Sadly, all too often 5 axis machining is being done with a 3 axis mindset. It’s one thing having modern 5 axis machines in the workshop but quite another to get the most from them.

This blog post explains why this conundrum is happening in many a workshop up and down the country and what to do about it.

CAD/CAM software and expertise

There are three things that need to be in place to get the most from the machines – software, expertise and robust quality control processes.

Without an investment in software capable of creating the cutting programs to utilise a 5 axis machine’s full capabilities, your engineering supplier will always struggle with complex projects. The machine may have the capability but, without the software, it will never be used! 

3 axis mindset.png

With high-end software in place, the picture is a lot rosier. Modern 5 axis machining is capable of producing fantastic results for even very complicated projects – impellers and all manner of complex shapes are a walk in the park!

Unless… the programmer isn’t very good. 

When 5 axis machining has a 3 axis programming mind…

Without the experience and expertise to think through and plan the processing of a particularly complicated part, it doesn’t matter what software you have. A 3 axis mind will always use a 5 axis machine like its inferior 3 axis cousin!

Of course, if you are making small aluminium widgets, the 3 axis mindset will work just fine. Your 5 axis machine will get the job done in fewer operations, thereby saving time. So the programmer without the experience and expertise is adequate in this context.

Complex parts 5 axis machining.pngHowever, a motor racing wheel, an impeller or another complex part is a completely different story. Tricky work requires a 5 axis skill set built from years of experience. Years of figuring out complex programming to manufacture complicated parts.


It can be difficult to visualise a part machined with an upper turn, a lower turn, a main spindle and a sub-spindle all in the process at the same time. It is likely to be overwhelming for an inexperienced programmer. It certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted!

And even then, the most experienced 5 axis engineers can make mistakes. Though mistakes are no excuse for delivering sub-standard components. Robust Quality Control processes should always pick up errors before they de-rail the entire project. There really shouldn’t be any rejects!

Could you be suffering from someone else’s 3 axis mindset?

Obviously, for complex projects to be successful the workshop must invest all of these things to push their 5 axis machines to the limits. This combination of software and machinery provides the capability but, without the engineering experience, expertise and inspection, they might as well not have invested.

If you suspect your workshop’s programmer of being inexperienced and using a 3 axis mindset for 5 axis machining work, it may be time to switch supplier. It’s probably your only option…