When someone uses the term “5-axis” they are typically referring to the ability of a CNC machine to move a part or a tool on five different axes at the same time.
In the more common 3-axis machining a part is machined in three linear dimensions. The part moves in two linear directions (X and Y), and the tool moves up and down in one linear direction (Z). This gives the machinist access at 90° to any location on one side of the part. So if you have a part with features on all six sides, with 3-axis machining you will need 6 operations to give the machinist access to all six sides.
In 5-axis machining, the part is moved in the same three linear X,Y and Z axes above, plus two additional rotational axes (A and B) around 2 of the 3 linear axes. This allows the cutting tool to approach at least five of the six sides of a part and to approach each of the sides from nearly all directions rather than just at 90°. If you have a part with features on all six sides, with 5-axis machining you will need at most 2 operations and maybe only one, to access all features on the part.
Bradford Machine has been machining in 5-axes since 2005. In some cases we are able to machine a complex part with unusual features or surfaces in one work holding with a simple hand operation to finish the part complete. This provides several benefits to our customers.