Will 3D Printing Replace CNC Machining

Mosi Li
Mosi Li

Director Project Engineer at 3Q Machining - China top CNC Machining Custom Part Manufacturer

Can Titanium Be CNC Machined?
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Will 3D Printing Replace CNC Machining

The answer is 3D Printing [will not] replace CNC Machining due to CNC Machining is more accessible than you may think, take a closer look into the difference and common of CNC Machining with 3D Printing, you will find out why 3D printing will not replace CNC Machining. 

Despite the advances of 3D printing, CNC machining is the most cost-effective method of on-demand manufacturing, especially for metal parts.

What Means CNC Machining?

What is CNC Machining

CNC machining is an established digital manufacturing process that produces high-accuracy parts with excellent physical properties directly from a CAD file. Although it’s been around since the early 50’s, recent technological advancements in digital supply chains have reduced the cost of CNC machining drastically and made it easily available to more professionals.

CNC Machining is best option for low to mid volume production and has splendid dimensional accuracy.

3D printing

What is 3D Printing

3D printing or additive manufacturing is another digital manufacturing technology that can produce parts on-demand. Since 3D printing requires no tooling, start-up costs are low, making it particularly competitive for low volumes or one-off custom parts.

The extensive mainstream media coverage on 3D printing may have lead to inflated expectations from this technology in applications where it is not the most suitable — especially for metal part production.

The joy of 3D printing is in your ability to create freedom of shape, its accuracy, speed, and its ability to cut on costs and to decrease the weight of certain parts.

3D printing has various advantages over traditional printing but its technology has not yet been developed for mass production.

what cnc machining and 3D printing have in common
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What 3D Printing and CNC machining have in common?

Both are compatible with a wide variety of materials.

These include plastics [abs, pc, as, nylon, peek etc.] and metals [aluminum, steel, brass, titanium etc.].

3D printing Is more adaptable to plastics like ABS, nylon, polycarbonate. and acrylic for now;

but now developing advance technology that will allow more usage of metals in 3D printing, especially for medical industrial.

Some advanced 3D printers have the capacity for jobs on sand and ceramics.

CNC machining is more in tune with metals;

especially aluminum, stainless steel and titanium,

and plastics is widely used for CNC machining.

3D Printing work together with CNC Machining

There are some material is supper soft such as TPU and Silicone which can not be made with CNC Machining.

We can made custom parts with CNC Machining then cover over with TPU or Silicone which made by 3D Printing.

More and more custom parts need 3D Printing and CNC Machining working together to achieve the design target.

In Summary:

3D printing is much simpler at operation than CNC Machining.

No operator is required when the CAD drawing file is prepared, and the part orientation, fill and supports are executed.

CNC machining needs a skilled machinist to choose usage of tools.

cutting path, and repositioning of the material.

CNC machining requires cleanup process after each time manufacturing process because it cuts and sculpts away from the material until the desired form is established.

Whereas 3D printing doesn’t leave any mess behind because all the parts created are needed because they are all new productions.

Both 3D printing and CNC machining will be here to stay.

The former is in the creation of new products (additive property);

while the latter is in the creation of something out of something.

3D printing is more proficient with plastics. sand and ceramics while CNC machining does wonders with both stainless steel or metals.

Technology will keep in evolving until the two technologies will be merged and they will be adaptable to mass production.

The two processes now are just confined to low and mid production projects.

But the future of 3D printing is much brighter because costs from its operations have become even cheaper than third world cheap labor.

And the expenses keep decreasing with the potential of a 3D printer in most homes in the not so distant future.

3D printing can also make the costs of commercial goods much cheaper because it can create duplicates of these products.

Thus, it has become competition.

CNC Machine Costs

Generally, the CNC machine rate (cost per hour) is calculated by dividing the cost of purchase by the total hours the machine is expected to operate (typically 8 years for 5,000 hours per year). So when you know how many parts will be finished per hour then calculate the cost of cnc machine cost with your products.

CNC machines come in different variations. Depending on their machine architecture and capabilities the typical machine per hour differs.

Aluminum CNC machinery
  • The typical cost rate of a 3-axis machining cnc milling machinery (including of the operator salary 10$) is 50$ per hour.
  • The 3-axis CNC Turning is usually priced lower at 40$ per hour because its machinery cost is lower and operation is simpler.
  • The average cost of 4 or 5 axis CNC machining from 75$ to 120$ or higher due to its high machinery cost and complex operation.
In general, we should choose a simpler CNC Machinery to manufacture our custom parts based on the material and part design, also quality requirements, with a rich experience engineer that can help you to define which CNC machining method we should choose to have best cost and good quality, also fast delivery.

What's material costs

Most of materials can be machined by CNC Machining with different custom designs, including of aluminum, titanium, steel, brass, plastic, or wood etc.

Aluminum Steel Raw Material Costs

The cost of your material is often given per 6″x6″x1″ sheet. The cost of some popular plastics per sheet are:

  • ABS costs $17 per block
  • POM (Delrin) costs $27 per block
  • Nylon 6 costs $30 per block

The cost of some popular metals for CNC machined parts are:

  • Aluminum 6061 costs $25 per block
  • Aluminum 7075 costs $80 per block
  • Stainless steel 304 costs $90 per block

CNC machining, being a subtractive manufacturing technology, has considerable waste as material is removed from the original block. 

It’s important to know that you will be charged for the use of a whole block. Where possible try to make as many parts of your design fit into one block as you can. This will mean you have fewer blocks to use overall and save you some cost in the order.

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