CNC vs. 3D Printing: What’s the Best Way to Make Your Production Part?

CNC machining and 3D printing production parts – two fantastic new-age technologies to create complex engineered parts.

CNC machine and 3D printing – two powerful technologies in their own rights with extensive production part manufacturing capabilities. Both CNC machining and 3D printing have changed the world of manufacturing. But which is better –  CNC machining or 3D printing production parts? With so many probabilities and combinations, there is no single answer that is a panacea for every situation. Each of these processes has evolved to meet different demands. Here’s a look at how each of these technologies works and some areas where one of these technologies outdoes the other.

An overview of 3D Printing for production parts

The Process: 3D printing is an additive process. That means the material is added layer by layer to form and create the desired production part.

Wastage: The process adds the material to create parts- there is minimum to no wastage of material.

Environment considerations: Any wasted material can be reused. The process does not produce vibrations and is less noisy compared to CNC machining.

Materials: 3D Printing makes use of plastics mainly to create parts. The process uses thermoplastics like PLA, ULTEM, ABS, nylon, and photopolymers like resins and wax. Some 3D printers make use of ceramics and sand. The use of metals to create production parts from 3D printing is now on the rise. Metals like stainless steel, titanium, and aluminum are used effectively.

Industries: 3D printing is the perfect technology for industries where precision is of extreme importance – for example, the medical industry, to create prosthetics, organs, and implants. Artisans and designers use 3D printing to create works of art, jewelry, and even apparel. It is even used to create niche art like layered specialty foods – for example, chocolates, ravioli, and pizzas.

Tools: No tools required.

Size of parts: 3D printing was limited to making parts only the size of the printing bed. But now, larger pieces can be made if they are broken into smaller parts, printed separately, and then fitted together.

Turnaround time: With advancements in technology, 3D printing offers a fast turnaround time. A CAD file is all that is required to start printing parts.

Best for:

3D printing is ideal when you need to create:

  • Rapid prototypes.
  • Low volumes of production parts (less than 100 parts).
  • Fully assembled parts.
  • Parts within parts.
  • Production parts that have significant internal voids.
  • Parts with high geometric complexity.

An overview of CNC Machining for production parts

The Process: CNC is a subtractive process. That means parts of a block of material are removed to create the production parts.

Wastage: CNC machining carves the product part out of a block of material. The machine etches excess and unwanted material away from the original block, leading to considerable wastage.

Environment considerations: Wasted material is not reusable. CNC machining is noisy and produces a lot of vibrations.

Materials: Aluminum is the most commonly used metal in CNC machining. You can also use plastics like ABS, polycarbonate, polypropylene, PEEK, POM, and PMMA.

Industries: CNC machining is ideal for the woodworking, engraving, and lettering industries and industries that make use of robust metal parts like the aerospace industry.

Tools: CNC machines use multiple tools to make the needed cuts. Sometimes, to improve efficiencies, several types of tools are combined into a single cell.

Size of parts: To create significantly larger pieces that you cannot with 3D printing.

Turnaround time: It is a time-consuming process, especially when you need to make changes or move to the next product version. The tools must be changed or recalibrated – all that takes time.

Best for:

CNC machining is ideal when you need to:

  • Create parts from wood that are not possible with 3D printing.
  • Cut out large parts that are outside the ability of 3D printers.
  • Create vital parts that are strong and have precise dimensional accuracy.
  • Create a large volume of production parts (over 100 production parts).

CNC or 3D printing for production parts?

Here are some common situations and the ideal solution:

CNC vs 3D Printing


We are back to the question  – CNC machining or 3D printing production parts? Like we said earlier, there is no one solution for any situation. You eventually choose for your production parts requirement to depend on costs, time, material, geometric complexity, and volume.

DesignPoint is a 3D software and hardware solutions provider. The company is dedicated to creating innovative solutions for manufacturing, product design, and engineering companies to maximize their potential.