When it comes to complex and precise parts, 5-axis CNC machine design is the forefront technology that brings efficiency and versatility to manufacturing. A 5-axis CNC machine operates with three linear axes (X, Y, Z) and two additional rotational axes (A, B), allowing it to machine intricate components from multiple directions without manual repositioning.

Some key benefits include:
Approaching parts from all directions: This minimizes setup time and ensures precision.
Creating highly complex geometries: Ideal for industries like aerospace, automotive, and medical.
Improved precision machining: Delivers excellent surface finishes and intricate details.

We’ll delve into the various configurations of 5-axis CNC machines, examining their design, pros, and cons to help you understand which setup suits your manufacturing needs best.

Configuration Benefits of 5-Axis CNC Machines - 5 axis cnc machine design infographic pillar-4-steps

Understanding 5-Axis CNC Machine Configurations

5-axis CNC machines come in various configurations, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Let’s explore the main types: Table-table, Head-table, and Head-head configurations, focusing on the Trunnion and Swivel head designs, as well as the Traveling Column 5-Axis Machining Center.

Trunnion Table Configuration

The trunnion table configuration is one of the most recognized setups for 5-axis CNC machines. Also known as a table-table configuration, it features both rotary axes within the trunnion table itself, while the head remains stationary.

Key Advantages:

Example: In aerospace manufacturing, the trunnion table’s ability to tilt and lock into position allows for precise machining of intricate components, such as turbine blades, from multiple angles without repositioning.

Swivel or Articulating Head Configuration

Swivel head machines can be either head-head or head-table designs. In a head-head configuration, both rotary axes are in the head, while in a head-table configuration, one rotary axis is in the head and the other in the table.

Key Advantages:

Example: The Hurco VMX42SRTi is a head-table design that excels in machining heavy parts due to its rigid setup and large table size, ensuring stability and precision.

Traveling Column 5-Axis Machining Center

The traveling column design is another popular configuration for 5-axis CNC machines. Here, the table is mounted directly to the machine base, and the column moves to perform the machining.

Key Advantages:

Example: The TMC Technologies traveling column 5-axis machining centers are known for their rigidity and precision, making them ideal for high-accuracy applications in industries like aerospace and medical devices.

Understanding these configurations helps you choose the right 5-axis CNC machine for your specific needs, whether it’s for better undercut capabilities, handling heavier parts, or achieving higher accuracy and stability. Next, let’s delve into the pros and cons of these different designs.

Pros and Cons of Different 5-Axis CNC Machine Designs

Trunnion Table Design

Better Undercut Capability: The trunnion table design excels in undercutting. It allows for a -30/+110 degree rotation, which is superior to the +92 degree rotation on a swivel head/rotary table design. This makes it ideal for parts requiring complex undercuts.

Larger Work Volume: Compared to swivel head designs, trunnion tables offer a larger work volume. This is because the spindle remains stationary, allowing for more space to maneuver the workpiece without having to compensate for the tool’s reach.

More Torque at Low RPM: The stationary spindle in trunnion tables is often belt-driven. This configuration provides more torque at lower RPMs, making it suitable for heavy metal removal.

Geared Spindles: Trunnion tables often feature geared spindles, which enhance power and precision, especially useful for machining harder materials.

Workpiece Orientation: The trunnion table’s ability to tilt the workpiece provides flexibility in machining complex geometries, making it a preferred choice for industries like aerospace.

Swivel Head & Rotary Table Design

Versatility: This design is highly versatile. The large table size allows for the addition of a vise, enabling you to finish the sixth side of a part or perform 3-axis work. This flexibility is particularly useful for multi-operation setups.

Minimizes Tool Interference: The swivel head tilts the tool, reducing concerns about tool interference with the machine’s spindle head. This is crucial for intricate work where precision is key.

Better Chip Control: By running the machine horizontally, the swivel head/rotary table configuration offers improved chip control. This is especially beneficial in operations generating a lot of debris.

Heavier Parts: Since the table is stationary, this design is better suited for handling heavier parts. The stability provided by the stationary table is a significant advantage in machining large and heavy workpieces.

Large Table Size: The design allows for a more expansive table, providing additional space for various setups, including multiple vises or fixtures.

