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CNC machining vs 3D printing

CNC machining and 3D printing are both techniques used widely in manufacturing, although 3D printing is a newer technology. But what are the differences between the two and the benefits of each?

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What is CNC machining?

CNC stands for computer numerical control. So, a CNC machine is one which is controlled by a computer and has been pre-programmed to operate in a certain way. A CNC machine can operate across both the X and Y axes to cut raw materials into a particular shape using a tool. The size and shape of the tool are dependent on the finished item you wish to create as well as the material being machined.

Generally, a CAD drawing is uploaded to the system which then tells the machines what to cut, where and how deep. It also dictates when it needs to turn and whether that should be left or right, up or down. This precision process results in a finished item of high quality and detail.

However, the process can be quite labour intensive in comparison to 3D printing. An operator needs to determine the type of tool to be used as well as its rotation speed. The process is called subtractive manufacturing as it starts with a block of raw material and pieces or sections are cut away to create the finished product.

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Not all businesses choose to purchase their own CNC machines, perhaps because they’re limited for space or their production volume doesn’t warrant it. In these cases, precision CNC milling is often outsourced to companies such as https://www.parallelprecision.co.uk/cnc-milling/. If you do choose to purchase your own CNC machines, or indeed any other type of machine, as an employer you should check your responsibilities under the Machine Safety Regulations of 2008. If you’re unsure, the Health and Safety Executive provides you with some guidance.

What is 3D printing?

3D printing is an additive manufacturing process. As opposed to cutting away material to reach the finished product, 3D printing builds up layers of the raw material instead. While 3D printing is becoming more popular it is still yet to become as adept as CNC machining at mass production and it is not yet as efficient either. This process is also still mainly focussed on manufacturing from plastics, whereas CNC machining is also used for production of items from metals too.

 

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