5-axis machining has been a real game-changer in manufacturing.
This versatile technology minimizes the number of operations required to manufacture a part. With the ability to access a workpiece from any direction with just one setup, contract manufacturing providers can machine complex parts quickly and cost-effectively, bringing to life intricate designs that were once only possible with other manufacturing methods.
Not all shops have the resources to invest in 5-axis machining, but at Reata Engineering, we regularly leverage this technology for our customers’ benefit.
In today’s blog, we’ll explore 5-axis machining in greater detail to help you determine if it’s the right solution for your part.
5-Axis Machining vs. Other Manufacturing Methods
First, let’s take a closer look at how 5-axis machining compares to other manufacturing methods:
- Casting. 5-axis machining offers several advantages over casting. With minimal tooling requirements, it’s possible to machine lower quantities of parts much more quickly and cost-effectively. Even if you plan to transition to casting for high-volume production, 5-axis machining can be an excellent choice for prototype machining services. Machined parts also have better structural integrity than cast parts and typically require fewer finishing operations.
- 3-axis CNC milling. CNC milling requires multiple setups, maximizing the risk of human error and introducing the possibility of minor variances across production runs. With 5-axis machining, the setup is automated and therefore consistent from one run to the next. And because our 5-axis machine has a pallet changer, it automates the process even further to keep jobs set up all the time. For one recent project, we reduced what would have been four setups on a mill to a single setup on our 5-axis machine.
- Welding. Rather than making two complex parts separately and then welding them together, 5-axis machining allows us to machine one complete part and eliminate the need for welding.
- 3D printing. When it comes to metal parts, 5-axis machining is faster and therefore more cost-effective than 3D printing at low volumes. 3D metal printing has more restrictions and often requires additional finishing, whereas 5-axis machining can produce a smooth, finished surface with a single operation.
4 Considerations for 5-Axis Machining
Not all parts need 5-axis machining. However, if your part checks any of these boxes, it may benefit from this solution. (Note: we’re comparing 5-axis machining to milling in these examples since milling bears the most similarity to 5-axis machining.)
- Features on most sides of the part. Each side of a part that has features requires its own setup and potentially different tooling on a mill. With 5-axis machining, we can machine all those features in a single setup.
- Design complexity. If your part has complex features such as 3D surfaces, machining with a traditional mill may not be as effective as 5-axis machining. A traditional mill has fewer axes, which makes machining those surfaces more difficult. For example, 5-axis machining produces complex ramping features much better than a mill can.
- Fixturing challenges. If your part’s geometries make it difficult to hold in place on a CNC mill, 5-axis machining might be a better option. With 5-axis machining, we only need one side to hold onto for the entire process, whereas with milling, we’ll have to reorient the part to work on each side throughout the machining process.
- Quick turnaround. If you’re up against hard deadlines for your project and need your parts faster, 5-axis machining could speed up your timeline by almost 50% (e.g., from 8 weeks to 5). The reduced setups alone are a huge time-saver, but quality inspection also moves more quickly because we inspect a completed part instead of just one side at a time. There’s also the option of receiving a partial order quickly, since we can machine complete parts in one go instead of batching operations for the entire order.
Additional Benefits of 5-Axis Machining
Accuracy, speed, and cost-effectiveness are all major benefits of 5-axis machining. For example, if there’s a quality issue with a part, we’ll know after the first part is complete rather than making the same mistake on one surface 20 times and having to scrap all the parts in the batch. Because 5-axis machining is a highly automated capability, we save on labor costs behind the scenes, and transfer those savings to customers.
Investing in 5-axis machining capabilities isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it to us to maximize our efficiency and—more importantly—provide a better experience for our customers.
If you have a part that’s stressing you out because of consistency issues, difficulty achieving tolerances, or long lead times, 5-axis machining might be just what you need. Don’t let that part keep you up at night any longer—leave it to us. Get a free quote for your next project today!