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Main Applications of Five-axis Machining

Five-axis machining has two general application categories: machining complex 3D shapes and general machining of inclined surfaces. In both cases, the difficulties associated with creating five-axis programs over the years have been simplified. Furthermore, the two categories have little in common. A mechanic will be able to master the five-axis technique more easily because he or she only has to learn one specific application.

Like any CNC machining center, a five-axis machine has three linear axes. The layout of these axes will be the same as any three-axis VMC or HMC. For the vertical direction from the front, X is left/right, Y is front/rear, and Z is up/down. Unlike three-axis machining centers, five-axis machining centers have two additional axes of rotation. For VMC, the A-axis is the axis of rotation with the centerline parallel to the X-axis. The axis of rotation parallel to the Y axis is the B axis.

1. Five-axis machining of complex 3D shapes

For this application, two axes of rotation are used to hold the cutting tool at or near 90 degrees to the surface being machined. In the early days of five-axis machining, programming a machine for 3D machining was a daunting challenge. CAD and CAM systems are still in their infancy, and communication with each other is not smooth. Programmers almost always have to define the workpiece geometry in the CAM system before starting the machining process, and failures are common.

Today, CAD and CAM systems communicate well. 3D drawings of design engineers can be imported directly into CAD systems. Once imported, the programmer's task is relatively easy. The choice of machining methods is numerous, and the programmer can command the CAM system to go from roughing the workpiece to finishing with successively smaller cutting tools. The problems associated with shape violations have all but been overcome, which means that NC programs developed with today's CAM systems will almost always machine the workpiece properly.

2. Conventional machining of inclined surfaces in five-axis machining

The second application category of five-axis machining is just an extension of what three-axis machining centers typically do. That is, the machine used for this application will perform common operations such as drilling, tapping, reaming, boring and milling. However, the workpiece surface is not always at right angles to the three linear axes of the machine. While this application is much simpler than 3D work, determining the procedural coordinates of surfaces that are not at right angles to a linear axis is still challenging.

The programming of the app has also been simplified over the years. While a CAM system can definitely help, most manufacturers that specialize in manufacturing controls for five-axis machining also offer a feature that allows basic machining operations for corner surfaces to be programmed, even for manual programmers.

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