CNC machining is a way to precisely create parts from materials like plastic, metal, and composites by removing excess material using cutting tools. It’s a cost-effective and accurate manufacturing process.

For a long time, traditional machining has relied on the X-axis, Y-axis, and Z-axis, which are still common in the milling industry for their efficiency. However, over the past few decades, machinists have developed more advanced CNC machining like 3+2 and simultaneous 5-axis.

Adding two more axes to the standard three creates a 5-axis CNC machining, but it’s not the same as a 3+2 mechanism. In this article, you will learn the distinction between 5-axis and 3+2-axis CNC machining, the benefits of using advanced CNC machining, and how to choose the right one for your business.

Understanding 3+2 Axis CNC Machining

Traditional milling machines achieve movement in three directions – up, down, side to side, and back and forth. To add more flexibility, they can rotate on two additional axes. This setup is known as 3+2 axis CNC machining.

In this type of machining, the fourth and fifth axes are used to secure the part, while the primary three axes handle the cutting. This method, called positional 5-axis CNC machining, allows for a stable setup. The cutting tools used in 3+2 axis machining are shorter and sturdier, ensuring better accuracy.

The idea behind 3+2 positioning CNC machining is to achieve 3-axis machining at a specific angle. In simpler terms, even when tilted, it operates much like a regular three-axis machine, maintaining the same cutting principles.

3+2-axis CNC machining builds on the strengths of a standard 3-axis machine. It can work around a piece from every angle, reducing the need for multiple setups during production. This streamlines the manufacturing process, saving time and money.

What is 5-Axis CNC Machining? 

AxisRange of Axes Movement
Y-axisfront to back
X-axisleft to right
Z axisup and down
A-axis180° rotation around the X-axis
B-axis180° rotation around the Y-axis
A table showing the movement ranges of 5-axis CNC machine

5-axis machines use a tool that can move in five directions: up and down (X), side to side (Y), forward and backward (Z), and it can also rotate around two more axes called A and B. This flexibility allows operators to approach apart from all angles in one go without manually repositioning the workpiece between steps. 5-axis CNC machining is perfect for making complex and precise parts, especially in industries like medicine, oil, gas, and aerospace. There are different types of 5-axis machines, such as indexed 5-axis CNC, continuous 5-axis CNC, CNC milling center, and CNC turning.

3+2 Axis vs 5 Axis CNC Machining: How do they Differ?

CNC machine with a metal part clamped in position and a single tool spindle overhead
CNC machine with a metal part clamped in position and a single tool spindle overhead

The choice between 3+2 Axis vs 5-axis CNC machining depends on the specific requirements of your project. If you want a cost-effective solution for relatively simple parts and want to minimize prep time, 3+2 axis machining is a solid choice.

On the other hand, if you require the capability to create complex, high-precision components, 5-axis machining provides the necessary versatility, accuracy, and efficiency to meet those demands. Here are detailed CNC machining differences between both techniques.

3+2 Axis CNC Machining

These machines operate along three primary axes. This means they can move the cutting tool in three directions: X, Y, and Z. For applications where the workpiece is relatively flat and straightforward, 3+2 axis machining is an excellent choice. These machines are often more affordable and accessible to set up, making them a cost-effective option for businesses on a budget. The simplicity of programming for 3+2 axis machines means that you don’t necessarily require highly specialized and expensive programmers or operators. This, in turn, reduces operating costs and prep time, making them a practical choice for a wide range of manufacturing needs.

5-Axis CNC Machining

In contrast, 5-axis CNC machines have two additional rotary axes and the standard X, Y, and Z axes. These two rotary axes allow greater machine flexibility of complex shapes and geometries. 5-axis machining is ideal when creating parts with intricate features, deep pockets, or complex contours. 

These machines can manipulate the workpiece from various angles without requiring manual repositioning, which significantly enhances the efficiency and precision of the manufacturing process. With 5-axis CNC machining, you can achieve higher yields, superior accuracy, and the ability to tackle more extensive and intricate components. This advanced technology offers increased freedom in part design and a competitive edge in producing complex, high-precision parts.

