Undoubtedly, 5-axis CNC machines make it easier to make complicated parts. But only some designs are worth making with a 5-axis machine. For example, using 3- or 4-axis CNC machines to make holes, cutouts, and cavities with high precision might be better. That's why we always tell people to talk to an expert on CNC machining before they start making things.

Yangsen is one of the best CNC machining companies in the world. We have experts and engineers who know how to use CNC machining, and we also have a wide scope of advanced CNC machining technologies, such as three-, four-, and 5-axis CNC machines.

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