2022-03-31

5 axis CNC machines vs Traditional Milling Machine: Direct Comparison

5-axis CNC milling machine: what it is and how it works

For more complex processes, those that require absolute precision, it is necessary to use suitable tools and machinery. This is what FIRSTPART can achieve thanks to the use of a 5-axis milling machine. Not a normal milling machine, but the technological evolution to one of the most used tools in the precision mechanics sector.


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In order to better appreciate the quality of the machining obtained thanks to the 5-axis CNC milling machine, it is necessary to understand its characteristics and operation. The 5-axis CNC milling machine is a tool that is increasingly in demand at an industrial level given the wide versatility of use and the extreme ability to respond to the needs of quality and quantity.

How a 5-axis CNC milling machine works?

Machine tools used in precision mechanics use 5 axes, i.e. three linear and two rotating. In this way it is possible to continuously orient the piece being machined to the correct position, tilting it according to needs, and to carry out the required milling operations.

 The advantage of the 5-axis cutter is threefold. First of all there is the possibility, as we will see in detail below, to perform particular and complex processes that otherwise would not be possible to complete. Secondly, there is an advantage in terms of versatility, as the five axes can be configured according to different needs.

We talked about three rotary axes and two linear axes, but four rotary axes and one linear can also be set, depending on the type of component that needs to be made. The axes, in fact, allow both the cutting tool and the metal component to be tilted so that it can be milled according to the result to be obtained. 

This operation, without a 5-axis milling machine, would be impractical or decidedly more complex and laborious, forcing the operator to continuously change the position of the tool or component.

3 + 2 Milling Machines and 5 Axis Milling Machines: What's the Difference?

Let's go into more detail by analyzing more closely the difference between a 5-axis cutter and a 3 + 2 cutter. Although the number of axes may appear the same, in reality the peculiarity of the 5-axis milling machine is the simultaneity of the machining of all five axes.

 In this way, the operator can intervene at any time on the adjustment of all or some of the axes, allowing for greater speed of execution and, above all, greater versatility in machining.

5-axis milling machines: speed and quality

In addition to what we have just said, the 5-axis CNC milling machine is a choice that, in the precision mechanics sector, ensures other important advantages. Or:

  • speed of execution;
  • maximum precision;
  • Improved component geometry.

One of the main advantages is that given by the rapidity of machining of a 5-axis cutter. This type of machinery, in fact, allows optimizing production times. The result is a reduction in waiting times and, consequently, to speed up deliveries, especially those on larger productions.

Then there is to consider how the 5-axis CNC milling also ensures greater precision than a machining with traditional machinery. The simultaneity of action of the five axes is the key element of this feature. In fact, it allows obtaining an extremely reliable production process.

The use of 5-axis milling machines, as anticipated, is intended for the production of particular components, usually the most complex ones and intended for a sector of extreme delicacy and strategic importance. 

The 5-axis machining process therefore improves the final result of the geometry of each individual component, allowing continuous and flawless machining.

The advantages of a 5-axis CNC milling machine

In the 5-axis CNC milling technology, all the advantages guaranteed by the numerical control process (CNC) should also be emphasized. It is a production method that makes use of modern digital technologies. The movements of the tools and the work surface are entrusted to a computer that responds to commands previously sent through special software.

The 5-axis CNC milling machine has the advantage of continuously working non-stop, maximizing the production time. It is always necessary to check by a qualified operator who knows how to monitor its operation and intervene in the event of breakdowns or malfunctions.

 Furthermore, the speed and quality obtained with these numerical control machines is clearly superior to any manual production.

The numerical control technology also guarantees the precision of each single component. In mechanical production it is not a question of making a single component, but a series with high numbers of pieces. Each of these is precise down to the smallest detail, having a computerized and always impeccable processing.

The workings

Thanks to the 5-axis milling machine it is possible to perform contouring, flattening, grooving, stamping and engraving operations. In this way it is possible to obtain components and parts for the automotive and aerospace sectors as well as in the robotics or navalfood and pharmaceutical sectors.

