3D printing technology is growing rapidly and offers several benefits compared to traditional manufacturing methods. However, you cannot use it for mass production. On the other hand, computer numerical control (CNC) is another manufacturing technology specifically meant for low-to-mid-level production. To choose the ideal technology for manufacturing prototypes, you should know how they differ. Read on to learn the difference between 3D and CNC machining.
Additive vs subtractive manufacturing
3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that creates different parts by combining different particles layer by layer using diverse materials to form a single part. It can be used to produce complex designs that may be impossible to produce using traditional CNC machining. The technique can be applied in different sectors, and it cuts costs.
On the other hand, CNC is a subtractive manufacturing process which means it carves out the required components from bigger blocks. When you use this type of manufacturing, you can enjoy the advantage of dimensional accuracy. It is also compatible with several materials like wood, plastics, and metals.
Components of 3D printing and CNC
The main benefit of metal 3D printing is that it produces complex and high-performance metal parts suitable for different environments. You can use metal 3D printed parts in various forms of manufacturing since they have perfect mechanical properties and multi-directional strength. CNC manufacturing incorporates this technology and also works as a 3D printer.
Materials: 3D printing vs CNC Machining
CNC machining and 3D printing are compatible with different types of materials including metals and plastics. 3D mainly focuses on plastics, although it is changing rapidly to include metals. CNC commonly uses aluminum to produce high-quality prototypes in different industries. It also uses other materials that include brass, magnesium alloy, stainless steel, and zinc alloy titanium.
Ease of use
3D printing is easier to use than CNC machining. Once you prepare your file and printing begins, no supervision is required since the printer can handle everything until the part is complete. However, CNC machining is labor intensive because it requires the involvement of a skilled operator who will choose the tools to use, the cutting path, rotation speeds of the tools, and perform post-processing assessments. All these activities are time-consuming.
Accuracy and size limitations
There are different 3D printing technologies, but CNC machining is superior to all of them. CNC offers a high degree of accuracy while 3D printing is known for creating many parts consisting of high geometric complexity. These cannot be replicated by any traditional manufacturing method.
3D printing is cheaper, but this depends on the number of parts you need. This technology is ideal for fewer prototypes whereas CNC machining is appropriate for larger quantities. If you want the prototypes quickly, 3D printing is the most suitable technique to use.
Both 3D and CNC machining are techniques used for manufacturing prototypes. They are both useful, and your ultimate choice depends on what you want to design, manufacturing volume, materials, and budget. Once you are clear about the differences between these two technologies, you can make an informed decision.