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a 5 axis cnc milling machine working on complex parts

5 Axis CNC Machine Buyer Guide

Computer numerical control machines are often referred to by their cutting capabilities, such as 3-axis, 4-axis, and 5-axis machining centers (even some have 6-axis and beyond). But a 5-axis milling CNC machine is an advanced manufacturing tool with simultaneous 5-axis operation. The ability to cut across 5-axes sets it apart from the 3-axis machines. It integrates the traditional X-Y-Z linear axes with two additional ones, the A and B axes.

If you’re in the market for a new CNC machine, whether it’s a lathe, router, mill, or other type, we have a comprehensive explanation of 5-axis CNC machines and their benefits so you make the best choice.

5 Axis CNC Machining Explained

example graphic of 5 axis cncIn Computer Numerical Control machining, an “axis” is a direction in which the machine moves. These movements help shape the material into the desired form. The most common axes in CNC machines are labeled as X, Y, and Z:

  1. X-Axis: Moves side to side (horizontal).
  2. Y-Axis: Moves up and down (vertical).
  3. Z-Axis: Moves in and out, like drilling into a material.

Advanced CNC machines, like those with five axes or six axes, have more movements:

  1. A-Axis: Rotates around the X-axis.
  2. B-Axis: Rotates around the Y-axis.
  3. C-Axis: Sometimes, there’s a C-axis for rotation around the Z-axis.

These extra axes allow you to machine complex shapes and designs. In simpler 3-axis CNC machines, the machining process is limited to the X, Y, and Z directions. But with 5-axis machines, the added rotation lets you create more detailed and intricate parts, which is great for precise and complex work in various industries.

These rotational axes enable the workpiece or cutting tool to pivot around the X and Y axes, enhancing motion range and geometric accuracy. Sometimes, the machine may use the C-axis, which revolves along the Z-axis, instead of the B-axis. This allows it to work on complex parts which other smaller machines cannot handle.

Types of 5-Axis Machines

Discussions and reviews of 5-axis CNC machines often revolve around 5-axis CNC milling machines, but multiple types of machines can have 5-axis capabilities, both milling, turning, and more:

  1. 5-Axis Milling Machines: These horizontal machining centers or vertical machining centers cut and shape materials from different angles and are designed for making complicated parts.
  2. 5-Axis Lathes or Turning Centers: These are like regular lathes but can do extra stuff like drilling and making unique shapes.
  3. 5-Axis Grinding Machines: Used for making parts smooth and precise, simultaneously working on different sides.
  4. 5-Axis Plasma Cutters: Good for cutting shapes out of metal and can make edges and curves.
  5. 5-Axis Waterjet Cutters: Similar to plasma cutters, except these machines use water to cut. They can handle many materials and make complex cuts.
  6. 5-Axis Router Machines: Often used in woodworking to make detailed cuts and designs.

Popular 5-Axis Machining Brands

Five-axis CNC machines come from a variety of makers and distributors.

Popular machining brands with 5-axis machines include Haas, Mazak, Hermle, Okuma, and Hurco. Mazak is respected for its durable and precise machines. Hermle, a German company, is famous for its precision, especially in high-tech areas like aerospace. Okuma, from Japan, has been making quality machines for over a hundred years.

Hurco’s 5-axis machines are known for being user-friendly and versatile. These companies are liked because they make reliable, high-tech machines and provide good support.

Features To Consider

When shopping for a 5-axis CNC machine, some of the most crucial aspects to focus on include:

  • The size and work envelope, which are vital because they determine the maximum size of the part you can machine. You want to ensure the machine can handle the typical size of your projects.
  • The spindle’s speed and power are key to the machine’s cutting capabilities, especially for working with hard materials faster.
  • Precision and accuracy are paramount in 5-axis CNC machining, particularly if your work demands tight tolerances and intricate detailing.
  • The control system should be user-friendly and capable of handling the complex programming that 5-axis machining requires. It’s also important that this system integrates smoothly with your existing CAD/CAM software.

While other features like tool capacity and construction are important, these four areas are essential in determining the machine’s overall performance and suitability for your specific machining needs.

Cost of 5-Axis CNC Machines

The cost of a 5-axis CNC machine varies but can range from $30,000 all the way up to $500,000+ for large-scale industrial machines.