What is the main difference between a mechanical milling and a 5 axis cnc machine?

 When we talk about mechanical milling we are referring to machines that rotate and eliminate residual material through cutting tools on a single piece.

The 5-axis CNC milling machine, on the other hand, is a numerically controlled machining center which, following a predetermined program, performs multiple operations simultaneously by interpolation on a single piece.

It is clear that the discriminating element between these two types of machine tools is the automation which, over the last few years, has allowed 5-axis cnc machines to spread like wildfire in the automotive, medical and aeronautical sectors and nautical.

What is mechanical milling?

Mechanical milling works by removal through roughing and finishing operations: in the first case the goal is to remove most of the excess material, while in the second the quantity of material removed is less and respects the specifications established in terms of dimensions tolerances and roughness.

Technical characteristics of the traditional cutter

The traditional cutter is composed of:

  • a support surface (base) where the piece to be worked is positioned;
  • An upright where the spindle is located which, through an      electric motor, performs the roughing and finishing operations. Based      on the orientation of the spindle we will distinguish between horizontal      milling machines and vertical milling machines.
  • The milling cutter, the cylindrical shaped tool, which makes it      possible to remove the shavings thanks to a series of teeth positioned      along the outside of the circumference. The space between the teeth      is called the pitch of the cutter: the higher the number of teeth,      the higher the level of finish.

5 axis cnc machine, features and operation

As anticipated at the beginning of our article, a 5-axis machine or cutter is a numerically controlled work center that uses electronic and computer technology to perform all the operations envisaged by a program pre-set by the operator in complete autonomy.

Each axis is indicated with a letter, in detail:

  • X and Y axis, indicate the directions of the piece with respect      to the work plane;
  • Z axis, indicates vertical movement;
  • W axis, represents the diagonal axis with respect to a vertical      area.

The operator, who is responsible for monitoring the work, also takes care of inserting the instructions into the machine tool by translating the G codes into NC codes.

After the initial setup of the machine, the operator only has to monitor that everything goes as expected, reporting any anomalies to the production manager and carrying out, where necessary, routine maintenance operations on the 5-axis machine.

Compared to traditional mechanical milling, 5-axis cnc machines:

  1. They perform all the programmed operations after a single      machine setup;
  2. Thanks to the 5 motion axes and the tool magazine, they perform      drilling, boring, tapping, turning and boring operations.

What is the ideal number of axes in a 5-axis machining center?

 In general, industry experts say that the greater the number of axes, the greater the functionality offered by the CNC machining center.

This explains the incredible diffusion of 5-axis cnc machines and, in general, of the 5-axis machining center that allows you to:

  • create any type of shape and size;
  • perform work on angles even higher than 180 °;

 The influence of the use of numerical control machines on company competitiveness

The objective of a company when it invests human and monetary resources, regardless of the product sector to which it belongs, is to increase and strengthen its competitiveness with respect to the competition.

Thanks to the characteristics of a 5-axis cnc machine it is possible to:

  • reduce and optimize the times of company work cycles;
  • raise the level of precision of the operations performed;
  • Obtain greater profitability thanks to reduced payback times on      initial investment.

Professionalism and competence of FIRSTPART

FIRSTPART is a company specialized in mechanical production also thanks to the use of 5-axis CNC milling machines. This is possible also and above all thanks to the collaboration with qualified professionals in the control and programming of numerical control machinery. 

FIRSTPART boasts twenty years of experience in the sector which allows it to ensure flexibility and versatility for the realization of any type of work. The use of 5-axis milling it is just one of the flagships of a production that daily pursues the excellence and satisfaction of our customers.

 The versatility of the processes obtained thanks to the 5-axis CNC milling machine allows us to respond promptly to all needs in the various sectors, both as regards the quantity and the type of components produced.


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