What’s a Six-Axis CNC machine and should you buy one?

September 6, 2023
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What is a Six-Axis CNC machine?

When we talk about a Six-Axis CNC machine, we're referring to the number of directions in which the cutting tool or machine can move. In a traditional Three-Axis setup, the machine moves along the X, Y, and Z axes—forward and backwards, side-to-side, and up and down, respectively. 

But in a Six-Axis CNC machine, we're adding another layer of complexity. In addition to the usual X, Y, and Z movements, a 6-axis machine can rotate around each of these three axes, often referred to as the A, B, and C axes.

Let’s break it down simply:

  • X, Y, and Z control the basic front-to-back, side-to-side, and up-and-down motions.
  • A-axis rotates around the X-axis, allowing the workpiece or tool to tilt from front to back.
  • B-axis rotates around the Y-axis, allowing for tilting from side to side.
  • C-axis rotates around the Z-axis, enabling the workpiece or tool to spin like a top.

How is a Six-Axis CNC machine better than my current milling setup?

While Three-, Four-, and Five-Axis machines offer varying degrees of complexity and flexibility, they can't match the Six-Axis variant when it comes to the range of motion and precision. Whether it's sculpting a detailed artwork or machining a complex aerospace component, the Six-Axis machine's ability to move and rotate in six different planes enables unparalleled accuracy and intricacy in a single setup.

Three-Axis CNC Machines: Good for the basics

It is generally less expensive to purchase and maintain, and it is simpler to operate. Usually, it requires less space in your workshop. It can handle the vast majority of basic milling tasks, but they have their limitations. For moderately complex tasks, you may need to reset the workpiece several times.

Four-Axis and Five-Axis CNC Machines: A step up, but not quite there

The additional axes allow for more rotational movements, ideal for complex cuts and angles. You will also spend less time repositioning the workpiece. But, they still have their constraints, especially when it comes to accessing complex designs on a workpiece.

Factors to Consider When Buying a Six-Axis CNC Machine

When you're in the market for a Six-Axis CNC machine, here are some crucial factors to consider, all rolled into one comprehensive checklist:

  • Initial cost: Understand the upfront cost and see how it fits within your budget. These machines are a significant investment, so plan accordingly.
  • Operating costs: Don’t forget to account for ongoing expenses like maintenance, tooling, and software updates, which can add up over time.
  • Financing options: If the initial cost is a hurdle, explore different financing plans that might be available from the manufacturer or third-party lenders.
  • Speed and precision: Evaluate the machine's capabilities in terms of speed and accuracy, as these will directly affect both your productivity and the quality of the end product.
  • Tool capacity: Consider the number of tools the machine can hold. A higher capacity can mean fewer tool changes and greater efficiency in the long run.
  • Work envelope: Make sure the machine's work area is adequate for the types of projects you intend to undertake.
  • Software compatibility: Ensure the machine’s software can smoothly integrate with your existing design and operational software to avoid unnecessary complications.
  • Ease of use: A user-friendly interface can significantly reduce the learning curve, especially if you're new to Six-Axis CNC machines.
  • Warranty: Scrutinize the warranty terms. A more extended, comprehensive warranty can be a positive sign of the machine's quality and durability.
  • Technical support: Confirm that you'll have access to robust technical support, either directly from the manufacturer or through third-party service providers.
  • Availability of spare parts: Check the ready availability and pricing of essential spare parts. You don’t want your operations to halt due to a lack of access to replacement components.

Which Six-Axis CNC machine should you consider?

If you're weighing up upgrading to a Six-Axis machine, here are some top considerations to make first:

  • Capabilities: Ensure the machine can handle the complexity of your projects, especially if you're crafting detailed designs.
  • Power rating: Higher power often means higher volume production, largely because of the greater speed that you'll get.
  • Control systems: Opt for control interfaces that are naturally easier to figure out and simplify complex tasks.
  • Size and footprint: Depending on your workshop's size, choose a machine that fits comfortably without compromising on functionality.

