5 Axis Milling Machine Demonstrates Capabilities

Aluminum motorcycle helmet carved by 5 axis milling machine

Aluminum motorcycle helmet carved by 5 axis milling machine

It's no secret, most of us here love to see high quality machine work and industrial robots are now capable of extreme precision at high speed. Guided by 3D software, (in the example here they're using hyperMILL) they go to work on metal and turn it into whatever design is loaded in the computer.

The video below from Daishin Seiki Corporation, demonstrates the capabilities of a 5 axis milling machine turning a solid piece of aluminum into a motorcycle helmet used as a showpiece for a European exhibition. The machine simply turns the workpiece around to get access to every conceivable spot and the end result is an intricate and precise piece with all of the detail you could possibly expect. There was obviously some excellent programming involved, but once done, this type of work could be repeated over and over with equal precision.

Some of our readers see work like this every day, but most of us find this amazing. As I've said before, once you have a piece in a computer in digital form, there's no reason for it to ever go out of production again. If you need one, you just make one, sort of like printing on demand in the world of books. Very cool.

Link: Daishin Seiki (English) Daishin Seiki (Japanese) via Singularity Hub via Instapundit
Link: Open Mind Software

Video below:


  1. Travis Short says

    WOW!! (first by the way)
    i wonder how long before they are building entire bikes, cars, even houses, out of a single block, no faulty welds no time consuming puting peices together, think a hundered of these things and all you would need it one factory worker and a thousand computer guys, computer guys program the worker loads the blocks of aluminum or steel or titanium or whatever, and out comes a bike just add fluidis and tires…. well youd need a little more but you get the idea

    • Liam says

      It wouldn’t be cost effective…at all…ever. The amount of wasted material would be astounding. Pure builds like this would only be good for two things. Concepts and rich people. You’d also have to likely replace the bit after every couple of uses.

  2. Ola says


    That is just a tech demo, although admittedly a very cool one! In real life, for large scale manufacturing, it wouldn’t make sense , it’s neither cheaper nor faster than current production methods (notwithstanding the fact that no one would make a helmet out of aluminium). For one, this is an entirely serial process, i.e. the next step can’t be started until the previous is finished. It would also mean a lot of scrap metal that needs to be taken care of in one way or another, adding unnecessary steps to the process.

    Again, I’m as impressed as anyone by this, but it’s more for one off specials with tight tolerances than a revolution in mass fabrication.

    • Max says

      Well, it’s not necessarily an entirely serial process. It would, however, add an exponentially bigger complexity to bring in multiple arms, but I agree with you with technology at the level it is at today.

  3. AlwaysOnTwo says

    @Travis & Kneeslider

    It’s already being done in real time. This is an amazing technology.

    Here’s a link to view an actual construction project using this tech and a few other trinkets to actually construct large scale composites….


    Not motorcycle exclusive, but think of the possibilities in composite frame, engine and component designs well ahead of CNC or Plasma cutting. Construction from the substrate level at digital accuracy.

    We move on and we are amazed at what we are about to do.

  4. AlwaysOnTwo says

    Guess our posts crossed, but as you can see from the link I posted you are far from correct. The tech has evolved to a cost productive stage, it’s general acceptance and professional expertise in the field that lags behind the development.

    Currently no singular process exists for a universal tool to construct a composite of many differing materials such as aluminum, rubber, steel and surface finish. But individually, these processes can be accomplished.

    It is only time (probably shorter than the trip from Harley to Honda) that the tech actually surfaces. Likely a GE fridge before a V-Twin or multi. Nonetheless, our cherished CNC cutters and mechanical lathes and dies are doomed.

    Gear up, it’s a new world.

  5. Hawk says

    Yes, of course this was a demonstration of a machine’s capabilities. Aluminum helmets were just the showpiece.

    In my youth, I took an apprenticeship as a machinist. I could never have created such a thing out of a block of metal, let alone several of them. I’m in awe of the capabilities of modern machines like this but more because it gives us the possibility of designing and building things that would be impossible otherwise.

    As you said Paul, many of your readers will consider this as nothing new. I am one of the other side …..

    Thank you for the article.

  6. FREEMAN says

    This is definitely cool, and that’s definitely an intricate model. No doubt it took days to mill that out. Another thing that may interest you is RP (Rapid Prototype) machines, which are basically 3D printers. In some cases they can print out function models, much like what Travis is hinting at.