Applications and Industries Benefiting from Each Approach 

Both 3+2-axis and 5-axis approaches play essential roles in modern manufacturing, with 3+2-axis machining offering cost-efficiency and versatility for specific applications and 5-axis machining enabling the production of highly complex and precise components important for industries with advanced demands. Here are the applications and industries benefiting from each approach:

3+2 Axis CNC Machining 

Aerospace Industry

  • Complex Aircraft Components: The aerospace sector enjoys the 3+2 Axis benefits in the manufacturing of intricate aircraft parts like wing sections, engine components, and landing gear parts. These components often feature multiple angles and curves that demand high precision and consistency, which 3+2 Axis Machining provides.

Automotive Sector

  • Engine and Transmission Components: In the automotive industry, where engines and transmissions involve complex parts with various surfaces and angles, 3+2 Axis CNC Machining is invaluable. It aids in efficiently and precisely creating engine blocks, transmission casings, and other critical components.
  • Tooling and Molds: Another area where 3+2 Axis Machining excels is in the production of dies, molds, and tooling for automotive part manufacturing. This method is used to create molds for plastic injection molding, sheet metal stamping, and more, ensuring the production of high-quality automotive parts.

Tool and Die Manufacturing

  • Intricate Tool Components: Tool and die manufacturers employ 3+2 Axis CNC Machining to craft complex tooling components with multiple surfaces. This is essential for industries that depend on precision tooling for manufacturing processes, such as metal stamping, injection molding, and extrusion.

Medical Device Manufacturing

  • Custom Implants and Surgical Instruments: The medical device industry partake of 3+2 axis benefits in producing custom implants and surgical instruments. These items often require complex geometries and multiple angles to meet specific patient needs and medical requirements.

Consumer Electronics

  • High-Precision Components: The consumer electronics sector frequently utilizes 3+2 Axis CNC Machining to manufacture high-precision components for devices like smartphones, laptops, and cameras. This method ensures that intricate parts meet strict quality standards while remaining cost-effective.

5-Axis CNC Machining

Aerospace Industry

The aerospace sector extensively relies on 5-axis CNC machining for manufacturing critical components such as aircraft engine parts, turbine blades, and complex airframe structures. This technology ensures high accuracy and quality, meeting the stringent standards of the industry.

Automotive Industry

In the automotive industry, 5-axis benefits their production of engine components, transmission parts, and lightweight structures. The precision and efficiency of this process help in reducing the weight of vehicles and improving fuel efficiency.

Medical Device Manufacturing

Medical devices require intricate and precise components. This 5-axis precision CNC machining is instrumental in producing complex medical implants, surgical instruments, and prosthetic devices with exceptional precision, enhancing patient care.

Prototyping and Rapid Manufacturing

For product development and rapid prototyping, 5-axis CNC machining offers a quick and cost-effective solution. It allows for creating prototypes and small production runs with high precision, enabling faster design iterations.

Key Advantages of Using Advanced CNC Techniques

Large metal piece with multiple cylindrical openings mounted on a CNC machine
Large metal piece with multiple cylindrical openings mounted on a CNC machine

5-axis CNC machining excels in precision, complex part fabrication, surface finish quality, and cost and time savings through single-setup operations. On the other hand, 3+2 machining offers advantages in fabricating intricate features, simplified programming, and efficiency in reducing costs and cycle times compared to traditional 3-axis machining. Here are the main benefits of using these 3+2-axis and 5-axis advanced CNC machining:

