The machining industry is ever-evolving; it ebbs and flows with the market’s needs. What remains on a steady incline is the need for speed, capacity, accuracy, skilled labor, and reduction of human error, regardless of industry or shop size. As technology advances, demand for complex parts at a fast pace is higher than ever.
New machine technologies are born with the above needs in mind, especially 5-axis technologies. Whether or not you’re new to 5-axis, or maybe machining in general, we’re here to relieve the complexity that tends to revolve around 5-axis operations and to reveal how 5-axis can make your shop run as efficiently as possible with an incredible ROI.
A 5-axis machine allows tools to move simultaneously around 5-axes of an object.
5-Axis machines utilize the typical X, Y, and Z-axes in conjunction with the A and B-axes so that your tools can get to five sides of a part, no extra turning or setup required.
If you’ve never seen 5-axis in motion, try this:Hold an object from the bottom, out in front of you. Point a pen down vertically above the object. While tipping the object left and right, forward and backward (the A and B-axes), simultaneously move the pen up, down, side to side, in and out (the X, Y, and Z-axes).
While deeply simplified, this can begin to lend insight to the 5-axis process. You can also check out our YouTube channel to view more in-depth videos of the 5-axis process and the different products it can create, such as Darth Vader.
Working on a 5-axis machine minimizes setups, allows for faster cycle time, produces less scrap, increases spindle uptime, and, contrary to popular belief, actually lessens the need for highly trained individuals, giving your shop the ability to open its possibilities.
For years, machine owners have been adding additional components to upgrade their machine’s efficiency and accuracy. While 5-axis may be a relatively new concept for some shops, using simultaneous multiple axes can be traced back to the late ’50s and early ’60s. According to machine industry historian Golden E. Herrin, 5-axis machining was viewed as a development beyond the realm of reality, especially by those who were already attempting to include prismatic parts, rotary tables and trunnions in order to maneuver outside the traditional X, Y, and Z-axes.
Over the last few decades, 5-axis advancements have made 5-axis machining centers as much of a reality as any vertical or horizontal machining center.
Over the last few decades, 5-axis advancements have made 5-axis machining centers as much of a reality as any vertical or horizontal machining center. Even from the start, the 5-axis process was so impressive it quickly developed into a crucial part of the US military, air force, and aerospace industries; and as technology and hardware progressed, its functions got easier to use, making the process more accessible. But, even though 5-axis has been a game-changer across the CNC spectrum for over half a century, there are still reservations in many US shops.
OVERCOMING HESITATIONS FOR INVESTING IN 5-AXIS
Maybe you already know exactly how 3+2 and simultaneous 5-axis work, as well as their strengths and weaknesses, but you’re still thinking, “my shop can’t do, or doesn’t need, 5-axis.” We get it. 5-axis machines have a stigma of being too complex or too expensive, with underlying issues in positional inaccuracies as well as labor and software training. Luckily, today’s 5-axis machines are much more refined than the machines that existed even 5-10 years ago.
HERE ARE SOME COMMON MYTHS WE HEAR REGARDING 5-AXIS:
5-AXIS MACHINE CONTROLS ARE TOO COMPLEX
Not with Okuma machines. Okuma machines include our very own OSP P300M controls, which are intuitive and easy to use. Our OSP control is Microsoft Windows-based and uses a standard G-code format with menu-driven cycles. It’s completely customizable through our Okuma app store.
5-AXIS MACHINES ARE TOO EXPENSIVE
When you compare your standard vertical machining center to a 5-axis machine, the numbers can appear daunting. That’s why it’s important to look at the big picture. If your vertical machine uses special software or parts to achieve five axes or even a 3+2 operation, you’ve already spent the money in add-ons and processing time without receiving any of the 5-axis machine benefits (e.g., 5-axis auto tuning, posture control, etc.*). Plus, the return your shop will see with 5-axis heavily outweighs the initial cost.
*See “GETTING THE MOST OUT OF 5-AXIS” section below
I DON’T THINK MY SHOP HAS 5-AXIS SOFTWARE CAPABILITIES
It’s much easier to bridge the gap between your system and 5-axis machines than you think. If you already possess Mastercam, GibbsCam, Autodesk, Espirit, HyperMill, NX, or another similar software, your 5-axis machine can directly translate the code dialect.
I DON’T HAVE THE TRAINING
At Okuma, we provide a multitude of resources for you when you purchase a machine. This includes 5-axis onsite training, PCNC Master, and offsite training. Between our partners (including education partners such as York Tech), your distributor, and our team, we’ll have you settled and making the most of your machine in no time.
