What is 5-Axis Machining? Working Principles, Types, and Benefits


Over the last couple of years, the concept of machining has evolved. The world has moved from simple machining processes and tools to more advanced and sophisticated ones. One of the most advanced machining processes available today is 5-axis machining.

However, when sometimes mentioned about the specific 5-axis CNC machining, the first impression that comes up to most people’s minds is: high technology, expensive price, and difficulty to operate, but is the 5-axis machining really like this?

Read on as we provide answers to this question and other important information about this machining.

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What is 5 Axis Machining?

This type of machining relies on a tool moving in five different directions around which the tool rotates. It is a multi-axis subtractive manufacturing process in which the machine shapes the workpiece material and moves in 5 directions or vertically.

The directions of movement include; X, Y, and Z, as well as A and B. 5-axis machining allows operators to approach part machining from all directions and axis in a single operation. Therefore, eliminating the need for manual workpiece repositioning between operations. Also, it saves time and is ideal for creating highly complex parts requiring precision.

meaning of 5 axes

What Does “5” in the 5 Axis Stand For?

The 5 in 5-axis means that asides from the conventional 3 axes, X, Y, and Z, machines used for 5-axis machining add two more axes making it a total of 5 axes. The 4th axis is the A axis which denotes a rotation around the X axis, while the 5th axis is the B axis, denoting a rotation around the Y axis.

This additional axis enhances the type of work a machine can undertake and the level of detail it can cut.

Why Use CNC for 5-Axis Machining?

This involves undertaking 5-axis machining on a CNC machine. A 5-axis CNC machine offers three linear axes and two rotational axes working in tandem to produce parts with high complexity. Adding a 5th axis to this machine makes it possible for engineers and machinists to work on up to 5 faces of a workpiece in a single operation.

5 Axis CNC machining is beneficial to manufacturers since it saves manufacturing time and cost while ensuring products get to the market faster. Also, note that the type and configuration of the CNC machine determine its general speed and direction.

How Does A 5 Axis CNC Machine Work?

A 5-axis CNC machine works automatically with minimal human intervention. It uses rotary cutting tools to shape materials placed on the machine platen.

how 5 axis machining works

However, placing the material on the platen is the last phase in the 5-axis CNC machining process. The first step in 5-axis CNC machining is making a CAD design of the part and translating it into CAM. CAM, or computer-aided manufacturing, is software that helps generate CNC alphanumeric language or G-code.

The next phase in the process is uploading the G-code into the 5-axis CNC machine. The G-code is very important since it contains instructions that would direct the machine on the toolpath and the right tool for machining.

Types of 5-Axis CNC Machines

There are a couple of operations where 5-axis CNC machines can save much of your time and enhance your current procedure. These machines come in several types to meet the requirements of the ever-growing manufacturing industry. A unique difference in 5-Axis CNC machines is the arrangement of the rotary axes. 

head to head cnc machine


In this type of CNC machine, the head houses its rotary axes. In this part, you do not need to worry about tool interference of the machine spindle head since the 5-axis apex is on a particular platform. Another reason not to worry about interference is that this 5-axis apex moves through a fixed table that ensures the workpiece remains in place.

This type of 5-axis machine design allows the apex to move around a particular piece during machining. Therefore, Head/Head CNC machines are ideal for producing large parts. However, along the rotary axes, this design has limited movement.

table to head cnc machine


In this setup, there are also two rotary axes, one rotary axis is on the head, and the other is on the rotary table. Located in the head is the revolving axis, and due to the position of this axis, it has a restricted range. On the other hand, there is no limit on the scope of the rotary shaft placed on the table.

One advantage this setup has over the Head/Head is the lack of worry about reaching a specific limit because the parts are consistently revolving. Conversely, since the part or workpiece rests on the rotary axis, the CNC machine’s design limits the number of items it can produce.

table to table cnc machine


This setup has both rotary axes on the table. There is a serious limitation to the scope of the revolving axis here, but there is no limit to the range of the rotary axis. This makes this type of machine ideal for machining undercuts. Also, compared to other machine arrangements, Table/Table has a minimal work envelope.

Additionally, it is slower than other machines since it does not come fitted with definite motors that make the other machines work fast. It is also less suitable for machining large or heavy components since they cannot carry much weight.

Looking for 5-axis machining that can handle complex geometries? Try WayKen! Our in-house machine shop allows for making complex parts with multiple side features and meets your strict specification.

precision milled part

Benefits of 5-Axis CNC Machining

The ability of this type of machining to work on 5 different faces of a workpiece simultaneously offers several advantages to many industries. These benefits range from cost efficiency to effective machining. Here are the major benefits of 5 Axis CNC Machining.

