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Additive vs Subtractive Manufacturing: Difference for Production

Time: 2021-09-17 Source : PRATIC CNC

With the advantage of large quantities, high precision and high rigidity, subtractive manufacturing (CNC machining) is the most widely used way in industrial production. CNC machine included vertical milling machine, horizontal machine and large gantry machine, etc., which can meet the most manufacturing needs. In recent years, additive manufacturing(usually refers to 3D printing) was more and more company used in manufacturing because of its flexibility and efficiency, which seems to impact the position of CNC machining in production.

So is this really the case in actual production? Let's take a look at the difference between additive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing.

1 - Additive vs Subtractive Manufacturing

CNC machining is subtractive manufacturing. CNC machine through the function of milling, drilling, boring, charming to cut a special shape on the workpiece according to the computer path preset, there will be generated a pile of metal debris when it finished.

3D printing is additive manufacturing, which adds materials layer by layer according to the computer 3D modeling drawing, finished the product in short time but almost no debris is produced.

2 - Flexibility

CNC machining is used to produce a single batch of products. It takes a lot of time to program and debug the machine before production. When replacing another workpiece, the tools magazine and fixtures should be adjusted accordingly. Therefore, CNC machine has low flexibility and is suitable for single setting to produce mass products.

3D printing only takes less time to programming the 3D model, fixture and station adjustment are not required for different production tasks. In most cases, 3D printer parts can be delivered within 24 hours with fast turnover time. When a part of the machine is broken and a new part cannot be delivered in short time, you will find the benefits of 3D printing.

3 - Accuracy

Benefit from mature technology and structural stability, CNC machining has only a few microns of error, the final products have low tolerance and superior surface finish. It is great for high-precision heavy parts in military industry, aerospace, 5G communication and other industries.

3D printing through the processes of nozzle, UV cure and thermal energy, different ambient temperatures may lead to different accuracy of the final product. At the same time, 3D print  may generated layer lines on the surface, affecting the finish, not suitable for producing parts that need to be closely matched.

4 - Application Material

CNC machining is mainly used for metalworking, it can also be used for processing thermoplastic, acrylic, cork and hardwood, styling foam and processing wax.

3D printing is mainly used for plastics and less for metals, some technologies can use ceramics, wax, sand and composite materials to produce parts. Because the material used for 3D printing is not hard enough, it can’t be used for parts processing of high precision heavy duty industry, but is mostly used for customized and unique products, such as medical industries use 3D technology to customize medical appliances for specific patients.

5 - Production Quantity

CNC machining is most suitable for medium volume, simple geometry, strict tolerances and hard materials

3D printed is most suitable for small batch(less than 10), complex design and speed critical situations.

From above 5 points, additive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing have their own advantages. If 3D print parts need smooth surfaces, it can polished by CNC machine after 3D print, so I prefer to call it a cooperative relationship rather than an alternative relationship. 3D printing is perfect for prototype manufacturing, and almost all shapes of parts can be produced, however, CNC machining have irreplaceable advantages in mass production.

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