5-axis CNC machines

3-Axis Vs. 4-Axis Vs. 5-Axis CNC Machines: What’s the Difference?

CNC machining has been one of the fastest evolving technologies, especially since the last ten years. One of the most noticeable evolutions has to be the inclusion of an additional axis in machining. Nowadays, CNC machines can be equipped with 3-axis, 4-axis, 5-axis, and even 9-axis. 


But, how do these differ from each other, and what are their advantages? 


In this article, we will be answering all of these questions and more. 


Before we get into it, though, let’s first understand how axes work in CNC machines. 


CNC machining is the process of removing material from a workpiece with high-speed precision to form desired shapes. Axis refers to the CNC machines that operate along with multiple axes points. 


Typically, CNC machines operate along 3-axis: X(horizontal), Y(vertical), and Z(depth). 


This multiple-axis movement allows the machines to design complex parts. Approaching the workpiece from various angles helps improve production and efficiency. 


3-axis CNC machines are still one of the widely used machines to develop parts and components for various industries. They can be used for automatic/interactive operations, drilling holes, milling slots, and cutting into workpieces. 


Now that we have understood how multi-axis CNC machines work, let’s look at their differences and advantages. 


3-Axis Machining


With 3-axis machining, the workpiece remains in a single position while the cutting tool moves around the three-axis to produce desired shapes. 3-axis machines mostly come into play for 2D and 2.5D geometry machining. 


3-axis CNC machines can operate on all six surfaces of the workpiece, but the workpiece has to be set up accordingly for each side, which can be an expensive errand.


These machines are suitable for projects that don’t require a lot of details or depth. 


Sometimes, the design feature requires complex movements from the CNC machines. For instance, 3-axis CNC machines cannot machine any feature on any angle to the X, Y, and Z coordinate system. 


If you are on a budget or only need to cut flat surfaces, 3-axis machines are more than optimal for you. They are affordable, easier to work with, and surprisingly versatile for most day-to-day milling and cutting tasks. 


If you need to do more complex machining, you might need to add axes or two to your machine’s movement. 


This is where the 4-axis machine comes in.


4-Axis Machining


In 4-axis machining, the workpiece is processed the same way as in a 3-axis machine, along with an additional rotary movement around the X-axis. This additional rotary movement is called the A-axis. 


The spindle moves in 3 directions (X, Y, and Z), and an additional A-axis occurs by the rotation of the workpiece itself. 4-axis machines can come in a few different arrangements. The workpiece is mounted on the X-axis, and the feature on the A-axis helps rotate it. 


4-axis CNC machines can not only take on the tasks that are virtually impossible for 3-axis machines, but they are also more efficient at them. 


4-axis CNC machines also eliminate the need for fixtures that need to be added to 3-axis machines, which improves the tolerance accuracy of the machine.


There are two types of 4-axis machines: Index and Continuous.


In index 4-axis CNC machines, the cutting tool does not interact with the workpiece until the A-axis rotates and stops at the correct rotational angle. 


In continuous 4-axis CNC machines, the machine can interact simultaneously with the workpiece as the A-axis rotates. This process allows the processing of complex shapes and components such as helixes.


One of the greatest advantages of 4-axis CNC machines is that they can machine angled features, which is impossible for a 3-axis CNC machine to do. 


5-axis Machining


5-axis CNC machines have all the capabilities of a 4-axis machine plus an additional rotational axis. These machines can move the tools in the X, Y, and Z-axis and the A and B axes. 5-axis CNC machines are one of the most optimal CNC machines used in automobiles, aerospace, and other complicated production requirements.


5-axis CNC machines utilize two of the three additional rotational axes (A, B, and C). The rotation occurs through a spindle or a feature. 


The multidimensional rotation allows for superior speed, efficiency, quality, and finish. Like the 4-axis CNC machines, these come in two arrangements: 3+2 machines and continuous machines.


3+2 machines have two rotational axes operating independently of each other, which means you can set the workpiece at any compound angle and start machining. 


With continuous machines, the two rotational axes can rotate simultaneously, allowing for the production of complex 3D shapes. 


3-Axis vs. 4-Axis vs. 5-Axis, Which One is Right for You?


One important thing to consider while choosing between these CNC machines is the cost. As you move towards multidimensional CNC machines, the cost keeps rising. Moreover, 3-axis CNC machines are more than capable of producing basic parts. 


So, unless you need to work on complicated projects, you don’t need 4-axis or 5-axis CNC machines. 


However, if you can afford a higher-axis CNC machine and need to develop complex parts, 4-axis and 5-axis machines offer innumerable benefits. 


For instance, with higher axes CNC machines, the need for setups dramatically drops. You can start and finish a product in one go. Thus, you can save time and resources and focus on more productive tasks.




We hope this article helped you understand the multi-dimension rotational CNC machines better. Did you know there is a 12-axis CNC machine too? Imagine what machining on that would be like. This only shows that CNC machines have continued to remain relevant and effective to this day. And in the coming years, we are only going to see more evolution in this technology.


At CNC Conversion Plus, we are all about CNC machining and programming. But we get that not all small-scale and hobbyists can afford a CNC machine. So, we have found a solution: CNC conversion kits.


CNC conversion kits allow you to transform your old machines into automated ones. Converting your old machines into CNC allows you to improve your machine’s processing capabilities and efficiency. Not to mention, CNC conversion kits also add to the lifespan of your machine and tools. 


So, if you are looking for a more affordable way to improve your production and machining skills, reach out to us, and we will help you find the best CNC conversion kit for your needs. 


Better yet, we will build a turn-key CNC machine for you from scratch and deliver it to your doorstep.


Thanks for reading. 




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