I CAN’T FIND ENOUGH SKILLED LABOR FOR 5-AXIS
Actually, 5-axis no longer requires specially trained labor, it’s almost as easy as any other machine! Our 5-axis machine’s dynamic fixture offset eliminates the need to set the part on the exact center of rotation, giving any employee the opportunity to excel in a 5-axis setup. Our machines are as close as possible to the “done in one” mantra, which means there’s a massive reduction of processing time and potential for human error.
As with any machine, advancements are constantly happening. Our OSP 5-axis auto tuning performs tuning quickly and accurately and compensates up to 11 geometric errors, including volumetric accuracy. Adjustments can be made in just 10 minutes, and it does not require a high level of skill.
3+2 VS SIMULTANEOUS 5-AXIS
Maybe the hesitation towards 5-axis doesn’t involve any of the above topics, but something much simpler: you’re already running a 3+2 operation. So, the question becomes, why bother investing in an entirely new machine if you can hit the five axes by adding pieces to your current vertical machine?
3+2 machining is achieved by adding a rotary table or tilt-rotary trunnion to a vertical machine. The part stays stationary, but the addition allows the tool to machine the part from all of its sides. With simultaneous 5-axis, the part and tool are both in constant motion to maintain continuous contact.
Simultaneous 5-axis machining (linear and rotary), for single chucking applications with less fixturing. Resulting in shorter lead-times with improved productivity.
Because of the intentional addition of axes in 5-axis machines, they are built not only to handle, but constantly improve upon the 5-axis process.
Learn more by reading our blog post, “3+2 vs. 5-axis: What’s the difference?”
5-Axis is best known for its ability to create complex parts, such as turbine blades, propellers, or orthopedic and knee implants. Before 5-axis, these parts were achieved by adding on fixtures or steps in the setup process. If your shop is currently using additional setups on your VMCs, you’re a strong candidate for a 5-axis machine. If you’re looking to reduce the need for highly skilled labor, 5-axis would also be a smart investment. In all honesty, if you’re currently running any sort of VMC, there’s a strong possibility your shop would be achieving a lot more by investing in 5-axis.
5-axis machines can make any shop run more efficiently, regardless of size or production.
Any part that gets machined on more than one side will benefit from the reduced part handling, speed, and accuracy that comes with 5-axis machining. 5-axis machines can also open your business up to new business opportunities that may not have been reachable before.
Take a small machine shop in Irvine, California, for instance. They were using a rotary table on top of another rotary for 3+2 on their older vertical machines. The result was a steady but sloppy operation. While they were looking at adding another vertical machine, they received a demo for 5-axis from their local distributor. After investing in just one 5-axis machine, they found it had an incredible return. Soon, the shop discovered they could heavily increase production and eventually upgraded to a larger shop to keep up with their large demand. Today, they can’t imagine where they’d be without 5-axis and say they’re shocked by how easy the whole process really is. 5-axis gave them the ability to quote parts they never thought they could produce—it changed the game for their profits and entire operation.
GETTING THE MOST OUT OF 5-AXIS
Our 5-axis machines offer a wide variety of capabilities that can often be underutilized. Although it might seem overwhelming, if you’ve invested in our 5-axis machines, it’s important to us that we help you get everything you can out of it for the best return. Below is a brief overview of the software and controls our 5-axis machines offer to help you get the most out of your 5-axis.
Tool Center Point Control (simultaneous 5-Axis)
Shorten cycle time
Improve the quality of the machined surface
Compensate for fluctuation of rotary axes in the part program
Simplify operation by accomplishing all this in the background of the CNC control with activation handled by one code
Dynamic Fixture Offset (3+2)
Set one work coordinate, and then all the others will be calculated by the CNC control
Compensates up to 11 geometric errors, including volumetric accuracy
Adjustments can be performed in approximately 10 minutes (vs. 5 hours or more for manual methods)
Does not require a high level of skill to operate
Minimizes drastic rotary angular changes by enabling minor axis inversions to be filtered
Postures the tool in a manner that minimizes the turnover or fluctuation that occurs when you are contouring surfaces
In certain applications, if you don’t use this feature, the machine motion will jerk and prohibit clean, smooth lines
Stands for Non-Uniform Rational Basis Spline
Super NURBS shortens your feedback loop in the control
The OSP control projects a predetermined tolerance band and creates a spline that is considered to be the best fit for the job. This eliminates redundancies and allows for a smoother tool path. With less data to crunch, movements are sped up—but the highest level of accuracy is maintained to create quality surface finishes
A must for today’s high-speed, high-accuracy machining for those who want to generate higher quality surface finish
Eliminate all of the facets in your finished product
High Speed, High Accuracy
High-speed, high-accuracy part machining
Cuts feed rate and acceleration automatically controlled based on command shapes and machine characteristics