There isn’t much you can’t do with a 3-axis CNC machine. With the right tools and a skilled machinist, you can fabricate any number of parts in various materials with complex geometries. The reality in machining, however, is customer satisfaction, and lead times are shortening to meet client demand. The time to move to 5-axis machining is now. You can serve your client’s needs now and set your manufacturing up for the next steps. Here are some strategies to get the most from 5-axis machining.
The first strategy is the design approach. 5-axis machining is different than dealing with one plane at a time. A machinist needs to visualize both the part and the cutting tools able to move on multiple paths. This can take some time to become instinctive when moving from a 3-axis world. Cutting is more complex to plan but runs more efficiently. In moving into 5-axis machining it is important to note there are fewer qualified machinists. Plan to have the training in place, or qualified staff to step into the new variable axis world available to you.
With additional axes, positional tolerances must also be considered. The use of an encoder mounted to monitor the table position is critical to avoid the misalignment due to heat buildup in the mechanical components. With advanced engineering also comes advanced problems that must be viewed with a different overall philosophy.
There is a difference in design when using multiple tools at one time. It takes some time to master, but CAM simulation and testing allow the observations you need to determine any problems with cutting paths, maximize angles, and find any problems before your project hits the shop floor.
This CAD/CAM system also saves designs for future production runs or forms the base for new projects with slight variations. These simulations are just the start of connectivity. You can share them virtually with clients. They can be transferred from one machine to the other. And they can be used in sales and marketing to showcase what you can do.
Future software investments to run with your 5-axis equipment can measure quality control, assess tool temperature and wear, and provide finished part inspection. This connectivity will move you further towards the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) that will provide even more cost-benefit and quality production.
Speed – Typical 5-axis machines run at 20,000rpm. This speed, alone, results in faster machine times during production. That speed affects other efficiencies, too, as noted below.
One of the main factors of speed is based on the 5-axis machine design. 3-axis machining can only cut on one side of the part at a time. Each new surface or angle introduced for machining means cleaning and re-calibrating the machine before resetting the part. All of this results in machine downtime, one of the biggest costs to a machine shop. Speed of production is increased by the simple process of loading the part once for complete tooling to a finished product.
Accuracy – Part geometries can now be approached from any angle. The part should be designed to be clamped and held as close to the machine tool as possible. Tools can make smaller cuts at higher speeds for precision beyond the industry standard of +/-.005” (0.127 mm). This results in less vibration and creates precision parts for use in healthcare, automotive, and aerospace industries where precise measurements are of utmost importance.
Quality – Due to the high 20,000rpm speeds, vibration and heat can both be controlled. This results in cleaner tool paths creating near-perfect finishes. This, again, affects speed when separate machining operations are not required to finish the piece.
This also allows accurate corners that are more square, and holes that have cleaner finishes in the bottom. Quality, of course, depends on the material being machined. But these high speeds also allow the use of solid carbide clamps, tools, and holders that wear less – also affecting quality.
Extend Tool Life – The presence of heat and vibration affect the finished product but are also the main factors affecting tool life. Using high-density materials for tools and clamps extends life. Designing tool paths that follow as close as possible to the part allows for shorter tool architecture resulting in lower vibration and breakage. Further, using design software you can calculate speed and depth of cut based on the material of the part.
These approaches to design, tooling and machining will provide your shop advantages in both quality and competitive pricing. An overview of 5-axis machining requires a new approach for maximum benefit These machines can run semi-autonomously and edge you further towards lights out manufacturing and intelligent connections between skilled machinists and computers. Having more axes to work with does not result in immediate advantage without the right training and strategies to get the most from 5-axis machining.