In product manufacturing related to CNC machining, there is a lot to know about CNC machining axes. This is due to their importance and the fact that most modern CNC machines tend to operate using 4- and 5-axis CNC machining.

What is 3-Axis CNC Machining?

3-axis CNC machining is a technology that utilizes CNC machine tools to manufacture and process parts and products under computer control. In this type of machining, the workpiece remains stationary while a rotary tool cuts along three separate axes, X, Y, and Z. The X and Y axes are used for horizontal movement, and the Z axis is used for vertical movement. This type of machining accurately controls the trajectory of the tool through the CNC system, thus realizing precise cutting and machining of the workpiece.

3-axis CNC machining is one of the most basic machining methods in CNC machine tools, which is widely used in mold manufacturing, aerospace, automotive parts manufacturing and other fields. It is simple to operate, has a wide range of machining, and can meet a variety of machining needs. However, since 3-axis machining can only cut in three axes, it may be limited in handling products with complex geometries or with complex components. For these complex products, more advanced 4-axis or 5-axis CNC machining may be required for more precise machining.

Overall, 3-axis CNC machining is an efficient and accurate method of machining for a variety of applications that require high precision machining.

What is 4-axis and 5-axis CNC machining?

4-axis CNC machining is often referred to as 4-axis CNC machining, which is a multi-axis machining process utilizing a CNC machine equipped with additional rotary axes. In 4-axis machining, the CNC machine moves simultaneously in four different axes, which typically consist of three linear axes, X, Y, and Z, as well as an additional rotary axis, the A-axis, which is a rotary axis around the X-axis. This configuration makes it possible to machine complex parts and mill them at special angles that are not possible with three-axis machining. The rotary axis of the four-axis machining center can increase the machining angle of the workpiece, improve machining accuracy and efficiency, and is widely used in aviation, automotive and other manufacturing industries.

5-axis CNC machining is a more advanced mode of CNC machine tool machining. In five-axis machining, in addition to the three linear axes of X, Y, and Z, two rotary axes are added, and these rotary axes are usually the A, B, or C axes, which represent rotations around the X, Y, and Z axes, respectively. This configuration allows the tool to maintain an optimal cutting angle during machining, enabling high-precision machining of spatial curves and surfaces. Five-axis machining is commonly used for machining parts with very complex geometries, such as airframe components, turbine components and impellers in the aerospace field.

Differences between 4-axis and 5-axis CNC machining

The main differences between 4-axis CNC machining and 5-axis CNC machining are reflected in a number of aspects, such as machining accuracy, machining efficiency, scope of application and initial investment.

First of all, from the point of view of machining accuracy, 4-axis machine tools mainly carry out linear interpolation in three axes and circular interpolation in one axis, so it may be difficult to accurately characterize the position of each point and the surface shape when dealing with spatially curved parts. On the other hand, 5-axis machine tools have five degrees of freedom machining capability, which can more accurately control the position and orientation of the tool in space, and thus improve the machining accuracy and surface quality.

Secondly, in terms of machining efficiency, a 4-axis machine may be faster than a 5-axis machine when machining relatively simple parts because it only needs to perform three linear axes of linear interpolation and one circular interpolation. However, for complex parts or surfaces, a 4-axis machine may need to perform multiple repetitions, which can lead to inefficient machining. A 5-axis machine is able to demonstrate greater efficiency in handling such parts, saving machining time and effort.

Furthermore, in terms of range of application, 4-axis machines are mainly used for simple parts, such as flat surfaces and shallow concave and convex surfaces. While the scope of application of five-axis machine tools is more extensive, not only can carry out CNC milling machine, CNC combination machine tools and other processing, but also particularly suitable for the processing of complex parts.

Finally, considering the initial investment, 5-axis machining CNC machine tools usually have a larger initial investment than 4-axis machines. This is because five-axis machine tools are more technologically advanced and require more R&D and manufacturing costs.

In summary, 4-axis CNC machining and 5-axis CNC machining each have their own characteristics and advantages, the specific choice of which machining method, need to be based on the actual machining needs, part complexity, cost budgets, and productivity and other factors for comprehensive consideration.

How to choose between 4-axis and 5-axis CNC machining

The choice between 4-axis or 5-axis CNC machining depends on factors such as specific machining needs, part complexity, cost budget, and productivity.

Machining Needs

First, you need to define your machining needs. If you need to machine complex parts, especially those with complex curved surfaces or those that require high-precision machining, then 5-axis CNC machining may be a better choice. This is because it is able to complete the machining of multiple angles in a single clamping, simplifying the process while maintaining optimal cutting conditions, thus improving machining accuracy and efficiency. However, if your machining needs are relatively simple, such as only needing to machine flat surfaces or shallow concave and convex surfaces, then 4-axis CNC machining may be sufficient.

Part Complexity

The complexity of the part is also an important consideration in choosing 4- or 5-axis CNC machining. Complex part shapes may require more axes to complete the machining. For example, 5-axis CNC machining can provide greater flexibility for parts that require cutting in multiple directions.

Cost Estimates

5-axis CNC machining machines are typically more expensive than 4-axis machines because 5-axis machines are more technologically advanced and more complex. Therefore, if you have a limited cost budget, then 4-axis CNC machining may be a more economical option.


Productivity is also a factor that should not be overlooked when considering machining methods. 5-axis CNC machining is usually able to offer higher productivity due to its high degree of flexibility and precision. However, this does not mean that 5-axis machining is faster than 4-axis machining in all cases. In some specific machining tasks, 4-axis machining may be more efficient due to its simplified process.

To summarize, the choice between 4-axis or 5-axis CNC machining needs to be based on specific machining needs, part complexity, cost budget, and productivity. Before making a decision, an in-depth discussion with a professional CNC machining service provider is recommended to ensure that the machining option chosen will meet your needs and provide the best value for money.

4- and 5-axis CNC machining applications

4-axis and 5-axis CNC machining has a wide range of applications in several fields.

First of all, 4-axis CNC machining is mainly used for machining parts with complex geometries, such as box parts. By adding a rotary axis, it enables more complex angles and cutting paths during the machining process, which improves the flexibility and precision of machining. This type of machining is widely used in industries such as aerospace, automotive and mold making.

Secondly, 5-axis CNC machining has a much wider range of applications. Because it has five degrees of freedom, it can maintain the optimal cutting angle during machining, thus realizing high-precision machining of spatial curves and surfaces. This makes 5-axis CNC machining widely used in shipbuilding, aerospace, automotive, new energy and other high-precision equipment manufacturing fields. For example, it can be used to process various titanium and aluminum aerospace parts, petrochemical equipment parts, medical equipment parts, and automotive parts. At the same time, in the processing of composite molds, 5-axis CNC machining also shows obvious advantages, which can overcome some of the shortcomings of the traditional processing methods and improve the processing quality and efficiency.

In general, the application of 4-axis and 5-axis CNC machining depends on the specific processing needs and part complexity. 4- and 5-axis CNC machining is ideal for parts that require complex shapes to be machined or that require high-precision machining. However, these advanced machining methods also require a higher initial investment and technical support, so cost-effectiveness and machining needs should be considered when making a selection.

If your current project requires CNC machining support, contact us, our team of experts have extensive knowledge in CNC machining and we can guarantee a high quality product customized to your requirements.

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