Investing in 5-Axis Machining: What to Consider

As technology and part design advance in aerospace, automotive, and electronics, the demand for increasingly complex parts continues to grow. And with supply chains ever in flux, job shops and tiered suppliers’ ability to deliver quick turnaround times while maintaining strict quality standards is critical to their businesses’ viability. 

Investing in new machine technology can feel risky, but five-axis machining can deliver an excellent return on investment (ROI). This article will cover the fundamentals of five-axis machining and the benefits of adding five-axis capabilities to your operation so you can make an informed decision when considering your next equipment investment. 

What is 5-Axis Machining?

Five-axis machining enables the cutting tool or part to move in five axes simultaneously (A, B, X, Y, and Z). Traditional 3-axis machining centers move a part in two directions (X and Y), while the tool moves up and down (Z). Five-axis machining allows the cutting tool to access five sides of a prismatic part in a single setup. 

Benefits of 5-Axis Machining

Operational Efficiency and Error Reduction

If you need to machine five sides of a part and are using a 3-axis machining center, your operator will need to stop the process to adjust the workholding and start a secondary program to complete production. The stop and start may not take long for a proficient operator to perform. Still, when you consider the time it takes over hours of production and thousands of parts, it can add up to a significant opportunity for productivity gains.

It’s also important to keep in mind that every time an operator performs a manual adjustment, there is a risk of error. Exceptionally tight tolerance requirements or costly specialty materials exacerbate this risk.

Five-axis machining eliminates the need for this additional setup and adjustment time. It allows the operator to complete the part in a single process without repositioning the part or running additional programs. With less time spent manually handling parts, your operators can potentially spend their time overseeing more machines or paying attention to crucial preventive maintenance activities. You’ll also get the benefits of more accurate, consistent parts and faster turnaround times.

Capitalize on Opportunities and Diversify

Five-axis capabilities can give your business the ability to deliver more complex parts, which can help you break into new markets or service additional product lines with your current customers. In fact, Hartwig helped Gretna Machine Shop do precisely that—as a result of their 5-axis investment, Gretna Machine Shop was able to evolve from primarily servicing the oil and gas industry to machining complex parts for aerospace. 

Five-axis machining also enables some parts to be machined instead of cast. Converting from casting to machining can reduce turnaround times and potentially yield better quality parts that require less secondary processing. For example, parts manufactured using metal injection molding (MIM) often have a higher porosity than machined components, meaning they can require advanced thermal processing to achieve desirable properties. 

Time for Your Business to Invest in 5-Axis?

Even if you aren’t machining highly complex parts, the gains in productivity and turnaround times resulting from five-axis capabilities can benefit your business. If you are interested in learning more about integrating five-axis technology into your manufacturing environment, we can help. Browse our 5-axis machines online or connect with a Hartwig representative today to get started!

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