Advantages of 5-Axis CNC Machining

  • High Precision and Accuracy: 5-axis machining ensures exceptional precision due to minimal adjustments needed during the process. This minimizes errors and results in outstanding precision CNC machining quality. The reduced need for repositioning workpieces at different angles enhances machining tolerances.
  • High Cutting Speed and Repeatability: 5-axis machining tools cut precisely as they follow the cutting surfaces tangentially. This method minimizes cycle times and overall machining costs. Shorter cutting tools can be used, extending their lifespan and ensuring repeatability.
  • Ability to Fabricate Complex Components: 5-axis machining can simultaneously work on five surfaces, enabling the machining of curved components and parts with multiple faces in a single setup. This machine flexibility allows for creation of intricate and complex designs and geometries, reducing the need for complex fixtures.
  • Better Surface Finishes: The extra axes in 5-axis machining ensure workpieces are aligned closely with the cutting tool, allowing the use of shorter cutting tools. This results in high-speed cutting with minimal vibration, reducing the likelihood of surface imperfections. The technique leads to superior surface finishes, reducing post-processing time and costs.
  • Reduces Costs and Cycle Time: one of 5-axis benefits is the ability to frequently complete components in a single operation as a result of its high-speed advantage. This saves time and money by eliminating the need for multiple setups. Using shorter, long-lasting tooling reduces the costs and time associated with tool replacement.

Advantages of 3+2-axis CNC Machining

  • Fabricates More Intricate Features: 3+2 machining allows the use of shorter, rigid cutting tools, making it possible to create complex features like steep walls and undercuts. It enables precise cutting and the formation of specific angles on the cutting surfaces.
  • Less Programming Requirements: Compared to simultaneous 5-axis CNC machining, 3+2 machining involves more straightforward spatial trajectories, shorter tool movement, and less rotational motion. This makes programming for free-form surface processing more accessible and efficient.
  • Reduced Costs and Cycle Times: Traditional 3-axis machining often requires multiple spindle stops to machine different surfaces, which can be challenging, especially for complex parts. 3+2 CNC machining eliminates this issue by enabling the simultaneous machining of multiple surfaces, reducing costs and cycle times.

Challenges and Considerations in Choosing the Right CNC Approach 

Selecting the appropriate CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining approach is a pivotal decision for manufacturers, and it presents its own set of challenges and considerations. Here are some key factors to contemplate when making this determination:

Challenges (3+2 and 5-Axis)

Part Complexity 

  • 5-Axis: intricate parts with complex geometries may necessitate 5-axis machining, posing significant challenges during setup and programming.
  • 3+2-Axis: Even with 3+2 axis machining, complex parts can still present challenges due to the need for multiple setups, potentially impacting efficiency.

Budget Constraints

  • 5-Axis: The cost associated with 5-axis machining is often higher due to the intricacies of the machines and the use of toolpath strategies.
  • 3+2-Axis: While generally more cost-effective than 5-axis, 3+2-axis machining can also have budget constraints, albeit to a lesser extent.

Setup Time

  • 5-Axis: The intricacies of aligning the part correctly in 5-axis machining may lead to more prolonged CNC setup time.
  • 3+2-Axis: Similar to the 5-axis, 3+2-axis machining may require multiple setups, impacting overall setup time.

Operator Skill Level 

  • 5-Axis: 5-axis machines frequently demand highly skilled operators for effective programming and operation.
  • 3+2-Axis: While less complex than 5-axis, 3+2-axis machining requires skilled operators to save CNC setup time and operational efficiency.

Material Type

  • 5-Axis: Certain materials, such as superalloys and composites, can present machining challenges 5-axis due to tool wear and heat generation.
  • 3+2-Axis: Similar material challenges may apply in 3+2-axis machining, depending on the materials used.

Considerations (3+2 and 5-Axis)

Part Complexity (Precision Requirement)

  • 5-Axis: Evaluate the complexity of your parts and the precision needed, with 5-axis precision CNC machining being essential for achieving the required accuracy and finish.
  • 3+2-Axis: If parts involve multiple angles, contours, or undercuts, 3+2-axis machining can still achieve precision and is a cost-effective option.