Support and training: Prioritize buying from companies that also offer comprehensive support and training, so that you can have a smooth transition to this advanced machinery.

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The Top 3 Six-Axis CNC machines to consider

1. Zimmermann FZ100

The Zimmermann FZ100 is a powerhouse in the Six-Axis CNC realm. It's well-known for its top-tier precision and robust build. Designed for high-speed milling, its advanced control systems seamlessly handle complex designs. Ideal for aerospace and automotive industries, it's a symbol of German engineering excellence.

2. BACCI Artist TGV

The BACCI Artist TGV stands out with its largely unrivaled versatility. It's made for complex woodworking tasks and boasts a unique dual-arm design that ensures simultaneous machining. It's got a highly intuitive control interface, which is why it's a favorite among artisans seeking perfection in every carve.

3. MATEC 30HVU Six-Axis CNC Milling machine

The MATEC's 30HVU is another good example of German engineering at its finest. Designed for high-volume production, its power ensures efficiency without skimping on precision. Plus, the machine's control systems are user-friendly, making complex tasks a breeze. This option is best for industries requiring precise and consistent outputs.

Taking it one step further: Automating Six-Axis machine tending

You've marveled at the capabilities of Six-Axis CNC machining, but what if you could elevate its efficiency even further? What if you could pair it with a Six-Axis robot arm? Enter automated CNC tending.

Robot arms and CNC

Companies working at the forefront of CNC technology are integrating robot arms to tend to their machines. These aren't your average arms; they're equipped with a rotary axis and can mimic the rotational axis movements of the human wrist. This means that they can effortlessly load, unload, and even operate the CNC router with precision.

Why automate?

Imagine eliminating the downtime between machining cycles. With automated tending, your machine can remain in use almost indefinitely, with each finished part being unloaded by a robot, replaced with a new blank and the machine’s operations fully controlled via relays attached to the robot.

The bigger picture

Although the Six-Axis CNC machine already gives you a leap in capabilities, automating its tending process ensures that you're squeezing out every ounce of efficiency from it. It's not just about speed but also about consistency, precision, and maximizing production potential.


What are the limitations of Six-Axis CNC machining?

Six-Axis CNC machining offers some of the best flexibility but requires more power and precise control. Their complexity often means steeper learning curves and the A-Axis might be underutilized in simpler projects. Also, their initial investment cost is higher than traditional machines.

What operations can Six-Axis CNC machines perform?

Six-Axis CNC routers shine particularly for operations needing multiple axes. A Six-Axis CNC can handle drilling, milling, turning, and even hard carving tasks. Its unique A-Axis and other rotational capabilities ensure intricate designs are completed with precision and efficiency.

What industries benefit the most from using a Six-Axis CNC machine?

Aerospace, automotive, and medical industries greatly benefit from such machines. These sectors usually require parts with complex dimensions that standard machines simply can't handle. The machine's power and control capabilities help with precision in these critical applications.

Triumph Structures is an example of a company that uses Six-Axis CNC routers. Triumph Structures previously used separate Five-Axis CNC routers but made the switch for greater efficiency.

Are there specific training programs available for operators transitioning to Six-Axis CNC machines?

Definitely! Due to the complexity of the machine, there are a few specialized training programs focused on its control systems and rotary axes functionalities. These programs ensure that operators harness the machine's full potential safely and efficiently.

Can existing CNC machines be upgraded to Six-Axis, or is a completely new machine purchase necessary?

Upgrading an existing CNC machine to a full Six-Axis configuration is possible but challenging because of the differences in control systems and power. Most of the time, investing in a dedicated Six-Axis CNC machine is the easier route.

Final thoughts

Choosing a Six-Axis CNC machine is about future-proofing your CNC machining processes, ensuring you're not just keeping up, but leading the way. With the ability to maneuver the cutting tool along the Z-Axis and rotational axes, these machines redefine precision.

Whether it's a precise Italian-made CNC router or one of the many German CNC routers, the advancements in CNC machining promise unparalleled efficiency, accuracy, and innovation. Stay ahead and let your craftsmanship shine.

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