1. Machine Complex Shapes

The additional axis added to this machine makes machining designs and geometries with high complexity easy. Also, machining difficult angles and arcs, which is previously achievable using multiple special fixtures, has become feasible with 5-axis CNC machines. In addition, the ability of this machine to rotate parts during a single operation makes it possible to achieve desired geometries with the need for complex machines or fixtures.

5 axis machined part

2. High Precision and Repeatability

Manual machining operations require extra setups for optimal machining. But these extra setups often introduce design variability and error, causing machinists to lose alignment during machining. However, 5-axis CNC milling involves minimal setups, eliminating the possibility of errors while improving accuracy.

Also, with most 5-axis CNC machines used by machinists today, there is no need for manually repositioning the workpiece during machining. This guarantees improved machining tolerances. What’s more, using shorter cutting tools in some machine configurations improves tool lifespan while ensuring repeatability.

3. Effective Setup Operations

The process of setting up a 5-axis CNC machine is relatively easier than setting up a 3-axis machine. The reason is that 5-axis CNC machines allow work on five surfaces simultaneously. Moreover, 5-axis machines enable the machining of contoured parts with a single structure. However, for conventional 3-axis machines, several setups are necessary to work on several faces.

4. Quality Surface Finish

The surface finish with a 5-axis CNC machine is smoother due to the presence of additional axes. These additional axes bring the workpiece closer to the cutting tool, making it easier to achieve desired shapes. It also allows the use of shorter cutting tools for machining.

With shorter cutting tools, there is little to no vibration, which reduces the incidence of marks on the surface of finished products. Moreover, there is an improvement in spindle utilization for machining angled surfaces when employing the vertical machining process.

5. High Production Efficiency

The 5-axis machining can effectively reduce the machining time and auxiliary time of the parts. It has a large range of spindle speed and feeds rage, allowing the machine to perform a powerful large cutting capacity. 5-axis CNC is entering an era of high-speed machining. The rapid movement and positioning of 5-axis machining and high-speed cutting processing reduce the turnaround time for semi-finished products.

Drawbacks of 5-Axis CNC Machining

The 5-axis offers many advantages and importance in making parts. However, it is not all rosy with 5-axis machining, as there are some drawbacks too. Below are the drawbacks associated with 5-axis machining;

1. High Cost

The cost of acquiring a 5-axis CNC machine is quite higher than that needed to purchase a 3-axis machine. The same goes for the software needed for operating this machine. Also, maintaining 5-axis CNC machines is more difficult than maintaining CNC machines. Therefore, the cost is one of the major drawbacks of using 5-axis CNC machines for machining.

2. Programming Complexity

The programming needed for 3-axis machines differs from that required by 5-axis machines. This is primarily due to the addition of two rotational motions, which complicates the trajectory of the synthetic motion formed.

For instance, programming the 5-axis would have to consider each axis’s respective motion to avoid collision and interference. Also, achieving better surface quality and precision requires more complex programming.

3. Requires a High Level of Operator Skill

5-axis CNC machining involves the use of advanced technology. Therefore, a highly skilled technical operator is necessary to get the best out of the machine. However, employing a highly skilled operator also increases labor costs.

What Kind of Parts Can Be Machined Using a 5-Axis Machining Center?

5-axis CNC machining results in the production of a variety of parts. These parts often have complex geometries and intricate shapes. Here are some parts you can machine using 5-axis machining.

high complex parts

Complex Surface Parts

Complex surface parts are parts you often find in different fields, including aviation, aerospace, electronics, etc. Achieving this complex surface using ordinary CNC machine tools is difficult. Common complex surfaces 5-axis machining helps produce include spherical surfaces, blades of turbine engines, marine propellers, impellers, etc.

Disc Parts

5-axis CNC machining is also ideal for machining UAV parts. It is suitable for machining plate parts and plats, especially those with end-face distribution holes or radial holes. It is also suitable for making machine motor covers. It is important to note that applying 5-axis CNC machining to such parts requires the use of either horizontal machining or vertical machining center. The machining center chosen is dependent on the specific hole direction.

Box Type Parts

Using ordinary machining tools for box-shaped parts is relatively difficult due to the multiple clamping and alignment required. A 5-axis machine’s ability to work on several surfaces simultaneously makes it easier to produce higher-precision box-shaped parts.

Special-Shaped Parts

The special shaped parts refer to parts with irregular shapes. For instance, workpieces with mixed points, surfaces, and lines. Machining such parts with conventional machining are difficult or close to impossible due to the difficulty in controlling the clamping pressure during the process. However, with 5-axis machining, it becomes easier to complete the process using a multi-station point.

