Additive manufacturing works by building up multiple layers, each only a few thousandths of an inch thick, until the final product is completed. It is essentially the opposite of traditional machining, which starts with a block of material and then removes excess to result in the desired product.
There are some advantages to additive manufacturing. For example, this process can be a good choice for highly detailed parts or products. Additive manufacturing can also be useful when a high volume of design iteration is anticipated.
However, additive manufacturing is still a newer technology, and creating new metallics from scratch is a slower process, adding time to the production run versus CNC manufacturing.
CNC machining, by contrast, cuts away excess material from an original block rather than building up an object layer by layer. To compare the two technologies, CNC is most akin to a potter’s wheel, where a single lump of clay is refined through shaping and trimming to a final form. Additive manufacturing, however, takes small pieces of clay, slowly working them together to a finished product.
Despite the fact that it is the older technology, CNC machining has a number of advantages over additive manufacturing. To start, CNC is much faster than additive manufacturing. The difference is noticeable on a single cycle, but is significant when considering multiple objects. CNC can also be used with many different materials unlike additive manufacturing which, by contrast, is used mostly with plastics and some metals. CNC is most commonly associated with metals, but can also be used with plastics, wax, wood and more.
So which process is better? While both processes are computer controlled and are capable of producing high-quality products, the bottom line is that additive manufacturing does not yet compete with CNC for most applications.
In most cases – especially anything involving large-scale production – CNC remains the dominant choice for speed and efficiency.
However, for intricate detail and precision detailing, additive manufacture can offer some distinct advantages. At the end of the day, the question may not be which is better, but instead which is the best choice for a specific application, with products requiring both technologies in tandem to create a finished part or item.
CNC Masters has been helping hobbyists and business owners take their machining to the next level since 1990. Our CNC milling machines are designed to meet the needs of a variety of users, including those who need a mill with a small footprint. Contact us today at 626-962-9300 to find out how we can help you achieve your manufacturing goals.