  7. rohorn says

    Imagine having to write the G-code out by hand and running this on a punch tape machine…

  8. ooli says

    that is truly impressive. whoever programmed that is either a CNC god or had some really impressive software. probably a combination of both. in the video while it’s doing the 3D finish on the inside of the helmet the spindle get’s within a few millimeters of the material. you gotta be confident to program like that.
    as far as CNC’s becoming obsolete i think it’ll be a good long time. when new tech comes along the traditional CNC will become the ‘poor mans’ choice. the company i work for produces very high end components for the medical field and we’ve even got a couple rapid prototype machines in house. along with a few hundred (really) CNC mills. but we’ve also got a bank of good ol’ manual mills that get used on a daily basis. CNC’s aren’t going anywhere. they just won’t be leading the pack.

  9. Tin Man 2 says

    The Waste of material, The time to complete and the ridiculous complexity of this kind of thing make it a dead end for volume manufacturing. As a Die cutting tool its fine, but for volume manufacturing its a joke… Why in the World would anyone think it would be productive to make a refridgerator with this technology, Anybody ever seen a production stamping machine at work? Or a vacume mold machine? Yes you could use this machine tool to cut a mold or a die and then use the mold to mass produce the part, but this is not a production tool in of itself.

  10. Cameron Nicol says

    Yes, impresive, but have any of you seen a real 15th century knights helmet? Hand made and infinately more intricate without any electrical tools whatsoever! A true craftsman can do amazing things. I worry that these machines will cause the loss of true craftmen. The ones building one off pieces of art including the customs we all enjoy here.

  11. AlwaysOnTwo says

    @Cameron Nicol
    Yep, craftsmanship is a wonderful thing, I certainly wish my metalworking skills were a bit higher than bangin float bowls with a ball peen to set the fuel level (it;s really rough on the plastic ones).

    But I’m also far more grateful for the advances of our time. The Morgan was a wonderful pc of craftsmanship, but I wouldn’t want wooden GXSR frame!

    And of course tech is part of what makes our current day craftsmen. I would hate to attempt boring a cylinder or turning an axle bolt with a hand tool. Man, the wrist cramps would be severe.

  12. Norm May says

    Everyone seems to be under the impression that someone actually programmed this into the CNC mill. It could be done, but it’s highly unlikely. In the world of precision machining today, many companies are using a mockup carved by hand from various materials like woood, plaster, plastic etc. and then create the actual CNC program by using a laser/plotter. The mockup is fastened to a revolving table the is capable of turning in several axis and a laser is pulsed several times per second at the mockup while it turns. The computer reads the mesurements that the laser is feeding in and this creates the software. (lasers are used for measuring distance all the time today) Depending on the complexity of the item, the program would take anywhere from as little as an hour to as much 24 hours and be extremely accurate. After the program is written, a professional engineering C.E.T. will examine the program using the autocad software portion of the programming software for the laser/plotter and “tweak” it as required, maybe another day or two, and voila, you have your program. Many custom builders like Jesse “I would never cheat on my wife” James, OCC, and car builder Boyd Coddington have used this method with great success. The only thing the “machinist” does in these high end shops anymore is to install and align the material in relation to the actual mill and remove the finished piece. In many of the production shops, even the “machinist” has been replaced by a robot. Most of these mills, including the one in the video, have a “holster” device attached and are capable of changing their own cutters on the fly. Some of the lathes that are used for this type of work have hollow headstocks and will actually remove finished pieces with a robotic arm and then feed in new material from a 20′ length through the hollow headstock automaticaly. If a cutter is dull or damaged, many of these type of machine can sense the difference in load and will shut down and wait for a tec to come and replace the cutter. A brave new world, possibly, but it is sad to say that the human component of creation is disappearing. I once visited a factory that made computer floppy discs. Four people worked there. An accountant for billing, two techs that made sure the machines had material and were working properly, and a shipper receiver. They made 18 to 20 thousand discs a day………..

  13. AlwaysOnTwo says

    @Norm May

    You make an excellent point. The assumption of programming each design is rather natural to make for anyone not having any experience or exposure to this level of machine tech.

    Another system of programming the mill is to use 3D renditions of a prototype, much like importing a Photoshop image, but more likely an actual AutoDesk or similar CadCam design.

    And so in the brave new world the machinist is more likely a software guy, or a mold maker working in clay. And the techie feeding the material and changing the bits just got off the night shift at McFlipAPattie. Which is actually kind of interesting as to possibilities for three fingered Moes with lot’s of imagination…if only the price wasn’t a couple of million per machine.

    Tool envy.

