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electronic 3D printer creating a part

When you have a great product idea, it’s natural to want a part in your hand as quickly as possible. This allows you to look at the product, test it, and see if it will fit where it’s meant to be. Of course, most designs require some degree of tweaking; you’ll probably go through a few iterations before getting exactly what you need. The faster you receive your prototypes, the quicker you can get to market. Unfortunately, there’s a belief in some quarters that rapid prototyping is just another term for 3D printing. We’d like to explain the difference, and why CNC machining can be a faster prototyping process.

Understanding the 3D Printing Process | 3D Printing for Prototypes

A 3D printer may be many things, but if you’ve ever watched them work, you’ll know that “rapid” isn’t one of them. Building a 3D part layer by layer can take hours, and it doesn’t stop with the actual printing. A CAD model isn’t enough to get started; you have to add support structures so the part doesn’t collapse. Then, once it’s printed and you’re happy with the part, additional cutting is required. Most printing processes leave layers visible on the surface, so you can plan on grinding or sanding them off, too. All in all, 3D printing is suitable for some prototypes, but also faces a number of limitations.

Material Limitations of 3D Printing

Metal printing is evolving quickly, but these processes are limited by the need to deposit and fuse a powder. This means you may not be able to have a part 3D printed in the exact material you want. That can have implications for testing and appearance.

Size Limitations of 3D Printing

Most 3D printers on the market today have a working envelope no bigger than a shoebox. Yes, there are some larger machines, but unfortunately, they carry large price tags, too! Comparatively, most CNC lathes and mills offer much larger envelopes.

Precision CNC Machining is More Accurate | CNC Machining Tolerances

CNC machining is extremely accurate. We can hold tolerances as tight as +/- 0.05mm (0.002″). Fused deposition modeling, (FDM – the plastic extrusion process), achieves about +/- 0.5mm. Selective laser sintering (SLS) is around +/- 0.35mm.

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Consider CNC Rapid Prototyping For Your Parts & Components

High-speed machining is just that: high-speed. With the CNC machining techniques and machine tools we use, we can go from a CAD model to a machined part in just a few hours. In fact, we are sometimes able to complete it faster depending on the size and complexity of the part.

Benefits of CNC Rapid Prototyping

  • Your part machined in the exact material you want
  • A part suitable for functional testing
  • Final part precision, meaning it will be made to print and will assemble to mating parts

When is 3D Printing Right for Prototyping?

  • You just need a low-fidelity part to hold in your hand.
  • You would be machining away most of the material.
  • You need features that can’t be produced by machining.

Schantz Custom Fabrication Offers CNC Rapid Prototyping Solutions

More often than not, CNC rapid prototyping can be a faster and more efficient method. If you need prototype parts in a hurry, bring your design to us and we’ll tell you what we can do. Contact Schantz Custom Fabrication to get started on your rapid prototyping project today.

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