Prototype Machining: Pros And Cons Of CNC For Prototyping

Prototype Machining

The concept of producing a prototype before embarking on a long manufacturing run is not new, but 3D machining is considered by many to be the most common form of rapid prototyping. However, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining, which is a subtractive process in which material is gradually removed from a workpiece to form a component, is highly suitable for prototyping and offers significant benefits over other methods.

What Is Prototype CNC Machining?

Prototype CNC machining is a process in which a single component, or a small batch of the same component, is produced before a long run is commenced. CNC machining is an extremely precise process in which computer inputs control tools, to achieve tight tolerances on complex designs. Compared with traditional machining practices, CNC machining delivers significant cost savings and shorter production times, with less input needed from skilled operatives.

Precision, therefore, is crucial, so CNC prototype machining can be used to produce a sample of the component for careful checking or to assess its functionality before embarking on a long run.  

The Advantages Of CNC Prototype Machining

1) Easy Transfer From File To Prototype

As CNC is a digital process that enables a component to be produced from data in a computer file, it is likely that a machined prototype will be virtually identical to the 3D design. Once the prototype is approved, the initial design can be used repeatedly to produce a series of components that are exactly like each other. Repeatability is easy, with no time lost to creating new designs.

2) Consistent High Quality

CNC tools and machinery offer a superior level of consistency, as manufacture isn’t prone to human error during operation. With computer inputs controlling every element of machining, tighter tolerances can be achieved than even a highly skilled human operative could produce. If a prototype needs minor alterations, a second version can be produced quickly with the same machinery, reflecting the same high standards.

3) Utilise A Range Of Strong Materials

3D printing is suitable for components which do not have a mechanical function and can, therefore, be constructed from softer or less robust materials. Aluminium prototype machining, for example, is only possible with CNC machining and is more cost-efficient, as 3D printers that can print on metal are very expensive.

The Disadvantages Of CNC Prototype Machining

As with all machining processes, there are some disadvantages to CNC prototyping which it is important to be aware of:

1) More Expensive Than 3D Printing

Due to the cost of machinery, materials, and human supervision, CNC machining is usually a more expensive option than 3D printing. However, with CNC machining you can create prototypes using a greater range of materials and be confident that prototypes will be produced to exceptional standards of precision.

2) Greater Waste

As a subtractive process, CNC machining eliminates unwanted material from the workpiece, so there will always be some excess waste that isn’t needed. However, chips can normally be recycled or reused, so the impact on the environment is less serious and, with greater levels of accuracy and repeatability, there won’t be wasted components that are redundant because of errors or inaccuracies.

Contact Redline CNC For More Information

If you’re looking for a reliable CNC machinist to create prototypes for your project, speak to Redline CNC today. As an ISO 9001 certified machinist, our quality control procedures ensure the highest standards every time, saving you time and money while guaranteeing the finest quality. To find out more, call us on 01293 699838.