5-Axis Machining

The Essential Guide to 5-Axis Machining



5-axis CNC machining is quickly becoming the ‘gold standard’ in precision engineering, with many manufacturers recognising its benefits. It is particularly useful for industries that require complex components or rely on exacting tolerances and exceptionally high standards of production.

At Redline CNC, we offer a complete 5-axis CNC machining service for manufacturers in the defence, automotive, energy, medical, and aerospace sectors. We recognise that in these industries many components are highly intricate, with the safety of the end-user often in jeopardy if parts are machined incorrectly, so we combine the latest CNC technology with exceptional training and knowledge to deliver outstanding results every time.

In this guide, we’ll discuss what 5-axis CNC machining is, its benefits, and any practical issues you should consider when deciding whether to invest in our precision engineering services for your manufacturing project.

What is 5-Axis CNC Machining?

5-axis CNC machining is a versatile and reliable process that uses Computer Numerical Control (CNC) and subtractive machining to create complex components.

In CNC machining, specialist Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software is pre-programmed to precisely control the movement of cutting tools, with a complex set of commands able to be executed. This is a significant advancement over manual machining methods for larger production runs, which are time-intensive and prone to errors as the machine operator must complete each cutting action in-person. In contrast, CNC machining is automated, so machining processes can continue with minimal human supervision or intervention.

The shape of the completed machined component is determined by the initial CAD file, hence the importance of inputting accurate data into the software. The software converts the data to G-code format and provides instructions to the CNC machine to ensure that the part is machined exactly in line with the required specification.

Historically CNC machining has involved the use of three primary linear axes: X, Y, and Z. In 5-axis machining, two additional rotary axes (A, B, or C) are introduced, increasing the manoeuvrability of the cutting tools. The cutting tools move along axes A, B, and C independently of the X, Y, and Z axes in a rotating manner, meaning more complex components can be machined, including three-dimensional parts – so long as accurate instructions are inputted into the CAD software before the production run commences.

cnc machining

What Are the Benefits of 5-Axis CNC Machining?

5-axis CNC machining offers significant benefits for manufacturers who have complex machining requirements or need exceptionally accurate machining and repeatability. The method is often chosen where it would not be possible or cost-effective to quickly produce components with other techniques.

1) Exceptional Versatility and Speed

With 5-axis CNC machining, time-consuming casting is not required, so complex parts can be created more quickly. As machining is computer-controlled and automated, long runs can be completed with superior consistency, while short runs and prototypes can also be produced without excessive time delays.

2) Improved Efficiency

A single set-up enables a 5-axis CNC machine to produce a complex component without the need for constant operator intervention or alterations to the inputted instructions. This saves time and manpower as less set-ups are required overall. By improving efficiency, manufacturing time and costs will be reduced, delivering welcome cost savings and competitive prices for customers.

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3) Fast Cutting Speeds

In 5-axis CNC machining, shorter cutting tools are used as the head can be positioned to achieve optimum orientation. Rapid machining is possible without excessive wear to the cutter or irregularities on the surface of the component. Therefore, machined components are of a consistently higher quality with a superior surface finish.

4) Flexible Probe Orientations

With 5-axis CNC machining, operators can probe at any head orientation or surface vector, meaning they can conduct inspections in the same way as on a Coordinate Measuring Machine (CMM), saving time and improving the quality of machined parts.

precision cutting

5) Collision Avoidance

Reliable equipment is vital in precision engineering, as downtime and unscheduled maintenance are costly. In 5-axis CNC machining, the cutting tool or table can be easily repositioned or tilted to improve agility and eradicates the risk of collisions between key components which would usually result in damage to equipment and materials.

When Is 5-Axis CNC Machining a Good Choice?

If you currently use 3-axis machining in your production runs, stepping up to 5-axis CNC machining is a logical progression for certain applications, opening new avenues to grow your business. 5-axis machining is particularly well-suited in the following circumstances:

1) You need to manufacture complex parts.

The most significant advantage of 5-axis machining is that it increases the complexity of parts that you can machine. Access to 5-axis CNC machining means your business could tap into lucrative new areas of expertise, such as the aerospace, medical, or automotive industries, forging new sales channels.

2) Your part requirements have changed.

The machining process is often determined by the size, tolerances, and features of the workpiece. When these requirements change, it may be time to reconsider whether you need an alternative approach.

5-axis CNC capabilities mean the shift towards more complex geometries and tighter tolerances can be accommodated. A review of your current requirements and potential to expand will give you an insight into whether investing in 5-axis machining would be a financially rewarding step.

3) You need to produce a high volume of a single component.

Rapid machining is the key to improving your business’s profitability and viability, particularly in times of economic challenge or high demand. If sluggish machining is hindering your ability to supply the parts that your customers want, a solution that delivers faster turnaround times, while maintaining exceptional quality, is crucial.

With 5-axis CNC machining, even complex parts can be manufactured quickly, with only a single set-up required. High levels of repeatability mean that every part is manufactured precisely to the desired specification, with each individual component an exact replica of the last, with no deviation undermining the quality of the entire run.

rapid machining

4) You want to improve the surface finish of your parts.

Product quality is a key target in manufacturing, as it determines both the efficacy of a component and customer satisfaction. Machine vibration – often the result of longer cutting tools – can hamper efforts to achieve a superior surface finish.