Traveling Column Design

Machine Base Stability: The traveling column design offers unparalleled stability. The table is mounted directly to the machine base, reducing movement and enhancing precision.

Less Prone to Movement: Because the table is fixed, the traveling column design is less prone to movement. This stability ensures high accuracy and repeatability, making it ideal for precision machining tasks.

Better Chip Control: Similar to the swivel head design, the traveling column allows for efficient chip removal, improving overall machining efficiency.

Rigidity: The design’s inherent rigidity makes it suitable for heavy-duty machining tasks. The stable base minimizes vibrations, leading to a better surface finish and longer tool life.

Workpiece Orientation: The fixed table allows for consistent workpiece orientation, which is essential for maintaining accuracy across multiple operations.

By understanding the pros and cons of these 5-axis CNC machine designs, you can better choose the right machine for your specific needs. Next, we will explore key considerations when selecting a 5-axis CNC machine.

Key Considerations for Choosing a 5-Axis CNC Machine

Selecting the right 5-axis CNC machine involves several critical factors. Let’s break them down.

Workpiece Size

The size of the workpiece you plan to machine is crucial. Larger workpieces require machines with a bigger working area. Traveling Column 5-Axis Machining Centers are ideal for large components due to their extended work volume and stability.

Material Type

Different materials demand different machining capabilities. For instance, aerospace components often use titanium or aluminum, requiring machines that can handle these materials effectively. Table/Table configurations might struggle with heavy metals, whereas Swivel Head designs offer better torque at low RPM for tougher materials.

Machining Complexity

The complexity of your designs will dictate the need for advanced features. 5-axis CNC machines excel in creating intricate geometries and undercuts. Trunnion Table Designs are particularly good for undercuts, while Swivel Heads provide versatility for complex angles.

Budget Constraints

Your budget will influence the type of machine you can afford. High-end models with advanced features come at a higher cost. However, investing in a versatile 5-axis machine can save money in the long run by reducing setup times and increasing machining efficiency.

Software Compatibility

Software plays a pivotal role in CNC machining. Ensure that the machine you choose is compatible with industry-standard software. Here are some popular options:


Fusion360 is a popular choice due to its versatility and ease of use. It supports a wide range of machining strategies and is particularly good for prototyping and small production runs.


For those looking for a budget-friendly option, DeskProto offers excellent capabilities for multi-axis milling. It’s a great choice for hobbyists and small workshops.

Hurco WinMax Control

Hurco WinMax Control is known for its robust features and user-friendly interface. It simplifies complex machining tasks, making it easier to achieve high precision.

Autodesk Powermill

Autodesk Powermill is the industry standard for high-precision CNC machining. Its advanced toolpath strategies make it ideal for creating intricate parts with tight tolerances.

By considering these factors, you can make an informed decision when choosing a 5-axis CNC machine. In the next section, we will explore DIY and upgrade options for enhancing your current CNC setup.

DIY and Upgrade Options for 5-Axis CNC Machines

Upgrading from 3-Axis to 5-Axis

Upgrading your CNC machine from 3-axis to 5-axis can be a game-changer, but it requires careful planning and implementation. Here’s a breakdown of the key components and steps involved:

DIY 5-Axis CNC

Creating a DIY 5-axis CNC machine is an ambitious project but entirely feasible. Many hobbyists and small business owners take this route to save costs and gain hands-on experience.

Key Steps:
1. Design and Planning: Start with a solid design. Use CAD software to model your machine.
2. Frame Construction: Build a sturdy frame to support additional axes.
3. Motor Selection: Use NEMA 23 stepper motors for reliable performance.
4. Control System: Consider using an Arduino with GRBL for affordable control.

Pro Tip: Start small. Build a prototype even if it’s not perfect. You can always refine it later.

Multi-Axis Upgrade

If you already have a 3-axis machine, upgrading to 4 or 5 axes can significantly enhance its capabilities.

1. Rotary Axis Addition: Adding a rotary axis (A or B) can convert your 3-axis machine into a 4-axis machine.
2. XYZAB Configuration: For full 5-axis capabilities, you’ll need to add both A and B rotary axes.

Example: Upgrading an Inventables X-Carve machine to a 4-axis setup can involve adding a rotary axis to handle cylindrical objects like worm gears.

