Doing More With Less: Increasing Productivity With Five-Axis Machining

By MC Machinery Applications Engineer Lukasz Bucko

Five-axis machining can solve modern challenges, including worker shortages, high demand and shorter lead times.

It also can reduce cycle and setup time, improve accuracy, provide a smoother finish, orient workpieces for optimal results, and more.

Let’s start with the basics. Machining axis count refers to the number of directions in which the CNC cutting tool (or workpiece) can move.

  • With three-axis machines, the cutting tool can move across the X, Y and Z axes.
  • Five-axis machines have two additional axis that tilt and rotate the table holding the work piece, the tool, or a combination of the two.

The OPS Ingersoll Eagle V9 is a flexible five-axis machine with coolant systems or graphite/dry versions.

Applications for five-axis machining include:

  • Aerospace: Engine parts, structural components, satellite and spacecraft components.
  • Automotive: Engine blocks, cylinder heads, gearboxes, transmission components, suspension and steering components.
  • Energy: Complex turbine components, valves, fittings and renewable energy equipment.
  • Medical: Medical devices and instruments, such as surgical tools, orthopedic implants and diagnostic equipment components,
  • Mold and Die:  Injection molds, die casting dies, forging dies, and more.

Benefits of Five-axis Machining

One of the biggest advantages of using five-axis machining is the reduction of setup and cycle time, even with complex and difficult to reach geometries. Other benefits include:

  • Can access multiple sides with a single setup
  • Reduces the need for intricate fixtures
  • Depending on the part geometries, five-axis machines can sometimes machine the part in one operation
  • Reduces chance of human error
  • Doing one setup makes it easier to blend multiple toolpaths together.
  • Makes it easier to machine multi-axis pockets​ and small corner radiuses​

Five-axis machining also can improve accuracy and surface uniformity, in part because using smaller/shorter tools can create a more uniform surface. Also, the machine dynamics allow it to finish in one or two paths and tilting the tool off the centerline achieves better finishes. ​

Because five-axis machines automatically orient work pieces, they more easily achieve deep cavities and thick webs. This is because they can get into tight spots with their rotation/tilting capability. Using tool holders specifically designed for five-axis work also helps get into the deep corners and cavities.

Five-axis machining allows the use of shorter tools, which reduces chatter and results in precise roughing and a smoother surface finish. It also results in increased tool life and more accurate parts. Because operators are able to get more aggressive with shorter tools, the cycle times are shorter.

Five-axis machining allows for multi-sided, in-machine inspection for improved process control, reduction of setup and down time and lights-out machining. Using a probe allows for greater quality control and it can automatically align castings or angled planes. It also can prevent having to stop for operator intervention or manual checks.

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