Budget Constraints (Cost-Effectiveness)

  • 5-Axis: Carefully assess your budget and project requirements, considering the cost-effectiveness of 5-axis machining.
  • 3+2-Axis: If cost-effectiveness is a priority and precision can be achieved with 3+2-axis machining, it may be the preferred choice to manage budget constraints effectively.

Setup Time (Production Efficiency)

  • 5-Axis: Consider the impact of CNC setup time on your production schedule, especially if rapid turnaround is crucial for your project.
  • 3+2-Axis: 3+2-axis machining reduces setup time compared to traditional 3-axis machining, improving production efficiency.

Operator Skill Level (Training Needs)

  • 5-Axis: Evaluate the expertise of your operators, as highly skilled operators are required for 5-axis machining.
  • 3+2-Axis: Skilled operators are essential for efficient setup and operation in 3+2-axis machining.

Material Type (Toolpath and Tool Selection)

  • 5-Axis: Scrutinize the materials you’ll be working with, and carefully select toolpath strategies and tools to overcome material-specific challenges.
  • 3+2-Axis: Similar considerations for material-specific challenges apply in 3+2-axis machining.

Addressing these combined challenges and considerations for 3+2 and 5-axis machining will enable you to make a well-informed decision, balancing precision, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness according to your project’s unique requirements.

The Future of 3+2 and 5-Axis CNC Machining

CNC machine working on a metal part with coolant tubes nearby
CNC machine working on a metal part with coolant tubes nearby

CNC machining has been a driving force behind precision manufacturing. As technology advances, the future of CNC machining, particularly in 3+2 and 5-axis machining, is becoming increasingly promising. Let’s explore what lies ahead for these two approaches and their applications.

Precision CNC Machining

Precision will always be a paramount consideration in the future of CNC machining. The advancements in toolpath strategies and machine capabilities, whether 3+2 or 5-axis, will enable even finer tolerances and exceptional surface finishes, catering to industries with exacting requirements.

Innovations in machine flexibility are on the horizon. This will allow CNC machines to adapt to various tasks and materials, enhancing their versatility. Furthermore, the reduction of CNC setup time will become more critical as industries demand quicker turnarounds, and advancements in automation will play a pivotal role.

Complex Geometries

Manufacturers will continue to encounter projects with increasingly complex geometries. The adaptability of 3+2 and 5-axis machining will provide efficient solutions for these challenges, meeting the demands of industries such as aerospace, automotive, and medical.


As we look to the future, advancements in CNC technology promise increased precision and efficiency, catering to industries with evolving demands for complex geometries. Manufacturers must adapt to these innovations of using 3+2 and 5-axis CNC machining and continue to carefully evaluate project requirements to remain competitive in the ever-changing industrial landscape.

To stay at the forefront of CNC machining, businesses must embrace the latest developments in this field. If you’re still uncertain whether to opt for a 5-axis CNC machine or a 3+2-axis one, Zintilon is here to provide guidance. Click here to get access to our team of experienced professionals ready to discuss your CNC machining choices and assist you in selecting the ideal approach for your specific project. 


What’s the main difference between 3+2 Axis and 5-axis CNC machining?

3+2 axis CNC machining adds positioning without simultaneous movement, while 5-axis enables simultaneous movement in five directions for complex and precise parts.

Which is more precise between, 3+2 Axis vs. 5-axis CNC machining?

5-axis CNC machining is typically more precise than 3+2 axis machining, allowing for simultaneous movement in multiple directions enabling intricate and highly accurate part fabrication.

Why choose 5-axis CNC machining for complex designs?

5-axis CNC machining is chosen for complex designs due to its ability to precisely create intricate geometries, contours, and features without manual repositioning. It is ideal for industries with high precision demands.

How does 3+2 axis flexibility compare to the 5-axis?

3+2-axis machining offers angled flexibility but lacks simultaneous movement, whereas 5-axis machining provides continuous movement, enhancing flexibility for intricate part manufacturing.

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