Overcoming the “Fear Factor” of 5-Axis Machines
Errol Burrell 02.11.2021
For manufacturers who have not worked with 5-axis machines before, there may exist some fears and uncertainties about embarking on 5-axis machining. After taking a closer look at the technology, however, many manufacturers have been able to overcome their concerns, especially when they realize the potential that 5-axis machining can bring to their shop floor.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss some of the most common fears and questions about 5-axis machining, and why this technology deserves another look.
5-AXIS MACHINES ARE EXPENSIVE. HOW WILL I SHOW ROI?
An investment in 5-axis machining technology is just that - an investment, and many shop owners want to know how and when they can achieve a positive ROI from their investment. To be clear, 5-axis machines are not for all shops, but you do not have to be machining complex parts like impellers and blisks to realize a positive ROI with a 5-axis machine. Five-axis capabilities allow you to run more efficiently by significantly reducing downtime due to job set-up times. These machines can also open new possibilities by allowing shop owners to quote on more complex and higher margin jobs.
I’M UNSURE OF MY TEAM’S ABILITY TO RUN A 5-AXIS MACHINE.
When 5-axis was first introduced, the learning curve for machinists was greater than it is today. With that historical stigma, many machinists continue to have concerns about running 5-axis machines. They’re fearful of complex setups and crashing what could possibly be the most expensive machine on the shop floor. The good thing is that training is easier than ever, and operators with machining experience not related to 5-axis can easily transition thanks to simplified controls. Okuma 5-axis machines are also able to guide your operators through the machining process, from setup to part change, and there are also some safeguards in place such as collision avoidance technology.
I DON’T HAVE THE ABILITY OR KNOWLEDGE TO PROGRAM A 5-AXIS MACHINE.
Often times when people think of 5-axis machining, they first think of simultaneous 5-axis cutting and parts with complex geometries. The truth about 5-axis machining is that it’s often much easier to program than you think. In fact, most projects that are ideally suited for 5-axis machining do not require simultaneous 5-axis cutting, and much of the programming is similar to the programming of your other machines.
Additionally, for most projects well-suited for 5-axis machining, the programming is not done on the shop floor. The operator simply executes the program that has already been created by a programmer. Your operators are not required to understand the minute details of vectors, simultaneous 5-axis vs. 3+2 axis machining, or tramming. Simply load the program, set up the fixture, and you’re all set.
WITH 5-AXIS I’LL NO LONGER BE THE EXPERT ON THE SHOP FLOOR. RIGHT NOW, I AM.
This is a common fear of operators who have worked on a shop floor for years or decades. During this time, they have become the shop floor “expert”. More experienced machinists may feel less comfortable with pursuing 5-axis machining because it is unfamiliar, and it may challenge their expert status.
For seasoned machinists as well as less tenured machinists, learning a 5-axis machine is not as difficult as it may seem. As 5-axis machines are becoming more popular, the technology is becoming easier and easier to accommodate a broader range of skill levels, making it easier for experienced machinists and the novice to pick up skills in 5-axis machining. From the programming to the dashboard functionality, processes are less labor-intensive and are standardized enough that most machinists can adapt to using 5-axis machines quickly and easily.
I’M GOING TO CRASH THE MACHINE. THERE ARE SO MANY MOVING PARTS COMPARED TO OTHER MACHINE TOOLS.
With more moving parts and more cutting angles compared to a 3-axis machine, operators will have more variables to keep an eye on as they are machining parts. If, however, the post processor is accurate and tested, machinists can run tests during programming to see if there is the threat of collisions during the machining process on that specific setup.
There are many readily available path verification software options from CAM (computer aided machining) and other software providers. Also, depending on your machine tool, it may be equipped with software that gives you the ability to eliminate potential collisions prior to machining your parts, which will not only keep your shop running smoothly, but it will preserve the life of your 5-axis machine.
Want to assess whether 5-axis machining is a good fit for your shop? Read through Okuma’s 5-axis machining guide and then reach out to your distributor to inquire.