Difference Between 5 Axis and 3+2 Axis Machining

Most people do not know that differences exist between 5-axis machining and 3+2-axis machining or even 3-axis vs 4-axis vs 5-axis CNC. In 5-axis machining, the rotation of the cutting tool is continuous along the 5 axes.

On the other hand, with 3+2 axis machining, the machine goes through a 3-axis program, with the cutting tool locked at an angle. Moreover, the lock angle is dependent on the two rotary axes.

Speed is the major advantage 5-axis machining has over 3+2-axis CNC machining. The difference in speed is because 3+2 axis machining involves constant machine stop and start for optimal tool orientation. While for 5-axis CNC machining, there are no stops, as machining involves a single operation.

Strategies to Get the Most from 5-axis CNC

Since most operators do not know the full capability of a 5-axis CNC machine. So, here are some strategies that could help you get the most out of a 5-axis CNC machine.

Select the Right Software and Controls

Before jumping on a 5-axis CNC mill, you must get the right information. Getting the right information involves analyzing design data for accuracy and correctness. Verifying the design process before translating the CAD design into its CAM equivalent is also important.

With the right information, selecting the ideal CAD/CAM software and controls is possible for accomplishing the design task. The software is a simulation software for monitoring the part size, interference, and tool length.

Also, with this information, it becomes possible to undertake a cost analysis to ensure using the right and most cost-effective process for the job.

Select a Tool-detection System

Using the wrong tool for the job increases the risk of errors. Besides, the wrong tool would wear easily, or break during machining, consequently increasing the cost of production and reducing product quality. One way to mitigate this is by using a tool detection system. This system helps you analyze the tool you want to use, ensuring it is the right one for the job and minimizing errors.

Prevent Collisions

Collisions lead to defective components or a damaged machine. Fortunately, there are software tools that can help mitigate this risk. So, how does it work? This software simulates the design process and often sees the collision before it happens, providing a way to change the design command. There are many of this software but the popular ones include Predator and ModuleWorks.

Industries Applications Benefiting From 5-Axis CNC

5 axis precision auto part

5-axis CNC machining offers industries several benefits ranging from reduced human error to high-quality products and consistency. Several industries employ this type of machining for making their products and components, but the major ones include:

Medical Industry

Since a part failure could spell disaster during a surgical procedure or test or the diagnosis of a medical condition, precision, and accuracy are of great importance to this industry. 5-axis CNC machining has applications in the Medical industry for producing research equipment, MRI machines, surgical implants, medical instruments, and orthotic devices.

Electronic Devices

Electronic devices make up most of our daily lives since they are part of commercial and consumer goods. 5-axis CNC machining facilitates the production of even the tiniest of components needed for these electronic devices to function adequately. It has applications in producing electronic housing, semiconductors, hardware, metal slats, heat sinks, and printed circuit boards.

Energy Industry

To prevent catastrophic failures, parts in the energy industry must meet precise standards and specifications. Moreover, when parts used in this industry do not fit, it often causes entire systems to go down, resulting in a loss of revenue for the companies involved. This industry employs 5-axis machining to produce drill bits, pistons, rods, cylinders, and valves.

Aerospace Industry

This industry requires parts with compound shapes and contoured edges. Also, their use of geometrically intricate shapes makes 5-axis machining the process of choice for machinists in this industry. In addition, using 5-axis machining facilitates the production of high-quality parts, making it possible to meet industry standards.

5 axis cnc machining center

Get Started With 5 Axis Machining at WayKen

5-axis CNC machining makes the machining process easier, faster, and more cost-effective. It also improves precision and accuracy. However, to get the best out of this process, you need an expert.

WayKen is a leading CNC machining service provider worldwide. With high-quality 5-axis CNC machines, we offer you high-quality parts, competitive pricing, and a fast lead time.

In addition to 5-axis machining, we can provide different types of machining options or solutions, WayKen has been at the forefront of technological innovation. If you have any questions or needs regarding precision 5-axis machining, please feel free to contact us, or request a quote.


5-axis CNC machining facilitates the production of intricate parts with a high-quality surface finish. Although it has a high initial cost, this machining helps save money and time in the long term. Due to its highly precise parts, it is a machining process with applications across a wide range of industries, including aerospace, electronics, and medical industry.


What language do 5-axis CNC machines use?

The basic machine code for the 5-axis CNC machine is the G-code. The G-code contains a set of instructions that help control the machine’s cutting tool.

What materials are used in 5-axis CNC machining?

You can use almost any material on a 5-axis CNC machine. However, the common materials include; metals like aluminum, brass, copper, titanium, and steel, then plastics like polypropylene, ABS, PC, Nylon, POM, etc.

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