  14. Billy B.Tso says

    beautful example piece! love how this technology allows for pretty much anything to be carved out of a block of alloy and minimise welds….of course the bad point is taking the human production part out of the process….soon the machining industry will be filled with designers, engineers and sculptures…and someone to fix the darn machines

    Norm May 04.18.10 at 12:00 pm – nice post by the way! the process of “setting up” doesn’t seem as computer intensive. And in so many industries the first sample is always carved out of foam and covered in clay, etc…and all measurements are taken from that….easier to do the max amount of ‘tweaking’ at that stage…

  15. Chris says

    Tooling technology capable, sure, Tooling practicial, no. Not the best use of a 5 axis machine. But good demo of machine’s capability. I guess it would impress the unknowing, but for those with maching knowledge, there are other more money making opporturnites than making worthless chips.

  16. says

    The process used to generate this demonstration piece was almost certainly as follows:
    The Helmet was modelled in Solidworks or similar 3d solids program (CAD) and then imported into one of many possible 5-axis machining programs (CAM) which directly generates the CNC program which is transfered to the machine tool for manufacture.
    Decisions are made at every step of the process by the designers and programmers as well as the machinist as to the best methods to make the part. It will be a long time before the art or skill will be removed from the process. This part was designed specifically to show the capabilities of the tools involved and in no way was meant to be a cost-effective way to make something. That said, there are actual parts that can only be made this way at this time, although the rapid prototype processes are starting to use othe materials than plastic; lazer sintering and rapid metal deposit are emerging additive technologies. The star trek replicators are around the corner!

  17. Marvin says

    Yes I would have to agree that the helmet has been laser scanned the give away for me is the textured sponge cheek pieces are present, even if the helmet were designed in solidworks they would be different parts brought together for an assembly (shell, visor, lining….) where as a scanner does not differentiate between material types it just produces geometric data (unless they have got better while my back was turned). I think it is silly to criticise this as uneconomical it seems obvious to me it was only ever meant as a demo piece for the machine with a wide variety of contours and textures with the aluminium stock paid for from a marketing budget. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in marketing managed to work out how to demo the unit at a trade fair and get some great trophies for his/her motocross team at the same time.

  18. Ben Sellers says

    Incredible detail. I would have picked a different piece to demo on but that is not a complaint, just a preference. The things we can do today are amazing.

  19. bblix says

    I’ve run a 5-axis milling machine. I’m no machinist, just the guy who was willing to try and figure the thing out. It was a labor intensive process. Granted, our set up was crude and our knowledge was pretty slim. It was much as dkg mentioned above, a constant series of on-going decisions about how to machine each specific area to achieve the best results. It wasn’t an overly practical way of producing our model.

  20. says

    now I’m intrigued in the companies manufacturing these machines. Speed, precision, & versatility. Are these machines moving primarily via hydraulics around their axes?

  21. David/cigarrz says

    I would offer that its only when you know how hard this is to do that you appreciate it. The unsung hero’s are the tooling companies that have to develop cutting tools to take advantage of the capabilities of these new machines and contain tooling cost and maintain usable tool life.

  22. Norm May says

    Looks like the “techies” have come out of the wood work and I am glad that there are so many of them interested in this particular type of metal fabrication. What I find of great interest here is that now, with the aid of machinery like this and what will come in the future, is what will be possible as far as bike designs and concepts are concerned. This technology will release what we could not do in the past simply because of expense or lack of a way to do it. I agree that this method of manufacture is not feasible for mass production, but it is most definitely feasible for prototypes of one of renditions. And I agree that this demonstration was used to demonstate the machines capabilities, but think of what ideas were unleashed in the minds of those who saw it. It can set your mind free for all of those concepts that could not previously come to fruition due to lack of facilitiy of fabrication talent. Soon, if you can think it, machines like this will be able to make it. Think of the engines possible, the tanks, side covers, headlight assemblies you could design! Machines like this make “one ofs” possible so that they can be tested and evaluated. I would hazard a guess that Honda used this and other methods to produce the Rune long before the public ever saw it. Can you imagine what a company like Harley could do if they were to adapt to this technology and allowed for more creative thinking? It’s interesting to note that when Jeff Bleustein and Willy G. visited Honda’s Marysville Ohio plant that the first thing they saw was a CNC mill machining four engine cases at once and realized just how far behind they were and commited to getting on line with it. It’s what made the Evo possible along with the twin cam.
    It is my belief that this technology will open the door to artistry and design that we could only dream about in the past.

