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

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

If you've already explored CNC machines, you've probably encountered various configurations, from the standard Three-Axis to the more advanced Five-Axis setups. But, have you heard of the Six-Axis CNC machine? It's not just another addition to the CNC family; it's a game-changer.

A conventional CNC machine will operate on the basic X-Axis, Y-Axis, and Z-Axis, whereas a Six-Axis CNC machine introduces three more rotational axes, referred to as A, B, and C. These rotational axes, combined with the standard linear movements, give the cutting tool greater access to the workpiece. Imagine the ability to approach a component from virtually any angle, ensuring truly intricate designs.

This isn't just about adding more axes; it's about redefining what CNC machines can achieve. With a Six-Axis CNC, complex parts that once needed multiple machine setups or even completely different machines can now be crafted on a single machine. This could be aerospace components like aircraft wings or complicated shapes in automotive industries - the possibilities are vast.

Why choose a Six-Axis machine?

Now that you know about all the nuances around CNC machines, why might you consider a Six-Axis CNC machine over your current setup? Here are some compelling reasons why you might want a Six-axis CNC machine:

  • Complexity simplified: With the extra rotational axes, Six-Axis CNC machines can craft very complicated shapes and detailed designs that were previously challenging or even seen as impossible. Think of it as having the freedom to maneuver the cutting tool in ways you've only dreamed of.
  • Efficiency: Remember those times when you had to reposition the workpiece multiple times or even shift it to another machine? With a Six-Axis CNC machine, many of those steps are a thing of the past, allowing you to ramp up your manufacturing and enabling high-volume production.
  • Greater precision: Being able to approach a workpiece from pretty much any angle ensures that your cuts are more precise. This is particularly beneficial for industries like aerospace, where even a minute error can have significant consequences.
  • Cost savings: The initial investment might be higher, but think long-term. The efficiency and capabilities of Six-Axis CNC machines can reduce labor costs, errors, and waste.

Is it better than my current Milling machine?

Your current milling setup, whether it's a Three, Four, or Five-Axis machine, may have served you well. But how does it stack up against Six-Axis CNC routers?

Three-Axis machines

The bread and butter of many workshops. These machines move in the X, Y, and Z axes and can handle the vast majority of basic milling tasks, but they have their limitations. They can't rotate the workpiece, which means complex parts might need manual intervention or multiple setups.

Four and Five-Axis machines

Stepping up from the 3-Axis, these CNC machines introduce rotational movement. This means you can create more complex shapes without as much manual repositioning. But, they still have their constraints, especially when it comes to accessing complex designs on a workpiece.

The Six-Axis advantage

Enter the Six-Axis CNC machine. With more than one additional axis, it'll give you optimal access to a piece. This means having fewer manufacturing parts, reduced milling time, and a higher quality of work. Intricate parts, which might've been a challenge before, become doable projects.

While your current milling machine probably has its merits, a Six-Axis CNC machine offers a leap in capabilities. Remember, it's not about replacing, it's about evolving.

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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