How to Program CNC 5 Axis Machines

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Programming a 5 axis milling machine is one of the most complicated jobs performed by a trained machinist. Most computer numerical control mills have three axes, so the addition of two more adds to the complexity of the program. The two added axes are normally dictated as Q and B, with the former the designation for the part table rotation and the latter the tilt of the spindle head for angle cuts. After you have the program completed, you must run a simulation to make sure that there are no errors that would cause the machine to crash.

  • Set the home line for the program. This line will set maximum and minimum speeds for the spindle of the 5 axis milling machine. This line will also dictate where to start machining, as well as the information regarding the material type. The machine will use this information to automatically determine the feed rate of the tools as they cut along all 5 axes.

  • Program the roughing lines. Roughing is when the machine uses specially designed roughing tools to cut away excess material, leaving the finished part's rough shape. A 5 axis mill can cut in all three traditional ways --- up, down, left or right --- as well as at an angle, and the part itself can rotate while being machined. The CNC control will use all 5 axes to make the most efficient cuts during the roughing process.

  • Program the lines for finishing. Many CNC machines will use the same information to finish the part and bring it to size. Programming a 5 axis milling machine is the same as any other type of CNC mill, except that the machine can perform more operations to get the job done. The head tilts, which allows for angled cuts and holes drilled at an angle. The rotating table that holds the part can also allow you to cut in a cylindrical fashion, unlike 3 axis mills that have stationary material and a spindle that can only move in three directions.

  • Program the hole drilling that is necessary for the part to be completed. Five axis mills can drill holes at various angles due to a spindle that can swing like a pendulum. This allows for angled holes to be done during the automated machining, where previously it would have to be done on a manual mill, such as a Bridgeport, as they have tilting heads as well.

  • Place the end line to set the spindle straight, as well as rotate the part back to zero. Add a repeat point, which will restart the program back at a certain line. You can also have the machine spindle stop at a certain point for turning a part or making any types of adjustments needed. The ending line is usually used to send the last tool to the home position and turn off the coolant so that the completed part can be removed from the machine.

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  • Photo Credit Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images News/Getty Images
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