With 5-axis machining, by rotating the fourth and fifth axes the part can be positioned so that it is closer to the cutting tool. This allows a shorter tool to be used, which is less prone to vibration when higher cutting speeds are in operation, resulting in a better surface finish and a higher quality product.

5-axis machining

What Different 5-Axis Machining Configurations Are There?

With 5-axis CNC machining, there are two configurations possible, which affect the movement of the additional axes (the X, Y, and Z axes working in the same way as on a 3-axis machine):

1) Trunnion Style

A Trunnion style 5-axis CNC machine has an A-axis which rotates around the X-axis, and a C-axis which rotates around the Z-axis. Both rotary axes are contained within the trunnion table and the cutting head is always stationary.

The Trunnion style CNC machine is suited to:

  • Heavy metal removal, with more torque at lower RPMs and less chance of the head being pushed out of position.
  • Larger work volumes.
  • Better undercut capabilities, as the table can tilt further than swivel head configurations.

2) Swivel Rotate Style

A swivel rotate style 5-axis machine has a B-axis which rotates around the Y-axis, and a C-axis that rotates around the Z-axis. It is different from the Trunnion style machines as the table is always horizontal during cutting.

The swivel head CNC machine is suited to:

  • Machining large parts, as the table doesn’t tilt so the weight can be supported more easily.
  • Machining with shorter length tooling.
redline-cnc machinery

What Industries Is 5-Axis Machining Suitable For?

5-axis CNC machining is useful for industries in which complex shapes, a high degree of precision, or extremely tight tolerances are required that could not be achieved as quickly and cost-effectively through other forms of engineering.

Automotive Manufacturing

In automotive manufacturing, high levels of production and consistency are crucial, as thousands of identical components need to be produced to the same tolerance, with no margin for error. 5-axis machining is ideal for the low-cost, high-volume production that the automotive industry tends to utilise, including processes such as injection moulding and stamping.

Medical Manufacturing

Quality is a non-negotiable in the medical equipment manufacturing industry. In some cases, medical instruments and equipment can make the difference between life and death, while others with organic shapes must be carefully machined to be implanted into a patient. 5-axis CNC machining is ideal for producing these devices, as well as complex electronic components for monitoring and scanning equipment.

Energy Production

Advanced and complex components are used widely in the energy industry in a range of settings, including power stations and solar power systems. Due to the rapid emergence of new technologies in the industry, precision engineering is the key to producing cutting-edge parts that are machined to exacting standards and designed to be resilient and durable.


General Manufacturing and Precision Engineering Applications

In many areas of industry, the suitability of 5-axis CNC machining is determined by the specific needs of an engineering project, rather than the broad sector to which a business belongs. Some common uses of the technology include:

  • Cutting, drilling, and tapping on all five axes with specific angles, where parts are of an unusual shape or have complex surfaces or contours, such as turbines, steering knuckles, and impellers.
  • Employing flexible approaches to address the challenges of complex projects, for example, simultaneous 5-axis machining that requires the ability to position or move the part in different axes.
  • Manufacturing small volume runs of a single part, particularly when businesses need to optimise their inventory to prevent overstocking and supply chain imbalances.
  • Creating highly complex components, such as engine parts, mechanisms, electronics, and semiconductors.
  • Producing highly accurate parts that are free from human error and inaccuracies, particularly in industries where precision is essential for safe and effective operation.
  • Meeting challenging lead times even where parts are complex in design or feature intricate details that would otherwise be difficult to machine without multiple set-ups on different equipment.

What materials are suitable for 5-axis CNC machining?

All metals and many thermoplastic polymers can be machined so long as the correct speed and feed rate are maintained, as well as the correct tooling. Commonly used materials include titanium, stainless steel, high purity aluminium, and Inconel.

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Why Choose Redline CNC for Your 5-Axis Machining?

At Redline CNC, we offer a personalised contract 5-axis CNC machining solution and design engineering service that combines the latest tech with expert knowledge and skills to ensure outstanding results every time. By choosing Redline CNC as your contract 5-axis machining partner, your business will benefit from:

Our extensive industry experience.

We are trusted by businesses in virtually every sector of industry, including medical, pneumatic manifolds, aerospace, motorsport, marine and defence, who return time-after-time because we deliver consistently high standards. Backed by our ISO 9001-2015 certification – our commitment to delivering exceptional standards – Redline CNC is the first-choice for your 5-axis machining service.

Our extensive industry experience.

We use the Edgecam and Alphacam systems to program our CNC machines and control the entire production process using the Factory Master MRP System, so you can be assured that your order is in safe hands.

Fast turnaround.

We recognise that your lead times are crucial to your customer relationships, so we work tirelessly to achieve rapid turnaround times on your orders. With Redline CNC, you can be confident of a productive partnership that puts your business’s needs first.

Outstanding staff training and expertise.

At Redline CNC, we actively promote professional development for our staff, providing bespoke training for every colleague. With a low staff turnover, we offer consistency and commitment to the highest standards to ensure that our 5-axis CNC machining delivers outstanding and reliable results every time.

Contact Redline CNC for Advice or Information

If you are interested in finding out how 5-axis CNC machining can benefit your next project, please contact Redline CNC today. Please call us on 01293 820090 or send us a message and we’ll get straight back to you.