August 2018

3D printing and CNC machining: why choose one when you can have both?

When 3D printing became more of a mainstream technology, many claimed additive manufacturing would all but replace the more traditional techniques, with the likes of CNC machining set to be condemned to the annuls of history. That hasn’t happened, however, and it’s certainly not looking as if it will anytime soon. So, with that in mind, isn’t it time we got used to both being around and available?

3D printing is a fantastic technology, and an industry we’re proud to be at the forefront of, but it can’t do everything. It’s a similar story for CNC machining and other manufacturing methods, which is why we don’t think you have to choose one or the other when it comes to your project. Rather than viewing them as truly independent of each other, here at Ogle we like to think of them as complementary technologies, capable of working together – or individually – to enhance manufacturing.


The main differences between the two technologies are relatively simple for even the layman to understand: 3D printing is the process of adding material while CNC machining subtracts it. Part of the additive manufacturing family, 3D printing produces parts directly from 3D CAD data, building them up one layer at a time. CNC machining, meanwhile, starts with a block of raw material, which is then cut into using a high-speed milling tool that follows the pre-determined cutter path in the CAM software.

While 3D printing can produce extremely complicated parts, they aren’t as structurally solid as CNC machined parts, which have been cut out of an already solid block of material. While 3D printing machines are getting faster by the day, CNC machines are still the go-to tool for larger parts. For highly-complex and low volume parts, 3D printing is in a league of its own. For durability, however, CNC machining still leads the way.

A marriage made in heaven?

At first glance, 3D printing and CNC machining appear to be complete opposites; one adds material while the other subtracts it. But, as the old saying goes: opposites attract. This is certainly the case here, and the two technologies actually work extremely well together. While 3D printing can produce parts involving a high level of fine detail and complex geometry, a CNC machine can handle the post-processing required to refine and give a superb surface finish to a final part.

So, rather than automatically assuming you have to pick one or the other for your project, speak to a member of our team to find out how you could be better off making use of a number of different technologies to create your part.

For more information about the different technologies we use here at Ogle, follow these links:

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