5-axis machining in automobile manufacturing
Uncounted molds and dies are needed in automobile manufacturing for sheet metal and plastic processing. Dies for sheet metal forming can be up to 6m long and need to be milled at the very high accuracy of ±0.02mm so that the upper and bottom dies can work together with the correct gap. Moreover, a very high surface quality of all functional surfaces is necessary in order to ensure that the forming tools have a long service life.
When manufacturing the tool contour, the machine has to maintain a very small distance between cutting paths in order to fulfill the requirements for high surface quality. This automatically lengthens the run times of the NC programs. The required accuracy of the forming tools is a formidable challenge for machine tools: high accuracy during long program run times on large components necessitates high thermal stability of the machine structure and the feed drives.
Five-axis machining opens new perspectives for shortening machining times because even deeply curved contours of forming tools become more easily accessible. In addition, special tools such as toroid or radius cutters can be used that permit significantly larger path spacing and therefore reduce program run times.
Figure 2: Closed loop Position measurement of a linear axis by a linear encoder.
Five-axis machining in the field of medical technology
In the field of medical technology, demand is high for devices that are adapted to special examinations or therapies. This can make treatments considerably more precise and reduce aftereffects on the patients. The devices are often characterized by very complex geometries that make 5-axis machining of single parts on milling machines attractive.
Increasing life expectancy brings with it an increase in demand for tooth and joint implants. Today, hip and knee replacements offer many people the opportunity for a significantly better quality of life. In their external form, tooth and joint implants have to be perfectly fitted to the specific mating surfaces of a human body. Implants are mostly manufactured on milling machines, because milling makes even small batch sizes possible. Due to complex shaping of implants, medical technology is one of the largest fields of application for 5-axis machining. A prerequisite for the economical manufacturing of such sophisticated components is machines with high-accuracy position measurement for accurate and precise feed movements.
Requirements of position measurement
In 3-axis milling, the feed axes move within the dimensions of the workpiece plus the tool diameter. Unlike with 3-axis machining, in 5-axis machining the inclination of the tool can be adjusted with respect to the workpiece surface. If the position of the tool center point (TCP) remains unchanged, a change in the cutter orientation usually requires additional movement in the linear axes. These compensating movements necessarily increase the traverse range required by the linear axes. Because increasing traverse range also means increased positioning error, feed axes of 5-axis machines need significantly higher accuracy and reproducibility.
The compensating movements of the linear axes are superimposed on the movements of the tool center commanded by the NC program in X, Y, and Z. Due to this superimposition, the axis feed rates for the tool center can significantly exceed the programmed feed rate. The increase in feed velocity results in increased heat generation in the motors, transmission, and recirculating ball screw. Depending on the principle of position measurement, the generation of heat can cause significant position error. To prevent faulty workpieces, precise position measurement in the feed axes directly at the moving machine elements is imperative.
Position acquisition on linear axes
The position of a feed axis can be measured either through the recirculating ball screw in combination with a rotary encoder, or through a linear encoder. If the axis position is determined from the pitch of the feed screw and a rotary encoder (see figure 1), then the ball screw must perform two tasks: As the drive system, it must transfer large forces, but as the measuring device it is expected to provide a highly accurate screw pitch. However, the position control loop only includes the rotary encoder. Because changes in the driving mechanics due to wear or temperature cannot be compensated in this way, this is called operating in a semi-closed loop. Positioning errors of the drives become unavoidable and can have a considerable influence on the quality of workpieces.