You probably know about 3-axis CNC milling and 5 axes. But did you know there’s also 6-axis CNC milling? The CNC milling machines most will be familiar with only operate on 3 axes: X, Y, and Z. This configuration is simple — just imagine a 3D printer and, instead of an extruder, it has a cutting tool that spins really really fast!
Things get even more interesting with 5-axis CNC milling machines, which additionally execute rotations about the X- and Y-axes. The benefit is the ability to keep the cutting tool perpendicular to the material surface on multiple planes. This way, you can mill forms with overhangs that would be impossible to cut with a 3-axis machine
And then there’s 6-axis CNC mills. The addition of another rotation axis, usually about the Z-axis this time, can cause a significant improvement in speed compared to 5-axis configurations.
The primary benefit 6-axis CNC milling offers over the closely-related 5-axis configuration is faster cutting times. With an additional axis of freedom, certain tool movements and transitions can be executed with greater speed and efficiency.
Naturally, the other main limitation of 6-axis CNC milling is cost. Adding just one more rotation axis makes the resulting mill much more complex than its 5-axis counterpart. Making, using, and maintaining such a device are no cheap tasks.
We thought CNC machines were already cool with three axes.
As you can see, doubling that number unveils some fascinating possibilities. For now, 6-axis CNC milling machines are rather rare, as it’s not easy to justify the complexity involved in having one extra axis of rotation. For the right niche use case, however, 6-axis CNC mills can work wonders.