CNC Machining Vs. 3D Printing In Advanced Manufacturing

Industrial & Manufacturing Blog

3D printing is rapidly transforming manufacturing. Take the automotive industry, for example. Parts manufacturers started using 3D printing to make the tools to make the parts. They then started stamping out everything from engine to brake parts—and more recently cars.

So how will 3D printing affect CNC machining—the trusty manufacturing process behind the industrial revolution?  As it turns out, 3D printing is even making CNC machines. 

Fabrication Friends or Foe?

3D printing is being used in advanced industries (aerospace and drones) but not in the most advanced applications. 3D printing is an additive manufacturing process. The product is then built up through the deposition of material layers. 3D printing is used to print out objects with simple designs and material compositions. Most products use one material—plastic, metal, and so on.

CNC machining is a subtractive manufacturing process.  Like 3D printing, the process starts with a 3D design. A block of material is then carved into a 3D design. All types of materials and composite materials are used. 

Will 3D Printing Replace CNC Machining?

Not likely. As 3D printing matures, CNC machining and 3D printing will become complimentary fabrication processes. 

Wherever practical, the simpler 3D printing process may replace CNC machining in product prototyping. CNC machining is used in all those applications in which 3D printing is not up for the job. They may require traditional assembly with belts and gears, or advanced robotic assemblies. 

In these cases, custom machine spindles often need to be engineered to operate with various speeds, forces, vibrations, temperatures, and so on. Fabrication will also involve customized processing, such as cutting, lasering, welding, tilling, and moulding. In metal cutting alone, custom machine spindle suppliers deal in spindles for dozens of different types of advanced metal cutting machines. 

3D printing is becoming popular in product prototyping. However, when experimenting with novel materials, coatings, and finishings, CNC machining will be used. In many such applications, custom engineered spindles and other devices will be required. To learn more about custom machine spindles, contact a company like HPT Spindles & Drives Inc.

CNC machining will continue to have a dominant place on the technology curve. Demand for CNC machining equipment is forecast to grow at an average annual rate of 6.5 percent to $105.3 billion by 2025. The 3D printing market will grow five times faster to $63.5 billion over the same period. 

The high growth in additive manufacturing, especially 3D printing, will increase the demand for CNC machining.  Helicopter blades—the first part to be automated with CNC machining—may one day be made by 3D printing. But high-precision CNC machining will still be required on these and more advanced parts.


4 May 2020

M Is for Manufacturing

Where do you think we would be if the manufacturing industry shut down? We would not have new cars or buses. The packaging that our food comes in would not be available, and even things like children's toys and clothing would be in short supply. Going back to making everything by hand would be quite the burden, so we really rely on the manufacturing industry for quality of life and peace of mind. You don't have to work in this industry yourself to become more informed about it. Learn about the people and companies that make the products we adore on this website.