The basic, smaller 5-axis CNC machines, suitable for small jobs or smaller workshops, can cost between $30,000 and $100,000. These are great for shops just starting with 5-axis machining or doing smaller projects that require CNC capabilities.

Mid-range 5-axis CNC machines can cost from $100,000 to $300,000 for more complicated work. These offer better features for more detailed work but are still reasonably priced.

The biggest and most advanced 5-axis machines, used for heavy-duty work in big factories, can cost a lot more, sometimes over $500,000. Big companies that need to do very precise and high-volume work usually buy these.

Before buying your machine, consider the machine maker’s reputation and whether it has a warranty (especially if it is used).

The Benefits of 5-Axis Machines

While the price can cause some sticker shock, especially for first-time upgraders, there are so many benefits to consider. Above all, these machines pay for themselves. Five-axis machining centers offer a range of benefits that make them a valuable asset for machinists. With advanced 5-axis capabilities, these centers enhance machining capabilities, allowing for more complex and precise cuts.

Machinists can create intricate parts with fewer setups, which saves time. Additionally, the ability to perform multiple machining operations with a single machine reduces the need for multiple tools, streamlining the manufacturing process. Investing in a 5-axis machining center is a smart choice for machine shops looking to increase efficiency and precision.

Automation

One of the primary benefits of the 5-axis CNC machine is the reduction in lead times. Unlike its 3-axis machine tools, which often need manual repositioning of the workpiece for various tasks, the 5-axis machine brings automation to this process. This not only minimizes human error but also boosts the efficiency of the manufacturing operation and makes it more cost-effective.

These machines are particularly suited for crafting complex parts in a single setup, leading to shorter cycle times,

High Precision Machining

Five-axis CNC machines are more precise than 3-axis or 4-axis machines because they can move in more ways. These machines can tilt and rotate the workpiece, allowing the tool to cut from different angles in one setup. This means there’s less need to move the piece, which can cause mistakes manually. The extra movements help the tool stay in the right position, reducing errors like tool bending or shaking.

Precise Surface Finish

Five-axis CNC machines give better surface finishes than 3-axis or 4-axis machines. Surface finish means how smooth or rough the surface of a part is. This is important because it affects how the part looks and works. With 5-axis machines, the tool can easily reach different parts of the material, keeping the cutting smooth and even. This means less chance of leaving marks or rough spots. Also, because these machines can move in more ways, they don’t need to stop and move the part around as much. This helps keep the surface more consistent and smooth, which is important for making high-quality parts in industries like aerospace or medical devices.

Common Uses

The versatility of 5-axis CNC machines is evident in their wide range of applications across diverse sectors. While 3-axis machines are capable of plenty of projects, many industries

They are indispensable in the aerospace industry for fabricating complex geometries and precision-critical parts like aero-engine elements and airframes.

In the medical field, the precision of 5-axis CNC machines is crucial for producing complex and organic-shaped orthopedic implants and medical devices. They are also instrumental in the energy sector, particularly in manufacturing turbine parts, such as those in wind turbines, where precision is key to optimal performance.

Five-axis CNC machines also play a pivotal role in the automotive sector by developing and producing various components. Their advanced capabilities are particularly beneficial for creating prototypes, engine parts, and custom-designed elements integral to high-performance vehicles. The precision and ability to produce intricate designs offered by these machines are essential for the meticulous manufacturing standards required in the automotive sector.

Also, in the energy field, 5-axis CNC machines are vital for producing parts for turbines, notably in wind energy. The precision and consistency these machines offer are crucial for fabricating turbine components. Accurate and finely crafted parts are essential for the efficient functioning of turbines, and the 5-axis CNC machine’s ability to produce such components reliably and efficiently makes it an invaluable asset in the energy sector, particularly in renewable energy.

Upgrading Your Existing Machine

a rotary table on a 5 axis cnc machineIf you need the capability of a 5th axis but aren’t ready to go all-in with a new machine, it is possible to upgrade your existing machine.

This process can be complex and may not work for every machine. It generally involves adding a rotary table or a trunnion table to the existing machine, which provides the additional rotational axes needed for 5-axis machining.