Controller Upgrades

The controller is the brain of your CNC machine. Upgrading it can unlock new capabilities.

Popular Choices:
1. Mach3: Widely used but can be limiting for multi-axis setups.
2. DeskProto: Ideal for 4- and 5-axis milling, offering more flexibility.
3. Fusion360: While powerful, recent pricing model changes have made it less accessible.

Real-World Tip: Many users switch to DeskProto for its robust multi-axis features.

Vertical Travel Increase

Increasing the vertical travel of your machine is crucial for handling larger workpieces.

1. Frame Modification: Extend the Z-axis frame.
2. Longer Ball Screws: Install longer ball screws to accommodate increased travel.
3. Motor Upgrade: Ensure your motors can handle the added load.

Case Study: Upgrading the Z-axis on a DIY CNC router allowed for more intricate woodworking projects.

Rotational Axis Hardware

Adding rotational axes involves more than just motors. You’ll need appropriate hardware.

1. Rotary Tables: Essential for adding A or B axes.
2. Geared Spindles: For precise control over rotational movements.
3. Mounting Brackets: Securely attach new components to the existing frame.

Pro Tip: Ensure your rotary tables are compatible with your control system to avoid integration issues.

Controller Replacement

Sometimes, a complete controller replacement is the best way to achieve multi-axis functionality.

1. Compatibility: Ensure the new controller supports 5-axis operations.
2. Ease of Use: Look for user-friendly interfaces.
3. Software Support: Make sure it works well with your chosen CAM software.

Example: Replacing a Mach3 knockoff controller with a more advanced system like Hurco WinMax can simplify complex tasks.

By following these steps, you can transform your existing CNC setup into a powerful 5-axis machine. This not only expands your machining capabilities but also opens up new project possibilities.

Next, we’ll explore the key considerations for choosing a 5-axis CNC machine, ensuring you make the best investment for your needs.


At TMC Technologies, we understand the importance of 5-axis CNC machine design and its impact on modern manufacturing. Our commitment to leveraging this advanced technology ensures that we provide our clients with top-tier quality components, cost savings, and the versatility to handle a wide range of projects.

Machine Versatility

One of the standout features of 5-axis CNC machines is their unparalleled versatility. Unlike conventional 3-axis machines, a 5-axis CNC can process five sides of a part in a single setup. This capability significantly reduces setup time, increases accuracy, and allows for the creation of complex geometries that would be difficult or impossible with simpler machines.

For instance, in the aerospace industry, where intricate parts with tight tolerances are often required, the versatility of 5-axis machines is invaluable. Similarly, in medical device manufacturing, the ability to machine complex shapes with high precision is crucial. Our 5-axis machining services cater to these demanding industries, ensuring that we meet the highest standards of quality and precision.

Investment Value

Investing in a 5-axis CNC machine is a significant decision, but the benefits often outweigh the initial costs. These machines enhance productivity, reduce errors, and improve surface finishes, translating to significant cost savings over time. As highlighted in our research, the high precision and repeatability of 5-axis CNC machining eliminate the need for multiple setups, reducing the likelihood of errors and improving overall efficiency.

Moreover, the ability to use shorter cutting tools in some machine configurations extends tool lifespan, further adding to the cost savings. By investing in a 5-axis CNC machine, businesses can achieve higher productivity and better quality, making it a worthwhile investment.

Future-Proofing Machining Capabilities

As we look towards the future, the integration of advanced technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and Industry 4.0 into CNC machining processes is expanding the horizons of what these machines can do. Predictive maintenance, real-time monitoring, and enhanced optimization are just the beginning.

At TMC Technologies, we are committed to staying at the forefront of these advancements. Our investment in the latest technology and ongoing training ensures that we remain leaders in the high precision CNC machining industry. By embracing these innovations, we are prepared to meet the rising demand for complex, high-precision parts, ensuring that our clients stay ahead of the curve.

In conclusion, the future of 5-axis CNC machining is bright, and TMC Technologies is at the forefront of this exciting journey. Our dedication to delivering excellence, combined with our embrace of the latest technological advancements, ensures that we continue to provide our clients with the best solutions for their machining needs.

Explore our capabilities to see how TMC Technologies can help you achieve your machining goals.