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What Are the Differences Between Three, Four and Five-axis CNC Machining Centers?

CNC machining refers to the manufacturing and processing of parts and products under computer control.

Numerical control machining involves the use of computer CNC (CNC) machine tools to shape and resize a piece of material (ie the workpiece) by automatically removing material. Typically, materials used are plastic or metal, and once the removal process is completed, the finished product or product is already produced. This process is also called subtractive manufacturing.

To perform CNC machining, computer applications are used to control the movement of the machine tool.

Numerical control milling involves the removal of material using rotating tools. Either the workpiece remains stationary, and the tool moves to the workpiece, or the workpiece enters the machine tool at a predetermined angle. The more axes a machine has, the more complex the shaping process and the faster the speed.

3-axis CNC machining

Three-axis CNC milling is still one of the most popular and widely used machining processes. In 3-axis machining, the workpiece remains fixed, and the rotating tool cuts along the x, y, and z axes. This is a relatively simple form of CNC machining and can manufacture products with simple structures. It is not suitable for machining complex geometries or products with complex components.

Since cutting can only be performed along three axes, the machining speed may also be slower than that of four- or five-axis CNC, as the workpiece may need to be manually repositioned to obtain the required shape.

4-axis CNC machining

In four-axis CNC milling, the fourth axis is added to the motion of the cutting tool, allowing it to rotate around the x-axis. There are now four axes—x, y, z, and a (rotation around the x-axis). Most four-axis CNC machine tools also allow for the rotation of the workpiece, known as the b-axis, so that the machine tool can act as both a milling machine and a lathe.

Four-axis CNC machining is the best choice when drilling on the side of a part or on a curved surface of a cylinder. It greatly speeds up the machining process and has high machining accuracy.

5-axis CNC machining

Five-axis CNC milling has an additional rotating axis compared to four-axis CNC. The fifth axis rotates around the y-axis, also known as the b-axis. The workpiece can also rotate on some machines, sometimes called the b-axis or c-axis.

Due to its high versatility, five-axis CNC machining is used to manufacture complex precision parts, such as medical parts for artificial limbs or skeletons, aerospace parts, titanium parts, oil and gas machinery parts, military products, and more.

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