CNC machinery is allowing manufacturers to produce complex components with greater efficiency. The precision and efficiency offered by CNC equipment is ideal for every environment, and technological advances mean that advanced machinery is now more accessible than ever.
Making the most from your CNC machines requires selective investments in skilled operators, high quality tooling and equipment that is designed for your purpose. One of the most important factors to consider is the flexibility of your CNC machine and the number of axes it operates along. In this article we will discuss how many axes can a CNC machine have and how these advanced machines are being put to use.
CNC Milling Axes Explained
The power and versatility of these machines comes from their precise, CNC tools. Driven by computers, the cutting spindles on a CNC machine can operate to tolerances within hundredths of a millimetre and deliver results that would be impossible to recreate by hand.
To perform these precise operations, CNC machines need to be able to access components from every angle. This is achieved by moving the component and the cutting spindle relative to each other, either along the length of a plane or by rotating around the plane.
These axes of motion are critical to the capabilities of a CNC machine, and so most CNC equipment is defined by the number of axes it operates along. For example, common 3-axis CNC machines operate along the X, Y and Z axis, allowing the operator to program tool paths across the length, width and depth of a workpiece.
How Many Axes Can a CNC Machine Have?
CNC equipment has evolved rapidly in the past decade and it now provides more power and versatility than ever before. While most CNC machines operate along 3, 5 or 7 axes, multi-head machines can offer up to 12 axes of motion. 12-axis CNC machining represents the very latest technologies and allows manufacturers to perform complex milling operations that can’t be replicated any other way.
3-Axis vs 5-Axis CNC Machining
The two most common types of CNC machines are 3-axis and 5-axis variants. These are often used when processing timber products and soft materials such as aluminium, plastics, foam and composites. Although the number of axes limits the capabilities of 3 and 5-axis machines, they offer plenty of versatility when paired with skilled operators and the correct tooling.
3-axis CNC machines feature cutting heads and milling tables that operate along the X, Y and Z axis. In the most common configurations these machining planes are provided by movement in the spindle and/or the worktable. These two motions work together to provide precise machining that is ideal for simple to intermediate tasks, such as carving profiles, cutting components and creating bores.
5-axis CNC machines are the next step up for most manufacturers. In addition to the X, Y and Z axes, 5-axis machines also pivot the worktable along the A and C axis. The addition of the A and C axis allows 5-axis machining to deliver far more complex results, and these machines are widely used to produce intricate components, prototypes and decorative pieces.
9-Axis and 12-Axis CNC Machining
The most advanced CNC equipment currently available are 9 and 12-axis machines. These machines combine two independent spindles with lathes or movable machine tables to provide unprecedented control and access to components. The main benefit of using 9 or 12-axis machinery is the speed of operation. By using two spindles, 9 and 12-axis CNC machines effectively double their productivity and allow for multiple operations to be carried out concurrently.
Getting the most from a 9 or 12-axis CNC machine requires a deep understanding of machining processes and high quality tooling that can keep up with demanding feed rates. This means that 9 and 12-axis CNC machines are most commonly used to produce advanced products like aerospace components, medical devices and dental implants.