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Differences between CNC Machines & 3D Printers

by Conor Adan

3D Printers are getting cheaper every day, while CNC machines are becoming more affordable as well. If you’ve ever had the itch to pick up one or the other, here’s a look at some of the significant differences between CNC and 3D printers:

1) A CNC machine uses software and hardware to cut objects from sheets of material (metal, wood, plastic), while a 3D printer creates your object from a digital model by layering melted material.

2) The price range for 3D printers is around $500 to several thousand dollars, depending on the type of printer and its capabilities. CNC machines start at a few hundred dollars and go up from there. If you’re looking for a deluxe machine that can do intricate detail work, expect to drop some serious cash.

3) The minimum feature size for a 3D printer is around .1mm, compared to the standard CNC minimum of approximately .125 inches or even larger from some computer-controlled routers.

4) A CNC machine requires a flat surface for the material you wish to cut, but a 3D printer can print on various surfaces, including uneven ones.

5) CNC machines are a subtractive process, meaning you start with a large block and remove everything that isn’t part of your final object. A 3D printer is an additive process: it creates the object by building up layer after layer of material until your creation is complete.

6) Accuracy is a significant factor in CNC machines because the material you’re cutting needs to fit with other parts in your object. 3D printers can be less accurate when printing fast or big things because the layers typically don’t have to match up perfectly from layer to layer.

3D printers can print with plastic, resin, metal, and even chocolate! 7) Material options are much more limited for 3D printers than traditional CNC machines. CNC machines typically cut or mill your object from solid blocks of material that you provide.

8) Creating a digital model for use with a CNC machine is different from the process used to create a digital model for a 3D printer, but the basic concepts are similar. If you are looking for something that does not need any CNC knowledge, the X-Carve CNC Machine will be a perfect choice.

For a CNC machine, you might use draftsman’s techniques to create your design on paper first, then convert it from two dimensions to three using computer software so that the machine can follow your instructions as it cuts your object. With a 3D printer, you use computer software to build a model so that the printer can lay down material in successive layers to create your object.

9) Generally speaking, 3D printers are best for creating unique items and one-off projects; you wouldn’t want to use them for mass production or high-volume jobs. CNC machines are excellent for the high-volume manufacturing of complex objects. Still, they aren’t as suitable for unique projects or mass production due to the costs of building a physical mold for each new item you wish to produce.

In conclusion, CNC machines and 3D printers each have different strengths and weaknesses. Because of these differences, you will likely see them co-exist in the future because they both have their role to play in product manufacturing.

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