Choosing between CNC machining and 3D printing is a common question for anyone looking to create metal products. Both machines produce a wide range of metal parts and offer unique perks. However, not every business will benefit from using both, and the wrong choice could cost you in terms of quality and money. How do you know which manufacturing process your company should invest in? 

This guide will take a look at everything you need to know when comparing CNC vs 3D printing. It will help you make an informed decision and choose a process that’s better suited for your needs. In the end, if you decide you need a reliable expert for your metal parts production, call Glenn Metalcraft to have your parts shipped directly to you.

CNC Machining Basics

A CNC milling machine. CNC Machining VS 3D printing

CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control. An engineer designs software to guide the CNC machine to build parts. Because the part is built by software and machines, the entire process is very precise. 

CNC machines are capable of producing parts through a process of subtractive manufacturing. With subtractive manufacturing, machines take a block of material and remove (subtract) pieces to form the final metal component. 

CNC machining has been around since the 1950s, which makes it a traditional manufacturing process. However, the original technology has been improving ever since. For example, companies like Glenn Metalcraft now operate on 6-axis machines, making the process quick, efficient, and highly accurate. 

With machines like the HAAS R2000IB 165R, Glenn Metalcraft can handle large payloads and functions such as: 

  • Material handling
  • Drilling
  • Tooling
  • Press tending
  • Spot welding
  • Assembly

3D Printing Basics

A 3d printing machine creating a product. CNC Machining VS 3D printing

One of the biggest differences in CNC vs 3D printing is simply how it works. As mentioned before, CNC machining is subtractive. However, a 3D printer functions as an additive machining process without support structures. 

With the additive machining of a 3D printer, metals are added layer by layer to build parts. First introduced in the 1980s, it has become more prominent and common in recent years. 

3D printing also uses software to build metal parts, but its capabilities in terms of size and handling are limited compared to those of CNC machines.

CNC Machining vs 3D Printing: How To Choose

Metal automotive parts created with CNC machining, not 3D printing.

As you learn how the two manufacturing processes work, you may already start to realize which is right for you. Here are some key differences between the two options to take into account when considering CNC vs 3D printing.

Speed

When it comes to large orders, nothing beats computer numerical control. These machines reduce the need for operators as they can handle much of the process from beginning to end. They can also handle large pieces on their own and work quickly from one part to the next. 

While a 3D printer can be fast, it can’t produce large bulk orders as quickly and only takes on what fits on the printer bed. So when you need a large order done accurately and speedily, CNC machining may be the better option for you. 

Price

You may not see any difference in price per unit between the two manufacturing processes for some smaller orders. However, for large orders, CNC machining’s speed makes it more cost-effective. Because large quantities are so well handled by the CNC process, you won’t see a significant increase for a large-scale project.

If you’re truly on the fence between 3D printing and CNC, get some quotes from various experts to better understand how your specific order may affect the prices. As a rule of thumb, medium to large-sized orders will get lower prices from CNC machining engineers. 

Size

You can get it all taken care of, from the smallest to the biggest metal parts, by CNC machines. This is because the equipment is made to handle any large block of material and turn it into the final product. These machines are even used to make metal parts for automobiles. 

If you want a large metal part fabricated, it will be far easier to find engineers with the right CNC machines. 

On the other hand, a 3D printed part is limited to the equipment’s size, which is currently significantly smaller than today’s standard CNC machines. While you might find large 3D printing equipment, you will have to shop around. And, it’s not by any means a guarantee that you’ll find what you need. 

Precision

When you send out to have parts created, you want the most professional final product. It won’t do to have jagged surfaces where filaments were laid imperfectly. So when considering whether to choose 3D printing vs CNC manufacturing, know that the 3D printer will work best for less precise components. 

Computer numerical control metal 3D spinning is the way to go for the smoothest surfaces and cleanest lines — it gives you the best results. Any parts needing a tightly toleranced surface, such as key components or tools, require a ready-to-use finish best provided by CNC manufacturing. 

Get CNC Machining Services for Your Products

A CNC machine creating a metal product

Both CNC machining and 3D printing have their own merits. However, one will be better for your project and company’s manufacturing needs than the other.

CNC machining offers a cost-effective, precise, and quick manufacturing process if you’re producing on a large scale. If you’re only looking for a small batch of parts that don’t require the highest quality finish, a 3D printer may give you exactly what you’re looking for at the lowest price. 

If you’re still unsure which is right for you, call Glenn Metalcraft. Our years of experience in providing the highest quality parts and service to our customers make our commitment to growing in the right direction clear. We are happy to answer all your questions about CNC vs 3D printing, so contact us today.

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