Five axis machining can be broken down into two distinct processes. The first involves simultaneous movement of up to three linear axes (X, Y and Z) together with the machine’s two rotary axes, typically labeled A and B. This process is used to produce sculpted, three dimensional surfaces such as knee replacements, pump impellers, mag wheels or a mould for the next greatest motorcycle helmet.
The other type is called 3+2, where the rotary axes are used to index and position the workpiece, enabling five-sided machining of manifold blocks, valve bodies, and a host of other parts that, prior to five axis machines, would have been “tumbled” through multiple operations on a three axis machining centere. Today, five axis machines eliminate the handling and need for multiple fixtures, greatly reducing part lead-time while improving accuracy.
There’s more to five axis machining than spinning a part. Programming, process planning, and the machine tool itself are all more complicated than what’s needed for traditional three axis work. One aspect of this is how to best grip the workpiece. No matter what you’re making on a five axis machine, the parts must be positioned farther from the table, sometimes much farther, than on a three axis machine. That’s because, when the part is tipped on its side or rotated at some extreme angle, the cutters and toolholders need room to clear the machine table. If the part is snugged down close to the table, as with a machinist vise, interference is as sure as a February snowstorm in Winnipeg.
Workholding providers have responded with a variety of solutions. Mittmann Industrial Equipment, Rigaud, QC, distributes the Kipp five axis compact clamping system from German manufacturer Heinrich Kipp Werk KG. President Thomas Mittmann says five axis machining is prevalent in the aerospace, automotive and die/mould industries. “It’s especially useful for machining low volume, complex parts. You can do the whole part in a single clamping on these machines.”
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