CNC Machining vs. 3D Printing

3D printers made for household use

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing is a type of additive manufacturing considered either very scary or very exciting, depending on your perspective. Manufacturers comfortable in their traditional business model cast a leery eye at 3D printing, and amateur and small-time innovators dream of the endless possibilities. It is a revolutionary technology making replication of tools and other practical items possible in your own home. The potential for innovation has no ceiling.

How 3D Printers Work

3D printers print layers of renewable bioplastics (or many other types of materials) into a full physical object. 3D printing works by downloading a file of a 3D model, pushing a button, and watching a printer build a physical representation of the design on your computer screen. The printer is fed by a plastic, sometimes as a string on a spool. The plastic is melted and applied into a layer of the object, instantly cooling to hold to form.

Of course, it isn’t magic. On the user end, it’s a push of a button. Ease of use is one of its main attractions. 3D printers work in several different ways depending on the model you’re using. The industry is evolving so quickly, production processes are in constant flux. 

What is CNC Machining?

CNC machining can be described as a type of subtractive computer numerically controlled (CNC) manufacturing, in that materials are removed in order to make metal parts such as bushings, valves, wear parts and bearings. CNC machines include lathes, routers, grinders and mills.

CNC machining works similarly to 3D printing in that a CAD drawing is created in a computer program, the program is loaded into the CNC machine and an operator runs the program to perform the cutting, milling, grinding or finishing processes.

CNC mill drill bit

3D Printing vs. CNC Machining

Additive vs. Subtractive Manufacturing

3D printing is a type of additive manufacturing, and CNC milling is subtractive. 3D printing adds materials, and CNC milling removes them. Depending on the product you’re looking to create, each presents its own advantage. Adding materials may be more cost- efficient when producing very complex designs such as artwork or very intricate tools and accessories.

Removing materials via CNC machining makes more sense for objects made from very dense or heavy materials and have simple formations. If a handful of cuts is all it takes to get a part or component to specification, CNC milling is preferable.

Material Selection

CNC machines still have the upper hand in terms of material versatility. Most 3D printers are designed for one or a few different materials, while CNC mills can accommodate more materials on a single machine, a big-time cost saver.

CNC Machining is Faster than 3D Printing

In general, CNC milling removes material faster than 3D printers can add it. 3D printing in its current state is desirable for unique, highly specialized parts produced in small quantities. Producing long runs of 3D printed items can be time-consuming and expensive. CNC milling still has the upper hand.

The bottom line: 3D printing is still a largely unexplored industry. CNC machining is far more progressed in its evolution. 3D printing presents many exciting opportunities, but there is still so much unknown, CNC machining is still needed for a huge variety of production applications.

Future of 3D Printing

Much is unknown about the future of 3D printing. All we can say is there’s tremendous potential. 3D printers are becoming household items, and could completely change the landscape of manufacturing should the technology prove accessible and cost-efficient.

Regulation will likely play a crucial role in its development. Many practical household items are not protected by copyright law and are subject to replication via 3D printers. How will traditional manufacturers adjust to the new industrial and commercial landscape when customers can make their own products at the press of a button?

FANUC Repair Experts Provide CNC Machining Services

As the industry continues to evolve, trust in Tri Star CNC Services to be your source for CNC machining repairs nationwide. Whether it’s a FANUC or GE FANUC parts replacement or a CRT to LCD conversion, Tri Star CNC is there to perform quick and affordable CNC services.

Contact CNC machining professionals at Tri Star CNC for more information on the developing CNC industry.