Multi-Axis Machining: 3-Axis vs 4-Axis vs 5-Axis CNC Machining

Multi-axis machining process for the manufacture of engine blocks - CNC machining

CNC machining is unmatched in making parts. It’s accurate, fast, and efficient. It significantly enhances manufacturing capabilities. Multi-axis CNC machining takes this advantage to new heights. Compared to traditional CNC machining. Multi-axis CNC machines are capable of operating on 4, 5, or even more axes. This extra range of motion allows complex parts to be machined from almost any angle. It cuts the need for multiple setups and boosts efficiency. They are key in industries like aerospace, automotive, and medical devices. These industries need high precision and complex designs.

At Yonglihao Machinery, we are a professional CNC machining service provider. We offer a wide range of multi-axis CNC machining, including 5-axis services. In this article, we will take you through the many parts of multi-axis machining. We will help you understand the benefits and differences of 3/4/5-axis machining. We will also help you choose the right one.

Table of Contents

Understanding 3-Axis CNC Machining

3-Axis CNC machining relies on the coordinated movement of three axes: X (horizontal), Y (vertical), and Z (depth). These axes are essential for shaping, drilling, and cutting materials into finished products. A 3-axis CNC machine works in these three dimensions. It allows for a wide range of parts with simple shapes to be made and is a basic CNC operation.

This type of machining seems cost-effective. These machines are often cheaper than their more complex counterparts. This cost-saving is reflected not only in the initial purchase price but also in maintenance and operating costs. Ease of use is another big advantage. 3-axis machines offer simpler set-up and operations. They allow operators with basic training to use them. Also, 3-axis machining is easy to program. This allows for quick changes and flexible production.

However, there are some limitations to consider. The main drawbacks are slower and less accurate. This is compared to more advanced, multi-axis machines. This is key for making parts with complex shapes. It is also key when many tool changes and setups are needed. Relying on three axes limits the ability to make complex shapes at once. It often requires extra steps to finish them.

It is currently used for machining parts in many industries. These include the manufacture of brackets, housings, and basic molds in areas such as automotive, consumer electronics, and industrial components.

Exploring 4-Axis CNC Machining

4-axis CNC Machining adds the A-axis to 3-axis machining. It adds a rotary axis around the X-axis. This increases the versatility and complexity of the process. This extra axis lets the workpiece rotate. It helps to machine side features without manual repositioning. This feature reduces the setups needed for complex parts. It increases productivity and cuts the errors of multiple setups.

There are two main types of 4-axis machining: continuous and indexed. Continuous 4-axis machining allows the tool and workpiece to move together. This lets them create complex shapes and features in one pass. This method is great for complex designs, like spirals or complex arcs. It makes the machine better at making parts with complex shapes. On the other hand, 4-axis indexing involves stopping the workpiece’s rotation. It is stopped at different angles to allow machining from different sides. This method does not allow rotating and cutting at the same time. But, it lets you add features to different sides of the part without complex setups.

4-axis machining is preferred to 3-axis machining in situations. These situations involve parts that need many side features or have complex geometries. Only three axes of motion would make these geometries hard to achieve. The A-axis provides extra flexibility. It is ideal for making complex parts, such as those with non-orthogonal features, undercuts, or features that need to line up on more than one face. These industries include aerospace, automotive, and medical devices. They often use 4-axis machining for parts that need these complex features and high accuracy.

Four-axis CNC milling machine cutting motorbike engine parts-High-precision automotive parts CNC manufacturing

Advancing to 5-Axis CNC Machining

5-Axis CNC machining has improved the accuracy and complexity of parts. It does this by adding rotation in two planes. This evolution allows moving along the traditional X, Y, and Z axes while also rotating around the A and B axes. Sometimes, the C axis is used instead of the B axis. These movements create precise, complex shapes and features.

5-Axis CNC machining has two types. These are Continuous 5-axis machining and 3+2-axis machining. Each type has unique advantages. Continuous 5-axis machining allows the tool and workpiece to move in all five axes at once. This enables smooth, uninterrupted cutting of complex shapes. This capability is critical for producing parts with complex contours and geometries.

3+2 Axis machining also uses five axes. But, it has extra axes to position the workpiece at an angle and lock it. Then, it uses traditional 3-axis machining. The advantage of this approach is that complex angles can be machined without the continuous motion of continuous 5-axis machining. Set-up times are greatly reduced.

5-Axis CNC machining has many benefits. These include lower labor costs. They are due to their high automation and efficiency. This tech also gets better part accuracy and surface finish. It does this by needing fewer set-ups and letting the tool approach the workpiece at the best angle.

Five-axis CNC milling machine cutting aluminium car parts

Comparison: Choosing Between 3-Axis, 4-Axis, and 5-Axis

You must choose between 3-axis, 4-axis, and 5-axis CNC machining. It requires understanding the key differences in how they are used, their cost, accuracy, and part complexity. 3-Axis CNC machines run along the X, Y, and Z axes. They are the simplest and cheapest option and are ideal for simple parts with low complexity. People often prefer them for budget projects. The parts don’t need complex features or surfaces.

4-axis CNC machines add a rotary axis. This axis can machine parts with side features in a single setup. This reduces the need for multiple setups. It increases efficiency. It lets the machine produce more complex parts than a 3-axis machine. 4-Axis machining is mid-priced and mid-complexity. It is good for parts that need rotation symmetry or can’t be machined in the 3-axis alone.

5-Axis CNC machining allows for rotation in two additional planes. This means complex shapes can be machined with high accuracy. The tool can approach the part from almost any direction. 5-Axis machines offer big benefits for part complexity and accuracy. But, this also means that they have a high upfront cost. It is better for highly complex aerospace and medical devices. It is also good for any part that needs complex shapes and tight tolerances.

The choice of these options should be based on volume, budget, and part complexity. 3-axis machining is for making simple parts in high volumes. It is efficient and cheap. For parts that need many features or are moderately complex, 4-axis machining balances cost and functionality. Finally, the most complex designs need high accuracy and flexibility. For these, 5-axis machining is preferred, but it costs more.

So, consider throughput, budget, and part complexity. They should guide the choice of the right machining method. to select the right machining method. Ensure that current manufacturing requirements are met efficiently and effectively.

Multi-axis CNC for manufacturing high-precision automotive parts (turbocharger)


So, it is important to consider all factors. They matter when choosing the right manufacturing method for a project’s needs. Choose the right type of CNC machining for efficient part customization. Yonglihao Machinery is a professional CNC machining service provider in China. We provide professional part design and machining services. We are happy to help you choose the most appropriate CNC machining process for your current needs.


The choice depends on your project’s complexity, precision requirements, and budget. Use the 3-axis for simple parts with basic shapes. Use the 4-axis for parts needing features on many sides or with some complexity. Use the 5-axis for intricate designs needing high precision.

Yes, 5-axis machines have higher initial and operating costs. This is due to their advanced abilities and precision. However, they can reduce the total cost for complex parts by minimizing setup times and the potential for errors​​.

3-axis machines are limited in this regard. They struggle with undercuts and complex shapes. This is due to their linear motion in only three axes. For such features, 4-axis or 5-axis machines are more suitable​​​​.

Yes, such industries need highly complex and precise parts. They include aerospace, medical devices, and automotive sectors. These sectors greatly benefit from the versatility and precision of 5-axis CNC machining.

4-axis machining is ideal for parts that need features or cuts at various angles in a single setup. It’s widely used for parts with round or complex shapes. These parts include gears or camshafts.

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