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Prototype Development, How to Choose 3D Printing or CNC?

When manufacturing prototype was used to support product development, 3D printing and CNC(computer numerical control)milling machine should be taken consider in it as prototype manufacture process. So under the specific application, especially the design and product specification is unkown,how to choose between the two kinds of production process? we can know the characteristics of two kinds of production process from the specific case.

The advantage of 3D printing process:
  • It can manufacture complex geometrical shape without mould. Meanwhile,no effect to time and cost. It make customer delivery small batch parts rapidly,and flexibly adapt to the design changes.
  • Support for parallel parts processing and saving time. Users can produce multiple parts at single project, produce multiple versions of a single parts. Or multiple parts of different project.
  • No need to use multiple setting to manufacture parts, no need the supervision and intervene of operator. After operating, the equipment will run until the parts are finished.

Case in point about time and cost:
The following example uses a labor cost rate of $37.00 per hour. For machine time cost per hour, these examples use a value of $1.00 for both 3D printing and CNC.For material costs based on expanded volume, 3D printing USES $1.00 / inch 3, while CNC USES $0.50 / inch 3**.(Take the portable tray and industrial robot adapter for example.)

Quality characteristic:
  • Material.3D printing as whole process, can deal with extensive material category. But each technology can only handle one kind material, can cover a small amount of material in the corresponding categories. CNC can process multiple material, each material has many choice, the limiting factors only is that whether can be processed.
  • Material properties. After CNC process, the mechanical properties of the prototypes are almost the same as those of raw materials. After 3D printing, the properties of the prototypes are almost the same as thoes of raw materials.
  • Also consider that, because of the layered nature of the process,3D printed parts usually have anisotropy.
  • CNC process tolerance is smaller.
  • CNC surface smoothness is better.

Considering tolerance and smoothness only, CNC is the best choice beyond doubt.However, taking into account the cost, manpower and the delivery time and other comprehensive factors. 3D printing technology has obvious advantage. Therefore, when adopt 3D printing technology, consideration aspects about design including below:
  • Part size and order quantity.Volume production of small parts is more economical.
  • Part size and design complexity.Small and medium sized parts with medium and high complexity is most ideal.
  • Part surface area and border volume.The larger the surface area of per cube inch,the more the characteristic.

Driving factor including:
  • Rapidly and high-efficiency products delivery.
  • guarantee/assurance of multiple times of design iterations. 
  • Design can be changeable.

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