3D printing or machining: the duel?

Fri, February 11, 2022

Category: Press-Release, News

Additive and subtractive manufacturing offer limitations and advantages that make them totally complementary technologies.

Our customers often ask us about the respective positioning of 3D printing and machining: "What advantages does machining offer compared to 3D printing? Does 3D printing compete with your machines? Is it the death knell of machining?"

The DATRON Company specializes in the design of high-end High Speed Machining centers for various industries, from prototyping to intensive production.

Often consulted for advanced applications, requiring the machining of prototypes, small tools, pre-production, we are confronted with varied and specific technical needs, and cross many technologies.
This is how we have witnessed the appearance and the lightning evolution of 3D printing in the last few years.

Based on this experience, we will try, in this short article, to share with you our feelings on the subject.

  • What are the advantages and limitations of 3D printing?

It is true that additive manufacturing has been evolving rapidly since the beginning of the 21st century. Originally limited to the prototyping of small objects, in resin, it will diversify over the years in terms of materials, size and quality of parts.

One of the main advantages of additive manufacturing, the one most frequently mentioned by our customers, is the simplicity of use and the speed with which a part can be produced: no need to go through CAM, no need to supply special tools, no need for specific clamps, no need for years of experience to produce a part.

The entry price for a 3D printer has also become very affordable if we stay with the simplest technologies.

Finally, 3D printing is the essential technology to produce complex parts that are difficult or impossible to machine (hollow parts, internal channels, certain complex undercuts, etc.).

However, this technology still has its limits in terms of versatility, precision...

Although it offers the possibility today of producing parts in many materials, each 3D printer, depending on its technology, is generally not versatile and remains dedicated to a single material. This can be a handicap when validating the function of a part or when dealing with very varied needs in terms of materials.

When it comes to metallic and plastic materials, it does not always "restore" the intrinsic characteristics of the material. For example, the production of successive layers can lead to brittle areas in the structure of the material.

The surface finish is often of very average quality, sometimes requiring post-print machining or polishing.

Precision and repeatability are generally limited, especially for the most affordable solutions.
Finally, from a health point of view, some technologies can be the source of harmful nanoparticles.

Let's talk about material removal, and more specifically machining!

  • How has machining evolved and is it still a relevant solution when you want to innovate?

Although the developments are less spectacular for this much older technology, they are nevertheless numerous and provide solutions to current problems.

Thus, the appearance of HSM (High Speed Machining), the evolution of tools and tool coatings, open up new possibilities and allow the machining of materials and complex parts that are difficult, or even impossible, to work with more conventional machining methods.

Light alloys, various plastics including the most fragile or heat-sensitive (peek, coc...), composites (epoxy filled, graphite...) but also small parts in titanium, stainless steel.... The parts are machined directly in the final material for functional or mechanical tests, wear tests and of course to validate the design with its final rendering...

In HSC, surface finishes can be as close to mirror-like as possible, especially when using the new range of dedicated coated tools.

With reduced cutting forces and less heat generation at the finished part, HSC preserves the integrity of the materials and their intrinsic characteristics. In plastics, for example, not only are very good surface finishes achieved, but transparency is also maintained. Finally, it is possible to achieve texture effects by engraving.

The levels of resolution, precision and repeatability that machining can offer allow the realization of precision micromechanical parts thanks to the use of micro-mills and micro-drills for which current 3D technologies have limits.

Finally, machining will be as well adapted to prototyping as to the realization of pre-series or production and this sometimes using the same machine, with extremely reduced machining times in the case of HSM for complex parts or demanding in surface states, compared to the former machining solutions.

Thus, additive and subtractive manufacturing offer limitations and advantages that make them fully complementary technologies.

Today, the most frequently cited argument in favor of additive manufacturing, and one that cannot be denied, is its ease of implementation for customers who find themselves needing to produce parts with no machining experience.

This observation has "put healthy pressure" on machining center manufacturers, forcing us to think about and develop new simple and intuitive interfaces, modular and versatile machines... forcing us to progress and question our habits.

  • What advantages do DATRON high-speed machining centers offer today?

The advantages of high-speed machining are numerous! Versatility, modularity and ease of use are essential.

  • Simplicity of use:

To meet the demand for simplicity of use, DATRON has innovated by creating the intuitive DATRON next interface, allowing the totally tactile control of your HSM center. The concept: a control that makes the launch of a machining operation as simple as using a smartphone!

Thus, the R&D offices of innovative companies find a high-performance machining solution accessible to all. And it is then easy to move on to production on the same type of machine as the one used for the study, so from validation to production, no surprises!

  • Outstanding versatility and modularity:

In addition to the classic advantages inherent to high-speed machining, DATRON high-speed machining centers offer a wide range of specific application-oriented functions and accessories for an optimized process, such as

  • Positioning camera for materials that are too thin or fragile for mechanical probing
  • Ionized air guns for demagnetizing plastics
  • Z-fault tracking with the mechanical probe (essential in microfluidics or for precision engraving)
  • Cooled air blowing for very thermosensitive materials
  • Dust suction for various composites,
  • Absence of fatty lubricants and therefore of pollutants in the process (ethanol)
  • ...

This way you can configure your machine "to measure" and have a versatile tool par excellence, ideal for all your problems.

The list of applications is impressive and goes from the high frequency antenna of 1000x1500mm to the cutting of small implants of less than 1x1mm in thicknesses of a few tenths of mm to about 100mm, through precision engraving... Nothing resists you!

Discover now the DATRON HSM centers available with the next interface.

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