3D Printing vs CNC Machining: Crucial Considerations While Choosing One

 Both 3D printing and CNC machining are modern manufacturing solutions that offer considerable advantages over traditional methods. However, the two processes have different strengths, so it's essential to understand the key considerations when choosing between them.

Compared to a traditional manufacturing solution, these methods are more agile, on-demand and customisable. They also offer shorter lead times and reduced manufacturing costs. To pick the suitable manufacturing technology, let's look at some essential factors:

Labour Requirements:

In general, CNC machining requires more skilled labour than additive manufacturing. Moreover, with the advent of new 3D printing technologies, like fused deposition modelling (FDM), even less-skilled workers can produce high-quality parts.

Computer numerical control (CNC) machining is an automated process. However, complex adjustments are made manually. On the other hand, 3D printing is an automatic process, and the only manual input is loading the print file.

Production Time:

CNC machines are known for short setup times and high production rates. However, the parts produced are often limited to the shape that can be machined. In contrast, 3D printing offers a wide range of design flexibility, but the print times can be significantly longer, mainly if you also include support structure.

If you add support structure to the design, 3d printing service production time increases between 5% to 15%. Thus, if you need a faster turnaround time for bulk quantities and limited design, CNC is the best option. On the other hand, if you require to print intricate bespoke designs using various materials, 3d printing makes more sense.

Operational Cost:

Whether you need to print a simple design or a complex structure, the cost involved with 3d printing solutions is capped. On the other side, as the complexity grows in CNC, so does the price. There is also a considerable setup cost for CNC machines, which may not be justified if you only produce a few parts.

3D printing technology is still maturing, and the price of 3D printers is dropping rapidly. In contrast, the cost of CNC machines has been consistent for many years. So, if you plan to mass-produce components over a few years with limited design innovation, CNC is an ideal pick. Conversely, if your company needs constant design iterations, prototyping, and experimentation, additive manufacturing is a life-saver.

Material Wastage:

CNC manufacturing is a subtractive process, which means that the material starts as a block and is carved down to the desired shape. As a result, there is usually a significant waste of material. But the parts made with CNC are robust and have a longer life.

In contrast, 3D printing is an additive process where the material is deposited layer-by-layer until the part is complete. As a result, it results in very little material wastage. However, when it comes to 3D printed parts' durability, it's largely dependent on the filament quality and type.

Part Size:

As CNC works with a block of material, large-scale manufacturing is never an issue. So, it becomes easier for manufacturers to switch between smaller and large-size parts, but the cost factor goes up.

On the other hand, 3D printing is limited by the size of the printer bed. Additive technology is ideal for producing small to medium-sized parts. However, manufacturers 3d print components in different small pieces and then assemble them. The limitation of 3D printing in terms of part size is slowly fading away with the advent of industrial-grade 3D printers.


CNC-machined parts often have an excellent surface quality and do not require significant post-processing. However, adding any finishing touches will require more labour if you need to add any finishing touches.

In contrast, 3D-printed parts usually have a coarse surface finish and need post-processing. It includes filing, sanding and polishing to get a smooth surface. But with the advancement of new 3D printing materials, like nylon and polycarbonate, this is slowly changing.

Ease of use:

CNC machines are challenging to learn and operate. It takes time to set up the machine and make the required adjustments for each part. However, the hard work you do brings superior-quality components with higher strength.

3D printers are becoming increasingly user-friendly with every release. They are easy to use even for people without expert technical knowledge. All you need is a 3D print file that specifies the dimensions and design of the part. The ease of use with 3d printing also depends on which printing technology and printer you are using.

So, Which Manufacturing Method Is Suitable for Your Business?

The answer to this question largely depends on your manufacturing needs. If you need a faster turnaround time and don't need too many design iterations, CNC is the better option. But if you require intricate designs and want to experiment with various materials, go for 3D printing.

Both the methods are excellent for producing different types of parts, so it ultimately comes down to your specific requirements.

Wrapping Up!

In sum, both 3D printing and CNC machining have distinctive characteristics. The best way to decide which one is right for you is to consider your manufacturing needs and budget. With the growing popularity of both techniques, you will easily find CNC machining services and 3d printing in Melbourne or where you live.