When it comes to multi-axis machining, product teams nowadays have a plethora of alternatives, ranging from 3-axis to 5-axis to even 9-axis milling. What is the distinction between each type? In this post, we’ll look at the fundamental similarities and differences between two prominent types of CNC machining (3-axis vs. 5-axis) and explain when one would be preferable.


3-Axis Machining

After the user enters milling instructions into a computer, the 3-axis CNC machine will perform the operation automatically by cutting along three axes — X, Y, and Z, or left-to-right, front-to-back, and up-and-down. CNC milling and CNC turning are both types of 3-axis machining. They do, however, operate in a somewhat different manner.


The material block is fixed in a vice or on a machine bed when utilizing a 3-axis CNC milling machine. Connected to a spindle, rotating drills or cutting tools move along the X, Y, and Z axes, eliminating shavings to precisely create the finished component. Most geometries and simple items may be produced with 3-axis CNC milling machines.


Because a 3-axis CNC machine can only cut along three dimensions, it may struggle with unusual shapes or designs with deep, narrow cavities that are difficult to reach. Operators may have to manually adjust the workpiece when processing parts with complex geometries, which can slow down the processing pace, increase labor and machining costs, and result in a less-than-perfect completed product.


5-Axis Machining

5-axis machines rely on a tool that moves in five directions — X, Y, and Z, as well as A and B, which the tool revolves around. A 5-axis CNC machine allows workers to approach a part from all angles in a single operation, eliminating the need to manually place the workpiece between processes. 5-axis CNC machining reduces time and is suitable for producing complicated and precise parts used in the medical, oil & gas, and aerospace industries. Product teams should be aware of several types of 5-axis machines, including indexed 5-axis CNC machines, continuous 5-axis CNC machines, and mill-turning CNC centers.


Continuous 5-axis CNC machining allows the cutting tool and the workpiece to rotate and move at the same time, saving time and allowing operators to create complicated designs with organic surfaces. Although continuous 5-axis CNC machining improves surface smoothness, speed, and dimensional consistency, it has the greatest cost-per-part.