Some time ago, owning even a single 5-axis CNC machine was a luxury. Although, as both hardware and software advance, and more 5-axis mills enter the pre-owned market, small scale shops have begun to branch out into this more precise style of machining. Do you think it may be time for a new addition to your shop floor? Here are some essential details about 5-axis machines.
5-axis machines are extremely versatile. The two extra axes of rotation allow for some crazy precise builds that would otherwise take dozens of hours using various machines.
With this extra versatility, you’ll not only be able to take on projects your shop couldn’t handle before, but you’ll be able to finish many projects much more efficiently on account of the sheer number of tasks that can be done on a single machine.
Save Your Coin
Many people may be under the impression that a 5-axis is only worth it if you’re going to be making very complex parts, but this is not true. While they are a fair bit pricier than the 3-axis, a 5-axis will almost always pay for itself in the money it saves you.
On top of saving you time, the efficiency also results in less setups, extending the average tool life significantly. The design of a 5-axis machine also enables the machine head to be closer to the surface of the cutter, reducing vibration and extending tool life further.
Of course, the justification of such a large upfront cost varies based on the individual shop and the types of jobs you frequently take on, but it’s important to be aware of it when weighing your options.
One last thing to keep in mind is that despite seeing steady growth in popularity, 5-axis CNCs are still pretty rare among smaller machine shops at the moment. There are pros and cons to this.
On the down side, this means that you may be less likely to find machinists who are already familiar with operating and coding for a 5-axis mill. On the plus side though, they’re not too difficult to learn; many CAM systems can now automatically convert 3-axis toolpaths into 5-axis toolpaths, easing the burden of transition.
Another advantage – adding a 5-axis to your roster might just give you the upper hand against your competition that you need. Because of their relative rarity, parts which require or greatly benefit from the use of a 5-axis machine are in great demand, especially in lucrative and specialized industries like energy and aerospace.
Should I Buy a 5-Axis?
This comes down to the needs of your business and the resources available. If you’re running a small shop with a steady supply of business, you may be better off sticking to a classic vertical or horizontal machining and saving yourself some cash. If you’re ready to make a long term investment with the potential to bring your shop to the next level, buying your first 5-axis may just be the right choice for you. You can also look into pre-owned 5-axis machines.