Advanced Precision Machining

Three-Axis to Five-Axis Milling and Machining Center Conversion

[October 2, 2014] The 2014 International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) held in Chicago was THE place to be this year, drawing its 4th largest crowd in show history. Many innovations in CNC machining were on display highlighting what the future may hold for CNC machine shop owners. In attendance this year, APM was on the lookout for ways to streamline operations and improve efficiency. 5-axis milling and machining always seems to be a hot topic, and we introduced readers of this blog to the benefits in a post from last year. However, for most smaller and mid-sized machine shops there are barriers to its adoption; namely cost. This year's show introduced us to ways of turning a 3-axis machining center into 5-axis production machine, and we look to add this to our mix in the next few years once power and space requirements become available. While not necessarily a brand new concept, the technology and reliability behind it has improved, costs are down, and we want to share with our readers some of the advantages.

The implementation of 5-axis CNC machining is a great way to increase overall productivity and accuracy while decreasing setup time, the man-hours needed, and operational runs. The utilization of better and shorter tools, a reduction in programming time, and limiting the costs involved in other operations all add up to saving money. The option of an add-on 5-axis milling and machining or contouring head can help achieve 5-axis power from a 3-axis machine. Users can essentially convert a CNC gantry or bridge machine to full simultaneous 5-axis capability at a fraction of the cost. Affixing this type of head to the spindle of a conventional 3-axis vertical CNC machining center for example, adds two rotary axes and allows for the reorientation of the tool and the feeding process. The result is a coordinated rotary motion for the complex 5-axis cuts required of angular features and more demanding contours. Although three-axis machines are capable of creating some complex surface parts, if they must be moved to another machine for more work, the opportunity for error increases when un-fixturing and re-fixturing the part.

The design and development of programmable two-axis spindle heads for attachment to existing three-axis machining centers is a less expensive option for small and medium-sized CNC machine shops lacking the capital necessary to upgrade to dedicated five-axis machines. The increased capability allows for the bidding and winning of more technical, complex and higher profit margin jobs. Today, there are essentially three options available for precision machining facilities wanting 5-axis capability; a dedicated and expensive 5-axis machining center, a tilting rotary/trunnion table, or the increasingly popular add-on spindle heads described. These conversion kits are a great way to enter the 5-axis machining fray. TRI-TEC Precision Products, and PDS Precision Drive Systems offer more information on this technology.

Want to learn more about APM's milling and machining capabilities, or do you need help with an upcoming project? We're happy to discuss all of your precision machining needs. Call us at at 303.776.1910 or send us an email.

About the Author


Gerry Dillon is a co-founder, current owner and certified CNC machinist at Advanced Precision Machining (APM), a full-service machine shop located in Longmont, Colorado. Before making his home in the United States in 2000, Gerry was born and raised on the emerald isle of Ireland and took an interest in milling and machining from an early age, ranking #1 in the Irish National Apprenticeship Program. In 2005, he partnered with his friend and colleague, Kirk Tuesburg, currently APM’s machine shop manager, together launching what’s grown into a leading Colorado machine shop. Gerry brings over 30 years of machining experience to the shop floor, and is certified in all aspects of geometric dimensioning and tolerancing.


Copyright © 2021 Advanced Precision Machining, LLC