3D printers rule the world of additive manufacturing. 3D, much like the name suggests, operate by printing layers of material rather than detracting from a pre-existing object. This function is called fused depositional modelling and works by the machine repeatedly depositing over the same area to build from the base upwards to create the final model. So, although it is called a 3D printer, it prints each layer in 2D cross-sectional layers, which are essentially stacked upon one another until the desired design has been produced.
Ordinary printers use either powder or ink to create their marks on paper, but of course, these substances would not suffice in building a 3D design. In most 3D printing, each layer is born of molten thermoplastic and then fused either using adhesive or ultraviolet light. Thermoplastics are a type of plastic whose form depends on their temperature – when heated, they become liquid, and when cool, they return to solid form. This, of course, does mean that during the process of 3D printing, the machine must wait for each layer to cool before depositing the next to preserve the integrity of the shape.
While the most common material used with 3D printers is plastic, some also function using metal. These printers still function with the same layer-by-layer process of 2D sections; however, they use blankets of metal powders instead of their plastic material counterparts.
Subtractive manufacturing begins with a block of material and cuts away at it to reveal and create the desired part. CNC machines dominate the subtractive manufacturing realm and come in myriad forms to cover an array of demands. Like 3D manufacturing, CNC machining can be used with plastic and metal but works with them in their solid raw forms.
CNC machines work in various ways; they can have manoeuvring and rotating tools being introduced to a still material held in place, or the machine can rotate the object itself. Again, this is project dependent. CNC machines can work on various materials from metal and plastic to wood and come in all shapes and sizes, learn more about types of CNC machines and their functions here.
Which is best?
Subtractive and additive manufacturing are suitable for different purposes. Still, when it comes down to it, there is no use in employing a 3D printer to manufacture work that is meant for CNC machines. For example, 3D machines need a reasonably specific metal type to achieve optimal functionality, resulting in less versatility and leeway in which materials you can use for metal-based projects. They also don’t offer the same value for money when it comes to large scale production because the necessity for them to wait for each layer of material to dry causes a time delay. CNC machines, however, can complete multiple functions simultaneously if needed. So, if you’re looking for the optimal value for money whilst maintaining the integrity, detail, quantity, quality, speed and diversity of material possibilities – you’re best off investing in CNC machining.
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Types of CNC Machine
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A wide range of manufacturing processes
Enjoy bespoke, high precision parts using our CNC machining services. Suitable for a wide range of materials.
Suitable for high volume plastic parts. We have excellent knowledge and expertise in Injection Moulding.
Whether you require 1 or 10,000 parts, extrusion produces fully customised, high quality, uniform cross sections.
We can provide 3D printed parts in a wide variety of materials and colours. Fantastic for low volume and complex plastic parts.
Choose CNC Turning for circular cross sections. We also offer Turn & Mill capabilities for more complex turned parts.
From prototype to production, our range of CNC milling services can provide precision parts for your project.
With many years experience, sheet metal parts can be a great low-cost option for certain high and low-volume applications.