About Peter Jacobs

Peter Jacobs is the Senior Director of Marketing at CNC Masters, a leading supplier of CNC mills, milling machines, and CNC lathes. He is actively involved in manufacturing processes and regularly contributes his insights for various blogs in CNC machining, 3D printing, rapid tooling, injection molding, metal casting, and manufacturing in general. You can connect with him on his LinkedIn.

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29. Create a Peck Drilling Program in Circular or Rectangular Patterns
Using the Circular or Rectangular Drilling Wizards, you can program the machine to drill an un-limited series of holes along the X and Y planes. Program it to drill straight through to your total depth, use a high-speed pecking cycle, or deep hole pecking cycle. You can program the cut-in depth and return point for a controlled peck drill application to maximize chip clearance.

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20. Change up to 30 tools with compensation, and store your tool offsets for other programs
The MX supports…

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21. Use the optional ATC rack up to 8 tools for milling, drilling, and rigid tapping applications
The CNC Masters Automatic Tool Changer Rack and Tools (US Patent 9,827,640B2) can be added to any CNC Masters Milling Machine built with the rigid tapping encoder option. The tutorial will guide you through the set-up procedure using the ATC tools.

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22. Use the optional Rigid Tapping Wizard without the need for tapping head attachments
When you order your CNC Masters machine, have it built with the optional rigid tapping encoder. You can take any drill cycle program and replace the top line with a tapping code created by the wizard to tap your series of holes up to 1/2” in diameter.

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23. Use the optional Digital Probe to scan the profile and/or pockets of your fun/hobby type designs to write your tool path program and machine out a duplicate of your original design To “surface” scan an object, you can program the probe along the X or Y plane. The stylus will travel over the part starting on the left side front corner of the object and work its way to the end of the part on the right side. Depending on how the stylus moves, it will record linear and interpolated movements along the X, Y, and Z planes directly on the MX Editor.
To “pocket” scan an object containing a closed pocket such as circles or squares, the scan will start from the top front, work its way inside of the pocket, and scan the entire perimeter of the pocket.
Under the Setup of the MX software you will find the Probe Tab which will allow you to calibrate and program your probe. Your “Probe Step”, “Feed”, and “Data Filter” can also be changed on the fly while the probe is in the middle of scanning your object.

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24. Use work offsets G54-G59 for nesting applications
The work offsets offer you a way to program up to six different machining locations. It’s like having multiple 0.0 locations for different parts. This is very useful especially when using sub-routines/nesting applications.

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25. Create a Rectangular Pocket / Slot with our selection of Wizards to help you build a tool path program
The Cycle Wizards for the mill or lathe makes it easy to create a simple tool path without needing to use a CAD and CAM software.
On this Wizard, the Rectangular Pocket / Slots, can be used to form a deep rectangular pocket into your material or machine a slot duplicating as many passes needed to its total depth.

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26. Create a Circular Pocket Wizard
Input the total diameter, the step down, and total depth and the code will be generated.

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27. Do Thread Milling using a single point cutter Wizard

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28. Cut a gear out using the Cut Gear Wizard with the optional Fourth Axis

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19. Disable the axis motors to manually hand crank each axis into place
Easily de-energize the axis motors by clicking [Disable Motors] to crank each axis by hand, and then press [Reset Control] to re-energize the axis motors.

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30. The MX interface can easily be interchanged from Mill Mode to Lathe Mode
Use this interface for your CNC Masters Lathe. It contains all the same user-friendly features and functions that comes in Mill Mode. Simply go to the Setup page and change the interface.

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31. Use Tool Change Compensation or the optional Auto Tool Changer Turret if your application requires more than one tool in a single program
You can offset the length and angle of each tool and record it under Tools in your Setup. The program will automatically pause the lathe’s movement and spindle allowing you to change out your tool, or allowing the optional ATC Turret to quickly turn to its next tool and continue machining.
On the MX interface, you also have four Tool Position buttons. Select your desired T position, and the auto tool post will quickly turn and lock itself to that position.

