3 axis and 5 axis cnc machines get all the attention these days. I’m well versed in both 3 and 5 axis machines, but thought I would dig into the land of 4 axis cnc machining.
Without further ado, here is all you need to know about 4 axis cnc machines, where to buy them and what makes these machines stand out from just a regular 3 axis cnc machine.
4 axis cnc vs. 3 axis machines – What are the differences?
A 3 axis machine gives you the x,y and z straight axis. The fourth axis is a rotary mechanism that is oriented parralel to the x axis of the cnc machine.
This allows the workblock to be machined using different orientations in a single go (as opposed to having to unclamp a workpiece and reposition). The fourth axis is also great for milling and sculpting complex surfaces.
You can see the fourth axis in the video below:
The SainSmart CNC TB6560 is a good bet. This 4 axis stepper controller supports Mach3. There is a blue board variant, but the red board is what you should get (it is newer and supposedly gets rid of the vibration when not stepping). This controller comes with the right config files on a CD, so should be pretty straight forward to set-up. We highly recommend following the config and set-up in the CD for the 4 axis stepper motor driver.
Probotics also has a good range of 4 axis kits here. The is a good range between the ProbStep and SideStep stepper motor driver kits.
Although cliche, hitting up ebay is a great way to go for stepper controllers. During my research there definitely was a good range, but you are lacking on name brand products that also come with less community support.
Best 4 axis cnc machines
After doing a good hunt around, these are our picks to start as the best cnc machines out there with 4 axes.
MDX540 by Roland – This benchtop 4 axis cnc milling machine features SRP (Subtractive Rapid Prototyping) technology which allows greater precision and a better surface finish.The machine comes with a Handy Panel and Virtual Control Panel so you can control the machine while away from your computer, as well as an automatic tool changer so you can walk away while the full job gets taken care of. Starting at just over $20,000 and with CAM software included (SRP Player CAM) this machine is a solid starting point.
Microkinetics has a low cost cnc machine available here. This is a basic, smaller machine, but comes in much cheaper than other machines. The price for this is just shy of $4000.This is the one you want for making custom jewellery, gears, and rings. Comes with G-code control and graphical software.
The HS-3R by Haas. Haas cnc machines are all pretty solid. Their HS-3R Horizontal Machining Center has a built in 4th axis as well as a 60-tool side-mount tool changer. This is a big machine with a flat-bed of 150″ x 50″ x 60″ (3810 x 1270 x 1524 mm), however this machine does come with an anchoring system. This beast does come with a high price-tag at just over half a million dollars.
The Makino 4 axis horizontal machining centers are definitely worth a look. Makino touts their 1-Series cnc machines as the top selling 4 axis horizontal cnc machines in North America. There is a solid range here, starting with a 15.7″ x 15.7″ pallet to a mondter 118.1″ x 63″ MCD-Series pallet size.
Another solid machine worth a look is the FCNC 400 P 4 Axis Cnc Machining Center from Kutez. This machine comes with a Siemens 802d sl pro controller, has a crazy fast tool change time of 1.7 seconds and comes with 20 tools. Much like the Microkinetics, this machine is perfct for crafting smaller items that have complex shapes such as jewellery or smaller parts for toys.
What Software Should You Use?
Most of the big names are compatible with 4 axis. MasterCAM, BobCAD-CAM and CamWorks supports 4 axes. Other alternatives include MeshCAM, DeskCNC, and Dolphin CAD CAM. Aside from the aforementioned, you want to get simultaneous machining programming software that allows the user to create toolpaths for complex surfaces and shapes.
CNC use cases for a 4 axis machine
While a 3 axis and 5 axis machine may make sense, a 4 axis machine does have some significant advantages over a 3 axes due to the ability to work with complex shapes. But due to the machine not being a full fledged 5 axis machine, the cost can be a lot lower.
All in all it really depends on the type of project that you will be working on the most. I’ve seen many people with 3 axis machines manually move items around to create shapes similar to a 4 or 5 axis machine. But when it comes to speed and the need for that extra axis, then the 4 axis cnc machine is a great way to go.
For further info on 4 axes systems, check out our previous guide here. Please let us know what your experiences are with a 4 axis cnc machine in the comments below.