Reducing setup time with 5-axis machines – 5 key benefits

Do you spend extra time changing out tools, fixtures, and programs on your 3-axis machine?

If you do, we’re sure you’ve seen unnecessary expense, especially when that time could be better spent actually cutting parts. After all, every moment your CNC isn’t machining, your overall cost-per-hour is increasing. 

Not only that, but multiple teardowns and setups increase the potential for human error and defective parts – potentially leading to even more lost machine operation time and spiralling costs. 

How can you avoid these pitfalls?  

A changeover from 3-axis to a 5-axis machine could be the solution.

The benefits of reduced setup times with 5-axis – at a glance:

  • The time spent changing out tools, fixtures, and programs with 3-axis can be significantly reduced with 5-axis machines. 
  • A 5-axis machine can cut complex parts that require machining on multiple surfaces (such as compound holes and cavities) in one cycle.
  • 5-axis machines aren’t limited to just complex parts. Any part or process can stand to benefit. 
  • Onboard graphics and simulation on 5-axis machine software allow for easy programming and fewer errors. 
  • Due to the use of shorter tool lengths and increased cutting accuracy, tool breakages and part defects are reduced.

1. Remove extra machine setups and processes

Machining a part that requires work on multiple faces using a conventional 3-axis machine necessitates an operator to stop the machine, adjust the part, and reactivate the machine for each operation. 

During each of these pauses, an operator will inspect the part and fixture setup before starting the next operation. These periodic pauses waste valuable machine time and increase the risk of positional and setting errors for each operation. This, along with your extra operator costs, adds to the expense of your operation and the overall hourly rate of your machine. 

How can 5-axis machines reduce setup hassle?

5-axis machines are able to significantly reduce setup times by completely removing these recurrent pauses in machine operation. 

Parts that require work on multiple faces can be cut all in one cycle – meaning they only require a single setup and teardown where they previously may have required four or five stops. 

This is possible because 5-axis machines can cut on the linear X, Y, and  Z axes, and on two out of three (A, B, C) rotational axes simultaneously.

2. What are the benefits of working on multiple axes?

Since 5-axis machines can operate on multiple axes and can cut parts that require multiple setups all in one cycle, the overall cycle time is reduced. 

Let’s look at an example.

If you’re cutting parts containing compound-angled holes on a 3-axis machine, it can be a tedious and extensive process that may require several setups. However, a 5-axis machine could cut parts like this seamlessly in a single cycle – no matter the profiles, cavities, or angled faces of the part.

3. Don’t underestimate simplified programming processes

Some manufacturers are hesitant to upgrade to 5-axis because they feel they do not produce parts that justify a ‘complicated’ 5-axis machine. 

However, investing in a 5-axis does not overcomplicate your machining process; it simplifies it. 

The user-friendly software accompanying our 5-axis machines are packed with onboard graphics and simulations, allowing for streamlined programming and setups. Additionally, an upgrade to 5-axis could allow you to work in new and different industries, such as aerospace, defence, and medical. These industries now desire more complicated, application-specific parts. 
With Hermle 5-axis, for example, you’ll gain access to their user-friendly software. Machine operators can simulate a program to verify the setup, cutting parameters, and tool paths before actually operating the machine. This minimises the risks of human error that can be costly to rectify.

4. The impact of improved part quality and extended tool life

When a part typically cut on a 3-axis machine is moved to a 5-axis machine (a process called 3+2 machining), the reduced setup time isn’t the only benefit – improved quality and surface finish can also result. 

5-axis machines allow machine heads to be closer to the workpiece, allowing shorter cutters and improved cutting accuracy. Tool vibration is also reduced,  extending tool life and saving money.

Having a 5-axis machine not only reduces the number of teardowns, setups, and inspections operators must do. Improved part quality leads to fewer parts being scrapped and less time being spent reworking orders. 

5-axis machines can continuously deliver high-quality parts to the same standard with every single operation. By accounting for these factors and implementing changes, you can reduce your setup time and ultimately have higher production output and profit.

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