Shop Leaders Share Thoughts on Five-Axis Machining

Modern Machine Shop recently started a “Top Shops” discussion group on LinkedIn. The group is for owners, managers, engineers and other senior personnel in CNC machining facilities. A recent discussion thread from that group revealed various shops’ thoughts on five-axis machining.


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Modern Machine Shop recently started a “Top Shops” discussion group on LinkedIn. The group is for owners, managers, engineers and other senior personnel in CNC machining facilities. A recent discussion thread from that group revealed various shops’ thoughts on five-axis machining.






Derek Korn, senior editor, Modern Machine Shop

Per our “Top Shops” benchmark data, 24 percent of highest-performing machine shops use five-axis positioning, while 16 percent use full five-axis contouring. Are you benefitting a great deal from five-axis machining? If you don't have five-axis machines, are you considering one?


Pat Bye, president, Energy Dynamics Inc.

We have not added five-axis machining yet. It is definitely in our strategy plan for the near future. The main reason we haven't added it yet is just that we continue to be very busy. We don't want to have an expensive machine not earning its keep because we are too busy to get to it.


Craig Heaton, lead NC programmer, Goodrich Aircraft Wheels and Brakes

We have a lot of five-axis machines, which help us to reduce setups—so time is spent machining parts instead of manipulating them. The majority of our five-axis work is 3+2 machining. I try to do what I can in 3+2 machining rather than simultaneous milling, because of the G-code file size the full five-axis program creates.


Derek Korn

I hear you, Craig. Many machine tool builders that sell five-axis equipment have told me that the majority of their customers perform 3+2 instead of simultaneous.


Fred Grauch, president, Grauch Enterprises

Five-axis just seems so daunting. We have only two jobs currently that would benefit from five-axis (or 3+2). I think our next capital improvement will be a horizontal mill.


Craig Heaton

I understand your dilemma, Fred. When I worked in the injection mold industry as an NC programmer, all we had were three-axis VMCs. The product we make here at Goodrich more than justifies the five-axis machines, and I am impressed how much easier it is to process components on those machines. Looking back, I would have loved to have been able to cut those molds on five-axis machines because the cutting tools could have been simplified, and would have been shorter in the toolholder—decreasing cycle time. If you do go five-axis, do your best to get one with a DFO (dynamic fixture offset) option. It is very nice not being stuck programming from the machine pivot points. Deciding where your datums are makes things much easier on everyone.


Fred Grauch

I have been told that with the high-pressure coolant and higher spindle speed on the newer verticals, a vertical with a rotating table would be as good as a horizontal ... ? What does everyone think—horizontal vs. vertical mill?


Jason Premo, CEO, ADEX Machining Technologies

Five-axis machining will differentiate your company in a challenging economy. ADEX's business plan is to focus purely on five-axis machining applications, specifically hard metal alloy products in aerospace, defense and energy, particularly with very tight tolerances. We win business with little competition and rarely are pressured on price. Have grown 300 percent in the past 4 years through a down economy, and now we supply Boeing, RR, Pratt, GE, Siemens, etc. Currently have multiple Mazak Variaxis 730 50-taper five-axis mills with 1,000-psi through coolant, Renishaw probes, full contouring and high speed software. We also use Mastercam X6 (beta test partner) and push it to the limits on full contouring jobs. File sizes are indeed huge—management of data is critical.


Craig Heaton

My preference is a horizontal trunnion-type machine. I like the chip evacuation of this design. For the deep wheels we make, this machine type is ideal.


Quint Sudbury, owner, JQ Enterprises

We do waterjet cutting and just recently added a five-axis machine. The machine handles 2D work just as well as our older machines but gives us an advantage over our competitors. It has opened some new opportunities which we would not have seen before. Also, the software has made huge advances in the past few years, reducing the learning curve for five-axis work.


Antonio Gil, owner, Merton Tech

We have a small machine shop specializing in medical orthopedic work. Our capabilities include 4-1/2-axis milling, eight-axis screw machine, four-axis EDM, CNC turning, etc. We considered buying a five-axis milling machine to machine some of the complex implant shapes being designed today. However, we found that only a small portion of the work will require such technology, and since we make small-lot runs, it made no economic sense. Given big runs and repetitive work, I think it would be a machine worth having.


Rick Hecker, president, Eifel Mold & Engineering

We just purchased our second five-axis machine, a Hermle C-30. We have increased our productivity greatly. The setup time savings from 3+2 machining are considerable. The benefit comes from positioning the workpiece so that we can attack the machining with shorter tools and faster speeds.


Kevin Saruwatari, engineer, Qsine Corporation

I do five-axis milling work on a B-axis lathe. I still have a hard time figuring out if this thing is really a lathe or a mill. I've done many "blocky" parts in this machine that didn't have a cylindrical surface on them when they were done. I like this machine as a complement to machining centers because many parts that are hard to fixture and orient in the machining center are generally simple in the chuck. Finishing the part in one setup is addictive. I like loading the material and saying, "There, I'm done!" The downside is that setting up the machine for a new job typically involves a lot of detailed work. I find getting new jobs ready for this machine is more of a systems engineer's task than a machinist's task.


Other ongoing conversations within the Modern Machine Shop “Top Shops” group focus on testing cutting tools, lights-out manufacturing and evaluating shop managers effectively. A LinkedIn profile is necessary to join the group, but this takes only a moment to create. The group is for those in a management or leadership role within a CNC machining facility in North America. If that describes you, join the group here.



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