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32. Use the Lathe Wizard Threading Cycle to help you program your lathe’s internal or external threads in inches or metric

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33. Use the Lathe Wizard Turning / Boring Cycle to help you program simple turning and boring cycles without having to go through a CAM or writing a long program with multiple passes

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34. Use the Lathe Wizard Peck Drilling Cycle to help you program your drill applications or for face grooving

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35. Facing / Grooving / Part Off Cycle Wizards – with Constant Surface Speed
These cycles can be used with Constant Surface Speed allowing the spindle speed to increase automatically as the diameter of the part decreases giving your application a consistent workpiece finish. With CSS built into the wizard, there is no need to break down the cycle into multiple paths and multiple spindle speed changes.

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36. This is our list of supported G and M codes which can be found under Tools > G Code/ M Code List in the MX
If you plan to use a third-party CAM software to generate your tool path program, use a generic FANUC post processor and edit it to match our list of codes. As an option, we also sell Visual mill/turn CAM software which comes with a guaranteed post processor for our machines to easily generate your tool path programs based on your CAD drawings.

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37. Our pledge to you…

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10. Run each tool path independently to study its movement
1. Run the machine on Trace mode. You can run each tool path independently, one line at a time to study the tool path movement on the machine to verify the position of the application and if any fixture/vise is in the way of the cutter’s path.

2. You can also verify your program by clicking on the Trace and Draw buttons together. This will allow you to view each tool path independently one line at a time in the Draw Window.

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2. Clutter Free Interface
The MX is engineered for the CNC MASTERS machine so you do not have to fiddle with a detailed complicated configuration that can be overwhelming. Just load in the MX and start machining!2. Clutter Free Interface
The MX is engineered for the CNC MASTERS machine so you do not have to fiddle with a detailed complicated configuration that can be overwhelming. Just load in the MX and start machining!

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3. Features Tour and Tutorials Included
The Features Tour will give you a quick run-down on all the features the MX can do for you. The Tutorials are easy to follow even for the first time CNC machinist.
Feel free to download the MX on any of your computers. We recommend downloading the MX along with your CAD and CAM software there at the comfort of your office computer to generate your tool path programs. You don’t need to be hooked up to the machine either to test your program in simulation mode.

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4. Navigate and Edit Your Program through the MX interface with Ease
With a few clicks of the mouse or using touch screen technology, you can easily navigate through the MX interface importing saved programs into the Editor from the File drop down menu. Using standard windows features to edit your program you can then lock the Editor Screen to avoid accidental editing, and if you need to insert a line in the middle of a program, just click on [ReNum] to re-number your tool path list.
You can create a program or import CAM generated G-code tool paths into the Editor
The X Y and Z W arrow jog buttons are displayed from the point of view of the cutter to avoid confusion when the table and saddle are moving. You can also adjust your spindle speed and coolant control while jogging each axis.

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5. Feed Hold – Pause in the Middle of your Program
Feed Hold lets you pause in the middle of a program. From there you can step through your program one line at time while opting to shut the spindle off and then resume your program.
You can also write PAUSE in the middle of your program and jog each axis independently while your program is in pause mode.

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6. Hot Keys
Hot Keys is an alternative method to easily control your machine using your hard or touch screen keyboard. One can press P to pause a program, press S to turn Spindle On, G to run a program, Space Bar to Stop, J to record your individual movements one line at a time to create a program in teach mode.

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7. Pick Menu – for conversational mode programming
Write FANUC style G-codes directly into the Editor or select commands off the [Pick] menu and write your tool path program in conversational mode such as what is written in the Editor box. You can even mix between conversation commands and G-codes in the same program.

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8. Pick Menu List of Options
Use commands such as MOVE, SPINDLE ON/OFF, COOLANT ON/OFF, PAUSE, DELAY, GO HOME…. to write your tool path programs in conversational mode.

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9. Draw the Tool Path to verify it before pressing Go
Hit Draw to view your tool path program drawing, check out its run time, or even simulate the tool path in 3D mode. This can be helpful to quickly verify your program before running it. You can also slow down or speed up the drawing or simulation process.
You can also hit Go within the Draw Window itself to verify the cutter’s position on the machine. The current tool path will be highlighted and simultaneously draw out the next path so you can verify what the cutter will be doing next on the program.