  23. Paulinator says

    Has anyone not seen a billet wheel in the last five years? Same $h!t – different shape. I’ve got a little tilt-smelter that can quickly convert styrofoam carvings into aluminum castings of unknown and/or dubious quality…and for WAY LESS MONEY.

  24. Marvin says

    @Norm May. I can imagine what Harley could do with that technology, unfortunately I’m imagining a large capacity V twin cruiser. I can’t even imagine what Stellan Egelan would do with one and that seems a whole lot more exciting to me.

  25. marco says

    Don’t forget that Apple uses CNC billet machining as a very-large-series technique.

    So it is not only single-build business.

    I do not think that this helmet was ever scanned. Why should they? A 3D geometrical description is already available (it was needed to create the mould for the helmet!).

    This kind of production is more impressive when you look at products for spacecrafts.
    I once saw a distantpiece for use in a satellite where they were very proud they had removed 96% of the material of the raw material!!!!!!!!!!
    You defintely needed 5 axis milling for this piece….

  26. D.Davis says

    Hypermill is a great program. Looks like it has a great functioning post processor.

    Good example of the level of detail possible with a non-gantry setup.

    But it’s not as impressive as Tool and Die work for injection molding and similar industries. Having worked as a multi-industry product designer for a decade now, it’s pretty impressive seeing the processes used to design and manufacture tooling. Parts are a result, but the real brainpower and prowess is in the toolmakers, it shows here.

    Subtractive manufacturing is a long, wasteful process. Having used Direct Metal Laser Sintering for designing Proof of Concept and inserts into tooling family mold bases for a couple of projects, I can attest to additive manufacturing’s eventual move as the prefered manufacturing method. Minimal waste, typically zero tooling, 1/10 the manufacturing time….it’s gonna be a great future.

  27. Dan says

    Actually, for anyone who uses solidworks, you can simply upload your solid models into the machine and it does the program for you. There is very little involved in programming these things anymore. A lot of companies using older tech CNC machines will ask for them in a dwg format as they may be using autodesk and need to modify the files for their machine but not with modern machinery =)

  28. Animedevildog says

    I was very impressed, and I can see where a compant that does cylinder heads could benefit from this. All kinds of parts could be made in this fashion I imagine for a reasonable cost. (or more likely their finishing work) This may be the route I would have to take if I were to desire a custom set of gears for my bikes tranny. I sould send them in the stock gears and shafts, they could take the measurements, then use CAD/CAM to design the gears in the needed ratios for my own custom aplication. Granted, I could expect to pay a grand or more for this kind of work, but for some of the projects that I have in mind, this would probably have to be the way to go.

  29. Psmith says

    Hmmmm…, I’m wondering about the block (referenced above by McKenzie). It was obviously produced as a demo, but I’m wondering if the pattern was perhaps produced by a scan of an existing block. Note what appear to be ‘freeze plug’ holes, visable in the last 60 seconds or so of the video.

  30. Dario says

    Five axis machines can be sold only under special permission and only in some countries, currently this CNC are manufactured in Germany Italy Japan, in italy there is a five axis machine able to work also different material composite sandwich i.e. eli blades variating automatically the speed and the position of the tool in relation to the material carved.

  31. johnny rotten says

    hey first, that would be a great idea, milling a car out of a single block of AL3, just start with a 8000 pound chunk and start cutting….think of the cost savings….yer a genius

  32. Big Sven says

    I did some CNC during my machineshop training, but have never used it, Thatcherism became rife and, too old at 45 (they wanted 20 year-olds with 20 years experience. How do you do THAT!?) I found myself driving a bus until an OAP. I’d love to win the lotto and put together a workshop of modern plant. Like dying and going to heaven and finding Brigitte Bardot waiting for you, naked and breathing hard! Yes, the Ye Olde craftsman is getting harder to find, toolmakers, die-sinkers, are a memory, barely, who needs them as long as we have all this fab gear! But I was told during my training that a good craftsman is invaluable in spotting problems and dealing with them. The engineers doing the designing DON’T know anything about actually MAKING anything, it’s all numbers to them. Much of my program-training was fault-finding programs written by a engineer. “You will never replace a man with the eye and feel for using a scraper,” (correct term?) I was told. I knew this from observing CC-welding. The computer can’t see or feel the weld as a human can, it will weld away even though there’s actually nothing there to weld! But what I could do in a CAD/CAM workshop… Winning the lotto would be nothing to what I would feel to open the door, put on the lights, and say, “Right, Brigitte…