3D printing and CNC machining are both popular - and effective - manufacturing technologies. While there are some similarities among the two techniques, comparing 3D printing to CNC machining is a lot like comparing apples to oranges. The most obvious difference is that 3D printing is a type of additive manufacturing, building parts one layer at a time. On the other hand, CNC machining is a type of subtractive manufacturing, cutting away raw material from a solid block, or blank. CNC machining is better suited for repeatable accuracy and precision; while 3D printing is better suited for more cost-effective replication of 3D geometries.

finnovation pd 3d printing vs cnc machining
So, is it even possible to try to pit these two technologies against each other to analyze costs associated with each? It’s known in our industry that both CNC machining and 3D printing can be used together as a hybrid solution to get the job done. It all depends on what you need - what part do you need and what does it need to do? Here are a few things to consider when looking for the most cost-effective option(s):

One important factor to consider is the size of the run being completed. With CNC machining, traditional manufacturing can win over the larger volumes; but if you’re in low-volume production, 3D printing is the most effective choice.

With CNC machining, parts are created to work properly. As you know, this option is very detailed and specific. 3D printing can also create what you need, but it may not be as efficient and could run the risk of being sloppy in places. However, if you’re looking for complex geometries, CNC machining would be a much more expensive option and 3D printing would be best.

Generally speaking, CNC machining is pricier than 3D printing. Not only are the machines more costly, but they require expensive tooling to do the actual milling, as well as skilled machinists to operate the machine. CNC machines use blanks of plastic or metal, however, if selected carefully, a cost-efficient plastic can be used.

While it is not cost effective to do small runs on CNC mills, medium-to-large sized runs reduce the price per part. This results in an affordable manufacturing technology.

While both 3D printers and CNC machining can make parts out of either plastic or metal, it is well-known that 3D printing can create low-cost plastic parts. Plus, being additive manufacturing, it produces far less wasted material than CNC machining.

The Bottom Line
Take a look at everything your end part needs, whether it’s high accuracy, a certain material, complex geometry, and especially the size of the run. From there, you can compare the cost of 3D printing and CNC milling and determine which is the best technology for your business. You may also decide that using both technologies would be the best option for you and your project.

At Finnovation Product Development, we understand the uses of technology, and we know how and when to apply them so our customers get the most accurate part at the best price. We are also known for offering the fastest turnaround times in the industry.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help with your design process. We invite you to call us at 585-472-9932 or email us through our secure contact page. We're located in Ontario, NY and proudly serve clients in the Syracuse, Buffalo, Albany, and Rochester areas.