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MX Software – Easy to Use, Easy to Learn – Included with your machine purchase
The MX software is designed to work seamlessly with your CNC Masters machine. It is made to work with Windows PC – desktop, laptop, or an all in one – on standard USB. Use it on Windows 8 or 10 64-bit operating systems.
No internal conversion printer/serial port to USB software or additional conversion hardware is used with the MX.

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11. Counters display in Inches or Millimeters – Continuous Feed
1. When running a program, the counters will display a “real-time” readout while the machine is in CNC operation without counting ahead of the movement.
2. The current tool path is highlighted while the machine is in operation without causing slight interruptions/pauses as the software feeds the tool path to the machine. The MX internally interprets a program ten lines ahead to allow for “continuous machining” avoiding slight interruptions as the machine waits for its next tool path command.
3. “Run Time” tells you how long it takes to run your tool path program.

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12. Use the “Go From Line” command to start in the middle of your program
If you ever need to begin your program from somewhere in the middle of it, use [Go From Line] which you can find under Tools. The Help guide will walk you through how to position the cutter without losing its position on the machine.

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13. Exact Motion Distance without over-stepping on an axis while jogging
Use “Relative ON” to enter a specific coordinate to jog any of your axes to an exact location without having to write a program. It’s like using “power feed” but easier. You can jog an exact distance on any of the axes without needing to keep the key pressed down and mistakenly over-step the movement releasing your finger too slowly off the jog button.
Let’s say you need to drill a hole exactly 0.525” using the Z. So you enter 0.525 in the Z box. Next, adjust the JOG FEED RATE slider for the desired feed rate. Then “click once” on the +Z or -Z button to activate the travel. In this case you click once the -Z button first to drill the hole exactly 0.525”. Then click once on the +Z button to drive the axis back up 0.525”.

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14. Teach Mode – Jog Input
You can create a tool path program by storing each point-to-point movement by simply jogging an axis one at a time. Click on either of the Jog Input buttons to store each movement on the Editor Screen. You can then add Spindle ON, feed commands, and press GO to run the new program as needed. This is a great feature to help you learn to create a program by the movements you make on the machine without necessarily writing out an entire program first.

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15. Override on the fly to adjust the Jog Feed to Rapid or the Spindle Speed during the middle of a program
1. Jog Feed and Rapid with Override: You can adjust feeds using the slider from slow minimum 0.1″ per minute to a rapid of 100″ per minute of travel. You can even micro-step your jog as low as 0.01”/min. The [-][+] buttons allow you to fine tune feeds in 5% increments while the program is in motion.
2. Spindle Speed with Override: You can adjust speeds using the slider from a slow minimum RPM to the max RPM according to the machine setup. The [-][+] buttons allow you to fine tune feeds in 5% increments while the program is in motion.

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16. Adjust Counters using Pre-Set if you cannot begin the program from 0.00
In a situation where you cannot begin your cutter at it’s 0.00 location, you can “Pre-Set” directly into the counters by typing in your beginning coordinate. You can press Go from here to run your program. You can also “zero all” or “zero” your counters independently. With one click of the [Return to 0.0] button, all axes will travel back to its respective 0.0 on the machine.

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17. Set and Save your 0.00 position for future runs
Set and save your 0.00 position on the machine. These coordinates will be recorded as the first line of the program in the Editor Screen. Should you desire to return to this program at a later date, you only have to click on the Set Zero Return button. This will command the machine to automatically jog each axis to its saved “set” 0.00 position according to the recorded coordinates at the first line of the program.

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18. Create a “Home” position to clear your application and run multiple times
Let’s say you need to machine one application times 100 pieces. This usually requires a jig to retain that physical 0.00 position. But in this case, you want the program to end with a clearance of the axes to easily switch out the next piece of stock and start again. With Save Home, you have the ability to save this offset (home) position while still retaining your Set Zero position where the machine will mill your part out. Pressing [Save Home] will record this new position under the Set Zero line in your program.
Pressing [Go Home] will jog your axes back to your “saved home” position where you originally pressed the Save Home command. You can also input GO_HOME from the Pick Menu as its own tool path in your program. At the completion of your program the axes will end at your Home position. Replace your part, then press [Return to 0.0] button to allow the axes to return to its zero position, and press Go to start your next run.

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