Integrating CNC Machining with 3D Printing
The manufacturing industry is often seen as split into two camps: additive and subtractive manufacturing. But when creating a product designed to meet end user needs and optimize manufacturability, the dividing lines aren’t quite as clear. Using just one method isn’t always sufficient to deliver the best strategy for your parts.
Although we specialize in additive manufacturing at Alchemy Industrial, our goal is always to help our customers build a strong foundation for their products—and that may involve relying on traditional CNC machining techniques as well.
No matter what manufacturing approach your product requires—3D printing, machining, injection molding—Alchemy Manufacturing Studio can guide you through the decision-making process and help you develop a manufacturing strategy that sets you up for success.
How CNC Machining Integrates with 3D Printing
There are a number of reasons why a product may need to integrate CNC machining with 3D printing.
Sometimes a 3D printed part comes out requiring additional surface finishing or critical post processing to make it perfect. For example, it may need tight tolerances that additive manufacturing alone can’t quite achieve. In these cases, the part is originally 3D printed and then machined to transform it into its final, sellable form.
There are also times when we integrate multiple manufacturing methods based on the price per part. For example, one of our clients is selling sealed components for a variety of applications. In some cases, they’re only selling 3-5 parts at a time. Due to the size and quantity of the parts, it’s less expensive to 3D print them than to get a compression molded billet made and then machine the parts.
However, this same client has other parts that they are making at higher volumes. Both the nature of the parts and the quantities makes them more conducive to CNC machining, so in those instances we’re working with them to manufacture with subtractive methods instead.
Either way, our clients don’t have to shop around for different manufacturing methods, nor do they have to figure out on their own which method is most appropriate for their parts. They can simply rely on us to implement an outsourced manufacturing strategy covering an entire range of products with varying size and order quantities.
Alchemy Industrial Will Help You Develop the Right Manufacturing Strategy
When developing a manufacturing strategy for a primary part, there are several key factors that we take into consideration to help us determine the ideal manufacturing method(s):
Material. When 3D printing for the oil and gas industry or other sectors where parts must reach critical temperatures and maintain key properties, it’s important to make sure that any materials are qualified by the end user. These industries generally accept most metals, but they may be initially skeptical of #stronglikemetal technopolymers such as PEEK.
We work with our clients to provide whatever data they need to qualify components for appropriate use. Our equipment and materials partner, Roboze, even specializes in materials science research in 3D printing. We’ll gladly make a material recommendation!
Quantity. The general rule of thumb is that the higher the volume, the more likely you’ll move to machining and eventually injection molding, but the continuum isn’t always as straightforward as you might think. Contrary to what many people believe, production scale 3D printing is an option. We’ll be sure to assess the cost before ever recommending additive manufacturing over subtractive manufacturing for larger quantities.
Geometry. One of the great revolutions of 3D printing is liberating geometries. If you only need to produce a simple shape, a mill or a lathe can usually do the job. But if you need geometric flexibility, 3D printing is probably the best option. We can 3D print almost any shape you can conceive, so don’t be afraid to include complex profiles or unique characteristics!
Component fit. It’s possible to combine one or more components in 3D printing to reduce cost and lead time—and in some cases, reduce an assembly down to a single part. That said, there are times when we may recommend 3D printing one part, then stopping to add a feature via CNC machining (e.g., magnet inserts, bolts to strengthen a part) before returning to 3D printing.
Every product has its own unique formula that helps us determine the right manufacturing strategy. No two projects are alike—and the challenge of working on your unique parts is what makes our job both fun and rewarding!
Don’t get pigeonholed into just one manufacturing method. Contact Alchemy Industrial today to develop a manufacturing plan that guarantees optimal results.