Three axis, four axis, five axis CNC machining difference

CNC machining has developed into one of the most critical manufacturing processes used in workshops worldwide. The addition of computer control to the previously manual process has made a leap in the accuracy and precision of machining parts.


In addition, due to the increasingly complex requirements of all walks of life, CNC machine tools have undergone many evolutions to better meet the needs of customers.


The development of CNC machining technology has brought about various forms and changes in this technology. These include 3-axis, 4-axis, and 5-axis CNC machines.


As a leading provider of CNC machining services, we regularly receive questions from our customers about how these technologies work. So, we decided to learn more about them through this article.


This article will highlight how each technique works, its advantages, disadvantages, and applications. Most importantly, we will show you how to choose the best CNC machining type for your project.


So, let's start with a three-axis CNC machine.


What is three-axis CNC machining?


Three-axis CNC machining is the simplest and most common form. This process uses a rotating tool moving along 3 axes to process a fixed workpiece.


The cutting tool moves along the X, Y, and Z axes to trim excess material from the part. In addition, it can even move along these multiple axes simultaneously to create the desired design.


This means the CNC machine can cut into the workpiece from side to side, front to back, up and down. However, the table with the fixed workpiece cannot move freely at all.




Although more advanced systems are available in the industry today, 3-axis CNC machining is still widely used. So, let's look at some of the advantages of keeping it.


Low cost


3-axis CNC machining is best for the rapid production of basic geometry and simple parts. In addition, programming and setting up the computer for production runs are relatively easy in 3-axis machining.




Three-axis CNC machining is a highly general part manufacturing technology. Drilling, milling, and even turning can be done by simply changing the tool.


These machines also integrate automatic tool change devices, thus extending their capabilities.




3-axis machining is also hampered by a number of factors that prevent it from meeting all machining requirements. Some of these factors include:


Design constraints


With 3-axis CNC machining, you are limited to basic shapes and geometrics-for example, it cannot create bottom-cut features. Although the machine can do much more in the hands of a skilled mechanic, it still cannot match the complex shapes available on 4-axis and 5-axis CNC machines.


In addition, it is not suitable for machining parts with special deep features or narrow cavities.


A variety of settings


Because the table on which the work is fixed is stationary, the mechanic must change its orientation several times before he can work on the rest of it.


This repositioning results in a loss of accuracy, not to mention a waste of time doing so.


Poor surface finish


The surface finish obtained by 3-axis machining is relatively poor, especially on the Z-cut. This happens because the tool is longer. As a result, it experiences more vibration, which can ruin the finish of the product.




3-axis CNC machining is still a very useful process. We can use it to create all kinds of basic geometry with high accuracy.


These applications include:


2 and 2.5D pattern carving


Groove milling and surface milling


The threaded holes are consistent with the axis of the machine.


Drilling, etc.


What is four-axis CNC machining?


4-axis CNC machining provides a significant upgrade over 3-axis machining. It adds additional degrees of freedom through rotational motion, making it possible and more straightforward to process complex features.


In 4-axis CNC machining, the tool moves freely on the X, Y, and Z axes to process the workpiece. However, the workpiece does not stand still on the bench as in 3-axis machining.


A 4-axis CNC machine can rotate the workpiece around the X-axis in an A plane called the A-axis. Thus, as the tool moves along the workpiece and the table turns it, you can cut along the contour of the workpiece.




Many advantages come from choosing a 4-axis CNC machine for your manufacturing project. Here are some of them


Higher design complexity can be achieved


Because the table rotates around the X-axis, the 4-axis CNC machine can produce intricate detail parts. In addition, the extra rotation makes it possible to access and process parts on other faces at odd angles to create the final part.


High accuracy and accuracy


A 4-axis CNC machine can access multiple surfaces of the workpiece without adjusting or replacing the fixture. As a result, the parts made with it are very accurate and meet strict standards.


Higher speed and lower production costs


Most of the work done on a 4-axis CNC machine requires only one clamping. As a result, the work can proceed smoothly without downtime or intervention to replace fixtures and tools.


In addition, production costs are significantly reduced, especially compared to 3-axis machining, because multiple clamps are not required to hold parts in place.




Four-axis CNC machines also have some drawbacks that may make them unsuitable for some customers. Let's take a look at them.


High operating cost


Compared to running a 3-axis CNC machine, the cost of running a 4-axis CNC machine is relatively high. This is due to the additional functionality of the machine and the specialized labor required to operate the machine.




4-axis CNC machining opens up a wide range of manufacturing possibilities. Some of its applications include:


Curved geometry


Engraving or machining cylinder sides and contours


Turning and milling (on the same machine).


Cut side holes and pockets.


What is five-axis CNC machining?


5-axis machining is the most accurate and advanced method for manufacturing complex, precision metal parts in the workshop.


In a 5-axis CNC machine, the tool moves on the X, Y, and Z axes, just as in a 3-axis machine. In addition, the table can rotate the workpiece around the X and Y axes.


These planes of rotation are called the A and B axes, respectively.


These extra rotations open up other sides of the workpiece that could not be machined before. Thus, for the A 5-axis machine tool, accurate 3D machining can be performed since the machine moves on the XYZ axis and rotates simultaneously in the A and B planes.


What is 3+2 axis machining?


Some people tout 3+2 axis machining as the same as 5 axis machining, but this is not the case. Although both can move in the same direction, they do so in different ways.


In A real 5-axis milling machine, the tool can move on the XYZ axis while the table rotates on both the A and B axes. However, this simultaneous motion is not possible on a 3+2 axis milling machine.


The 3+2 axis machine can only move the table by rotating it along the X and Y axes before cutting begins. When cutting on the XYZ axis, it cannot do so in real-time.




There are many advantages to using a quality 5-axis CNC machining service.


Complex Parts Creation


Because of this, five-axis CNC machining is very popular in the aerospace, automotive, and energy industries.


It can deal with a variety of curved geometry, narrow cavities, draping features, etc., which cannot even be covered by other machining methods.


Shorten delivery time


Making parts using a 5-axis CNC machine is a very fast job. It does not require multiple Settings to change fixture or part orientation. In a single step, it can create incredibly complex shapes.


Incredible surface finish


Thanks to the 4 and 5-axis movements, the 5-axis machining machine can Orient the parts closer to the cutting tool. This allows for a cleaner, more accurate cut, resulting in a top-notch surface finish.




The only drawback to 5-axis CNC machining is its cost. It provides excellent service and features that make it more expensive than 3-axis and 4-axis machining.


However, for applications that require ultra-high quality, the extra cost is well worth it.




Some typical applications of 5-axis machining include:


Machining complex shapes


Creating a tilted surface


High precision, low tolerance applications

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