Five-Axis Machining Expands Its Range

Five-Axis Machining Expands Its Range

While some may still think of five-axis machining largely in the context of geometrically complex aerospace, medical and energy parts, there is a strong argument for using this technology in a much wider range of applications. Even if you’re not machining contoured surfaces, being able to get at more part features in a single setup can pay big dividends in better machine utilization and improved quality. No doubt, a five-axis machine is more expensive than a typical VMC, but the value of these benefits is substantial, and they will enable your shop to more cost-efficiently produce a wider range of work.

With three-axis machining, jobs might require two, three or more setups to get at all the features of a part. With the five-axis done-in-one approach, those additional setups may be eliminated in addition to the potential for error each time you reposition a part. The justification for a five-axis machine on these grounds is simple, with dramatic reductions in total setup time, machining time and reduced fixturing.

The Levels of Five Axis Machining
The simplest and least expensive way to get at five sides of a part is with a 3+2 machine configuration. For small to medium size machines, that typically means a three-axis machining center with a tilting rotary table to position the part. This can be accomplished with an auxiliary two-axis table on a standard three-axis machining center, which is a good first step for many shops. But a machine with an integrated tilt table typically offers better machining performance and is easier to set up and program. With a 3+2 machining center, as with a 2-axis rotary table, the fourth and fifth axes are typically locked down while the part is machined. Still, almost any plane of the workpiece can be presented to the spindle, and surprisingly complicated parts can be cut efficiently. Even for surprisingly simple parts, this ability can have a huge impact on eliminating secondary setups which reduces the time and cost to finish a part and helps get better utilization of all your production equipment.

Then there are the more complicated parts. The ability to articulate the tool at any angle relative to the workpiece will save hours in comparison to orienting parts with fixturing, sine plates or other workholding rigs and save on the cost that tooling as well.

But many shops soon find that moving up to a fully integrated 5-axis machine is more productive. For one thing, it can do simultaneous contouring in all five axes, which is necessary for some part features. A full 5-axis machine also is typically faster with the ability to reduce non-cutting time through quicker workpiece indexing and higher machining rates using all axes. It’s often more accurate as well.

A primary advantage of full five-axis control is that you can now dynamically tilt the tool into the cut keep the tool vector constant as it feeds across sloped or free flowing surfaces. This is why five-axis machining is so widely used for aerospace components, orthopedics and other parts with curving features, and increasingly in die and mold machining.

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