When Should You Combine 3D Printing and CNC Machining?06 November 2023
Report by Danny Weller
3D printing has transformed the world of prototyping, assembly, and manufacturing in unprecedented ways. The CNC machining industry has seen remarkable growth, with its market value already exceeding $81 billion. Projections indicate that this thriving sector is set to surpass the $126 billion mark by 2028. So when should you combine 3D printing and CNC Machining?
Nowadays, most designs that reach the production stage have injection molding and CNC machining as their basis. Therefore, it is often difficult to substitute them for other applications. However, there are several important goals that combining CNC machining with 3D printing can help businesses achieve.
These two technologies can be combined to accomplish tasks fast. Creating prototypes using CAD files is much faster than producing tools to use in injection molding. However, 3D printing gives companies creative flexibility to make improvements in their product designs. Engineers take advantage of these two processes, by creating CAD or CAM files for use in 3D printing. Once the right design is achieved, after making improvements with 3D printing technology, they then improve the part with machining—the best of both worlds.
Manufacturing companies are looking for ways to cut their production costs to gain a market advantage. BAE Systems, for example, is 3D printing 30% of the parts for its new Tempest fighter jet to reduce production costs and lead times.
Finding alternative materials for some parts is an effective way to cut costs. 3D printing allows companies to use materials that would otherwise not be used in CNC machining. Furthermore, the 3D printer can combine materials in liquefied and pellet form, creating a product with equal strength and capabilities to those fabricated by CNC machines. The combination of these two processes allows companies to use cheaper materials and cut them to accurate dimensions with CNC machining technology.
Meeting Tolerance and Functional Accuracy Requirements
CNC machines can deliver high levels of accuracy which current 3D printers can’t match. Current printers can print parts with tolerances of around 0.1 mm, while a CNC machine can achieve an accuracy of 0.025 mm. Until now, CNC machines were required to provide high accuracy tolerances for products and parts. CNC machining is more consistent than 3D printing, and its equipment is less sensitive to heat than a 3D printer, which can warp and distort the workpiece.
Combining these technologies allows engineers to deliver accurate products. Using 3D printing technology for prototyping they can improve the tool’s design until they get the right product. CNC machines are then used to create the final product. This not only ensures a quality, accurate final product but also cuts prototyping times.
High Volume Products
Combining these technologies can help increase production rate, especially in high-volume orders. 3D printing lacks the ability to produce highly accurate parts, while CNC machining lacks the speed you find in 3D printing.
Most companies using a multi-technology approach create their products and components using a 3D printer and complete the finishing process using a CNC machine. Some machine shops combine 3D printing and CNC technologies to achieve this objective. With this combination of processes, companies can create highly accurate parts with an enormous reduction in lead times.
The fusion of 3D printing and CNC machining represents a dynamic and innovative approach that holds great promise for the manufacturing industry. This integration offers advantages in speed, cost reduction, meeting tolerance and functional accuracy requirements, and high-volume production. It empowers businesses to expedite their production processes, cut costs, maintain precision, and reduce lead times, ultimately delivering significant economic and scheduling benefits.
As a synergistic solution, the combination of 3D printing and CNC machining is poised to reshape manufacturing by optimizing efficiency, product quality, and cost-effectiveness. Manufacturers should combine 3D printing and CNC machining to achieve such goals can have significant economic and scheduling benefits for manufacturing companies
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