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CNC Machining and 3D Printing: Which is Best for Rapid Prototyping?

There are advantages to using both CNC machining and 3D printing for creating prototypes quickly and iterations of designs. Although many businesses offer both, it is worth understanding the differences between them both.

If you have even the most foundational understanding of different technologies used in manufacturing, you will know that there are major differences between CNC machining and 3D printing. CNC (or computer numerical control machining, to give it its full name) is what is known as a subtractive form of manufacturing. As you’d probably guess, this means it makes 3D models by working away, or machining, at a large solid piece of a specific material. Alternatively, 3D printing is referred to as additive, as it involves CAD powering the printer to build a product up in layers. 

Although those are pretty fundamental differences right there, the thing that stumps a lot of people is knowing which is best for their own needs, particularly if they need to use rapid prototyping services

Which is Best?

You need to consider several factors when deciding between the two for prototyping your design. One of these factors is that additive manufacturing like 3D printing can produce complicated geometrical designs that would cost too much (if they were even possible) using CNC machining. 3D printing also trumps CNC machining when you need a quick turnaround, as 3D printed prototype parts and products can be produced in a couple of days, depending on the company you use.

The biggest factor you need to consider though is your production volume. Additive manufacturing is best used when you are only needing to produce a small number of iterations and have a tight budget. Whereas, CNC machining is far more affordable and cost-effective if you are working on bigger volumes of products. Although, that being said, if you are working on more than 100 products or prototypes, it could be better to opt for investment casting or injection molding instead.

CNC machining could also be the most efficient form of manufacturing if your prototypes need to be very functional and are likely to face various strains and stresses. CNC machining tends to be a lot better when it comes to more accurate dimensions and uses materials that have greater mechanical properties compared to 3D printing. 

CNC machining, though, is often a bit pricier. Therefore, you need to weigh up whether quality or cost is more important, while also considering if you need to produce any parts that are not the same or customize designs. 3D printing is much better and more efficient. 

In summary, 3D printing is ideal when you are looking to save money on a small number of prototypes, particularly when the designs are complicated and are going to be customized. CNC machining is ideal when you require medium to high volumes of prototypes. It is better for accuracy and repeatability and offers an altogether better finish for your products. 

This is a guest post written by Rapid Direct

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