3 to 12-axis CNC Machine Capabilities: Everything you need to know

Computer numerical control, or CNC machines are one of the robust and most versatile manufacturing systems on the planet today. CNC uses the high level of efficiency of specialized computers to guide the mechanical action of lathe machines to make prototypes and finished parts with unmatched levels of accuracy and precision.

CNC machines utilize a programmed software, the CAM file, which houses the instructions that direct the movement of the tools and machinery, thereby creating a system of automated manufacturing with high levels of repeatability.

CNC machines have greatly advanced from inception. Modern-day CNC machines can be procured in an array of options and features that help deliver additional value and improved functionality. In the differentiating features for CNC machines today, the number of axes is one factor that stands out. Here’s why:


Axes represent the Cartesian coordinate systems defining the numerous directions in which the CNC machine can move or rotate. The number of axes in a CNC machine greatly impacts the complexity of the jobs that may be run on that machine. Axes are also crucial to maintaining accuracy in making the part. CNC machines with more axes will typically have more capabilities than those with fewer axes.


Today, the industry staple in CNC machines are the 3, 4 and 5-axis CNC machines. Because of the high costs associated with the 5-axis CNC machines, most projects are usually executed on 3 and 4-axis lathes. The power and capabilities of 5-axis CNC machines are emphasized when there are intricate structures and complex geometries in a machining project.


So, what makes each multi-axis CNC machine different from one another? Here’s a summary of how each machine, from 3-axis to 12-axis machines, stack up against each other.

3-axis CNC

The 3-axis CNC machine was the first leap for CNC machines from rotary filing technique. In 3-axis machining, the workpiece is held stationery while the cutting tool rotates across the X, Y, and Z axes.

3-axis CNC machines are for simple tasks that do not call for a high level of detailing, depth or complexity. It is the go-to CNC machine by default, and is ideal for making mechanical parts, boring, milling, tapping and drilling holes, and cutting sharp edges.

4- axis CNC

The 4-axis is pretty much like the 3-axis CNC machine. The primary upgrade here is the inclusion of an additional axis, A or B, which represents an extra horizontal (A) or vertical (B) rotation across the forth plane.

4-axis CNC machines are great for cutting holes, carving cutouts, high-precision milling, drilling, engravings and cutting along arcs. The 4-axis CNC machine is limited by its Geneva Mechanism, disallowing continuous milling through a fixed set of stops. The service is slightly more expensive than the 3-axis CNC service.

5-axis CNC

Of all listed CNC machines, the 5-axis CNC machine is probably the most common CNC machine in this century. The 5-axis CNC machine is significantly more powerful than the 4 and 3-axis CNC machines, delivering more functionality, precision and speed that extend beyond its additional axis.

The 5-axis CNC machine is designed with the conventional X, Y, and Z axes, and also features an A-axis and C-axis. The Machine allows the operator to maneuver along five or more different sides, making it adept at hitting tough and compound angles, and intricate geometries that will be strenuous or next to impossible with 3-axis CNC machines.

5-axis CNC machines is the industry for making complex parts that require high precision and tight tolerances for functionality across automotive, military, aerospace, defense, medical, and architecture industries. 5-axis CNC machines are significantly heavy investments, demanding top maintenance and high skill for successful operations.

7-axis CNC

The 7-axis CNC machine comprises of a number of unconventional axes that facilitate movements in right to left, top to down, back to front, along with axes that define the tool movement, rotation of the part, rotation of the tool head and an axis for movement or removal of the workpiece.

Although there are no conventional 7-axis CNC machines lying around in the industry, they can be fabricated on custom requests. The possibilities of this machine will ensure the production of parts with higher accuracy and impeccable finishes.

9-axis CNC

The 9-axis CNC machine eliminates the need for manual loading and use of secondary fixtures. From a setup standpoint, this machine features a 5-axis CNC machine along with a lathe. With 9 axes on board, the part can be turned and milled across multiple axis in a single setup. In a single go, a 9-axis CNC machine can make a finished part ready for its intended application. It can also perform angle milling, profiling, balance turning and simultaneous machining.

12-axis CNC

The 12-axis CNC machine is at the top of the performance and capability list for CNC machine. The design of the machine features 2 heads that facilitate movement along axes X, Y, Z, A, B and C planes. 12-axis CNC machines are designed for the most demanding operations that have an array of complexities in their design. The machine is an absolute speed house with enhanced productivity, precision and accuracy to make complex parts in half the time.

FirstPart CNC Machining in China

FirstPart is one of China’s leading manufacturing hub for Additive, CNC and Conventional manufacturing techniques. We boast of excellent in-house capacity, labor force and logistics while delivering exceptional value for money.

Our array of services includes CNC machining, CNC turning, CNC milling, 3D printing, Rapid Tooling, Die casting, Rapid prototyping, Plastic Injection Molding, Urethane Casting, Aluminum Extrusion, Post-machining/Finishing services and much more.

We offer product tooling, mass production, bridge tooling and low-volume prototyping/manufacturing with very flexible minimum order quantities (1 to 100,000). Our services are online, scalable and innovative, with a team of engineers and design experts available to support you through your entire product development cycle.