DETROIT – CNC or Computer Numerical Control machining mixes the effectiveness of computer programming with the precision of turning lathe machines. A pre-installed program controls the movement of the tools and other machine parts, consequently automating the manufacturing process and preserving design consistency.


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Today’s multi-axis CNC milling machines have a broad range of features and CNC milling parts, which increases their value and capability. Nevertheless, the features and the milling parts are only effective when the machine is able to move smoothly along its axes.

In addition, the axes are mainly accountable for maintaining precision in shaping the feed. So basically, they create the life and blood of all milling machines.

So, let’s investigate and compare the capabilities and functions of different multi-axis CNC milling machines.

3-Axis CNC Machines

3-axis CNC machines developed from rotating filing. In 3-axis CNC machines, the part occupies a fixed position while the cutting tool moves along the X, Y, and Z axes. The X-axis is on top of the lathe table, the Y-axis is against the front of the table, and the mandrel that falls from the top marks the Z-axis.

It’s ideal for basic tasks which don’t demand complex detail or depth. In essence, it’s one of the most favored methods for fabricating mechanical parts for automation. Furthermore, you can as well use it for cutting rough edges, milling slots, drilling, and tapping holes.

4-Axis CNC Machines

The 4-axis CNC works quite similarly to its 3-axis counterpart. The feed is in a fixed position, and the cutting tool operates on it by removing the excess and molding the requested part.

Nevertheless, as the name itself suggests, 4-axis machining includes an additional axis in addition to the regular X, Y, and Z. That additional axis movement is present in the form of rotation alongside the X-axis and forms the fourth axis (A-axis) horizontally. Anyway, the cutting can also take place alongside the B-axis (vertically). But since horizontal machining is seen as more productive than the vertical one, the A-axis is more common.

This milling technique is used to cut holes, carve cutouts, or cut along a curve, especially on the edges or around a cylinder. It’s also used for high-quality precision millings, drillings, and engravings.

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5-Axis CNC Machines

The 5-axis milling machine defines the peak of the invention in 21st-century machining. It has a higher level of capability than the 3 and 4-axis milling machines and it’s an accurate fast working, micromachining power station.

In this setting, the X, Y, and Z axes are reminiscent of a 3-axis machine design. The board then rotates along the A-axis, as it does with the 4-axis machine. However, the fifth movement of the 5-axis machine is defined by the rotating action at the joint of the board, accompanied by rotation along the C-axis

5-axis machines allow the operator to simultaneously strike five different sides (sometimes even more) of a part depending on the complexity of the design. Consequently, the tool is extremely competent at creating highly accurate parts and products.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that it finds extensive usage in medical appliances, architecture, R&D,  the automotive industry, or the military sector.

7-Axis CNC Machines

The 7-axis CNC milling machines can create slender, long, and greatly detailed parts.

The 7-axes included are the common top-down, back-front, right-left, followed by the axes accentuated by the rotation of the part, spinning of the tool, rotation of the extruder head, as well as additional movements for clamping, reclamping, or removing the part.

This high level of movement gives higher precision to the final product without any need for a post-fabrication procedure.

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9-Axis CNC Machines

The 9-axis CNC machine mixes lathe and 5-axis machining. Accordingly, it can turn and mill the part along different planes in one single setup, consequently offering sharp precision.

The greatest advantage of the 9-axis CNC machining is the eradication of manual loading and secondary fixtures. The 9-axis CNC machines are highly proficient to the point where they can complete a whole completely finished product in one single operation.

12-Axis CNC Machines

So, as we previously mentioned that a 9-axis CNC machine is the whole package, then the 12-axis machine is an absolute monster. The 12-axis CNC machine contains two heads that enable movement alongside the X, Y, Z, A, B, and C-axes. Thereby, that configuration doubles the efficiency and precision and cuts down the manufacturing process by half at the same time.

Final Thoughts

The CNC machines continue to stay relevant and efficient. It serves different manufacturing-concentrated sectors and maintains accuracy, standardization, and product quality. As machines obtain more axes of movement, they are only becoming better with every iteration. So, although they are a major investment, they guarantee long-lasting service in return.

The column was provided by Paul Williamson.