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What Is 5-Axis CNC Machining and Do You Need It?

What Is 5-Axis CNC Machining and Do You Need It?

Also known as multi-axis machining, 5-axis CNC machining is a process for manufacturing parts out of metal. The process involves using tools that move in five different directions to mill away extra material until the desired shape appears. These machines are guided by computers so that they are milled to precise specifications.

That’s why they’re called CNC machines. CNC stands for “computer numerically controlled.” Many of them only move in three or four different directions. Five-axis machining is a faster and more precise system because the base material does not have to be moved as much to hit the proper shapes. Typically, this is done by laser cutting or water jet cutting.

Improvements of 5 Axis Machines

The typical CNC machine is a 3-axis machine. To convert from 3-axis into 5-axis machines, new software systems had to be written. They are now available to convert tool paths for 3- axis machines into tool paths for 5-axis machines. This is more than worth it, though.

In a three axis machine, the piece sometimes has to be turned by hand during the machining. With a 5 axis machine, it does not have to be turned, reducing the amount of human labor and the amount of time it takes.

The surface of the tool can be finished much finer because the tools work more efficiently when they move tangentially. They can create fine lines and smoother surfaces because there is less interference between tooled components. Also, you can mill much more complex items with more axes. Specifically, it is very difficult and sometimes impossible to mill curved holes with fewer axes.

Monetary Considerations

If you have a machine shop or if you produce a lot of an item, you might consider doing your 5-axis cnc machining. You need to consider how much money that might save. Chances are you’ll still save money by outsourcing your needs. If you own a machine shop but don’t have a 5-axis machine, you might send your multi-axis needs to another shop. If you have a lot of orders that require more axis, then you might save money by buying the machine yourself, but that would have to be an awful lot. Otherwise, it’s probably cheaper just to outsource the occasional order. You also have to consider if you have the software needed to convert 3-axis tool paths into 5-axis tool paths. That software could be yet another expense that you have to account for.

When you account for the amount of money you have to spend on the new CNC machine, the money you have to spend on the conversion software, and the money you have to spend on raw materials, it is very unlikely you can save money by buying a machine yourself.

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