Increasing Productivity with 5-axis Machining

06 December 2023
3 vs 5 axis machining

Report by Danny Weller

In 5-axis machining, programmers harness the potential of the three linear axes alongside two of the rotary axes: A (rotational movement around the X-axis), B (rotational movement around the Y-axis), and/or C (rotational movement around the Z-axis).

Multiaxis machining involves the dynamic movement of a cutting machine, significantly expanding its capabilities beyond the basic linear axes (X, Y, and Z). A multiaxis machining center offers the flexibility to maneuver either its cutting tool or workpiece along these linear axes and further utilizes rotary axes (A, B, and/or C) around each linear axis.

The expanded range of motion in machining processes translates to increased efficiency. Despite the profitability associated with 5-axis machining, its complexity can be intimidating. If you’re uncertain whether integrating 5-axis machining into your shop is suitable for you, keep reading.


5 axis machining
Image: Wikimedia Commons

How does 5-axis CNC machining work?

In CNC machining, parts are shaped through cutting tools and subtractive machining techniques that sculpt the workpiece to achieve the intended form. This predetermined shape originates from the initial CAD (Computer-Aided Design) file. To execute this design, a G-Code program is generated, delivering precise instructions directly to the CNC machine for production.


Typically, CNC Milling machines operate with three axes—X, Y, and Z. Yet, 5-axis CNC machines expand this capability by incorporating additional axes, allowing for multi-angle cutting and enabling the creation of more complex and intricate designs. Axes A, B, and C are introduced in these machines to enhance their cutting capabilities.


These additional axes collaborate with X, Y, and Z, operating in rotational angles to empower a 5-axis cutting machine, capable of crafting intricate designs while maintaining exceptional quality in the finished piece. Axes A, B, and C maneuver independently from X, Y, and Z in rotational movements. The machine’s configuration or CAD design dictates the selection of two out of the three supplementary rotational axes used. However, this advanced 5-axis configuration entails increased costs due to heightened calibration requirements and the sophisticated automation technology necessary for operating the CNC machine and executing commands.


Within precision engineering technology, 5-axis machining stands out as a leading solution, offering unparalleled precision in industries such as automotive, aerospace, and medical sectors, among others. It remains a flagship engineering process known for its exceptional capabilities.

5 axis machining
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Start with 3 + 2 Machining

Before diving into the complexities of 5-axis machining, consider starting with 3 + 2 machining, also known as positional 5-axis machining. In this method, a standard 3-axis milling program is utilized, but the cutting tool operates at a fixed angle along one of the rotary axes. Unlike simultaneous 5-axis machining where the tool adjusts continuously, here, it remains static and locked at a specific angle throughout the process.

The primary advantage of incorporating a 3 + 2 setup into your existing vertical machine is its reduction in additional setups, leading to decreased cycle times and cost savings. An easy way to begin is by attaching a dual rotary device to your 3-axis machine’s table.

In simultaneous 5-axis machining, the machine employs three linear axes (X, Y, and Z) alongside two rotational axes (A and B) simultaneously, enabling intricate part processing. However, in 3 + 2 machining, the machine follows a 3-axis milling routine while the cutting tool remains fixed at a tilted angle using its two rotational axes. This process, also referred to as 5-axis positional machining, relies on the fourth and fifth axes to orient the cutting tool statically, rather than adjusting it continuously throughout the machining process.

5 axis machining
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Benefits of 5-axis Machining

The expanded range of motion in a 5-axis machine allows for comprehensive part cutting, reaching virtually every inch of a part. Its ability to maneuver around the work-holding device significantly reduces the need for multiple setups—potentially minimizing what would have been a dozen setups to just one or two.

This machine eliminates the need for constant manual intervention. No longer will you have to pause machining, extract the part, readjust its position, and resume cutting repeatedly. With a 5-axis machine, you can redirect your attention to other projects while it operates autonomously, making it an ideal choice for lights-out production. This increased efficiency results in more parts manufactured within the same timeframe, thereby shortening lead times throughout the shop.


Produce Better Finishes


5-axis machines inherently boast extended reach compared to their 3-axis counterparts, enabling the utilization of shorter cutting tools. These shorter tools significantly reduce vibration and deflection, particularly at high speeds, enhancing overall machining stability.

Moreover, the likelihood of misalignment escalates with multiple setups. However, when a part is processed with only one setup, this risk is substantially mitigated, leading to superior relational accuracy. This precision extends to more accurate roughing, avoiding gouges, and achieving superior surface finishes of higher quality.


Machine More Complex Parts


In the realm of machining, 5-axis technology transcends limitations imposed by fixturing or tool length, enabling the creation of intricate 3D shapes. The additional axes empower both the cutting tool and workpiece to navigate new arcs and assume diverse angles, all while actively engaging with the material. Unlike the constraints of 3-axis machining, 5-axis opens up possibilities for complex geometries that were once deemed impossible.


5 axis machining
Image: Wikimedia Commons


5-Axis Machining Configurations


The three axes—X, Y, and Z—operate similarly to those in a 3-axis CNC machine, following the same calibration and movement principles. The movement of the two additional axes in five-axis machining is governed by the CNC program, which precisely inputs instructions for the machine’s operation.


In the realm of 5-axis CNC machining, two fundamental styles prevail:

Trunnion Style: A trunnion-style 5-axis machine operates by employing an A-axis rotating around the X-axis and a C-axis rotating around the Z-axis. The rotary movement of the table signifies the operation of these axes. This type is particularly suitable for larger work volumes, eliminating the necessity to account for space occupied by a swiveling handle.

Swivel Rotate Style: A swivel rotate style 5-axis machine operates with a B-axis rotating around the Y-axis and a C-axis rotating around the Z-axis. Unlike other styles, this machine keeps the table horizontal throughout the cutting process, allowing it to accommodate heavier parts. The rotary movement of the cutting arm defines the operation of these axes.


CNC machining materials
Image: Carlos Muza

What is the Cost of 5-axis CNC Machining?


The overall cost is contingent on the project’s specifics and the production volume required. Apart from the initial investment in a 5-axis machine, 5-axis CNC machining demands more extensive setup procedures before commencing part production. This higher initial setup cost in preproduction phases can render low volumes or one-off parts more expensive compared to their equivalents produced on a 3-axis machine.

This is reasonable considering that 5-axis machines inherently possess greater complexity and dynamism compared to CNC machines with fewer axes. 5-axis milling machines exhibit enhanced time efficiency as they are engineered to finalize parts seamlessly, requiring minimal intervention. Typically, a single operation suffices to complete a workpiece, significantly reducing downtime. Additionally, the reduced fixturing requirements prove especially advantageous for the production of more intricate, organic parts.


Combine It with Specialized Software


AMFG’s Instant Quote tool and award-winning MES software streamline your CNC Machining processes, cutting your quoting time down to 90 seconds, boosting your revenue, and ensuring consistency and accuracy across your quoting operations. Supercharge your success with AMFG.





AMFG is a leading provider of MES software for manufacturing. Our software solutions empower manufacturers, allowing them to manage their workflows and achieve streamlined, automated processes.

With over 500 successful implementations in 35 countries and across a range of industries, we specialize in enabling companies to successfully integrate our software for AM and CNC production, into their wider manufacturing processes and scale their AM operations. 

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