Will 3D Printing Replace CNC Machining for Rapid Prototyping?

Nowadays, 3D printing is becoming more and more widespread, and it is also becoming a more viable rapid prototyping solution, both for hobbyists and commercial businesses. The reason for the widespread use of 3D printing as a rapid prototyping solution is partly because of the ease of access of 3D printing equipment and materials. So, anyone can grab a 3D printing tool and use them for prototyping at home.

For commercial businesses, many have considered using 3D printing as a replacement of CNC prototyping, which is primarily because of its cost-effectiveness. But, can 3D printing really replace CNC machining for rapid prototyping? Let’s dive deeper into whether 3D printing will replace CNC machining for rapid prototyping.

Reasons 3D Printing Will Replace CNC Machining

3D printing has been around for quite a long time, but it doesn’t replace the existence of CNC machining yet. However, many companies nowadays prefer to use 3D printing for their rapid prototyping solution, because it offers various advantages that make it a more valuable prototyping option when compared to CNC prototyping.

Here are some reasons 3D printing will replace CNC machining:

  • The ease of access and flexibility. 3D printing equipment is available in many retail stores, along with their 3D printing materials, which can be accessed by anyone in need of using it for rapid prototyping. Also, 3D printing offers flexibility in designing your prototypes, as it allows you to design prototypes with complex geometries and to test your prototype design as many times as you need.
  • Simplicity of the prototyping process. 3D printing also offers the prototyping process that is simple to do, as you just need to use any CAD software to design your prototype and send the design file to your 3D printing equipment. The 3D printing equipment will take care of the prototyping process, which can get completed in just a few minutes or few hours.
  • Cost-effectiveness of the prototyping process. With 3D printing, you can also save a lot of money in your rapid manufacturing No matter how many times you need to improve or change the prototype design, you can always keep the costs of prototyping down. With CNC machining, you will need to spend a lot of money just to change your prototype design.
  • Better impact for the environment. 3D printing is also more friendly for the environment, as it doesn’t produce too much waste materials in each prototyping process. In fact, with its additive manufacturing process, the waste materials produced by 3D printing is very minimal. So, it won’t damage the environment in any way.
  • Easy to use as an in-house production facility. 3D printing equipment often has compact size, so you can fit it in any area around your house. In contrast, CNC machining equipment has a large size, and with many variations of the CNC machining equipment available, you will need to use multiple CNC machining equipment to get your prototypes done. You will need to prepare a large facility just to put your CNC machining equipment together, whereas with 3D printing, you can even fit the 3D printing equipment in a small room around your house. So, more people will prefer to use 3D printing equipment for rapid prototyping, as they can do it at home with no hassles.

Reasons 3D Printing Will NOT Replace CNC Machining

Despite the advantages of 3D printing over CNC machining, such as its cost-effectiveness, low waste materials, and various other advantages, 3D printing still can’t replace CNC machining because of its various limitations.

Here are the reasons 3D printing will not replace CNC machining:

  • 3D printing area. Compared to the CNC machining process, the 3D printing area is very small, and thus, you can only create prototypes within the size of the supported 3D printing area. This is in contrast with CNC machining, which offers a wider area of prototyping to create larger prototypes for your projects.
  • Prototype quality. While 3D printing offers a low-cost way to build prototypes for your project, the prototype quality of the 3D printing method pales in comparison to the CNC prototyping method. For now, 3D printing prototypes can’t surpass the quality of prototypes made with CNC machining.
  • Accuracy and precision. CNC prototyping can build you prototypes with superior accuracy and precision. Compared to the 3D printing method, the CNC prototyping accuracy and precision will always be better in all aspects.
  • Material selection. You can’t replace CNC prototyping with 3D printing as long as you still need to use a wide range of materials for your prototypes. The materials suitable for 3D printing are very limited when compared to the materials suitable for CNC prototyping. So, in most cases, 3D printing can’t replace CNC machining for rapid prototyping if you still need to use various materials for your prototypes.

The Better Solution for the Battle between 3D Printing and CNC Machining

Rather than ditching CNC machining or complete prototype services in favor of 3D printing, the better solution will be for you to incorporate the two different prototyping methods for the best results in your production. In this way, you can get the benefits of both the 3D printing and CNC prototyping methods.

You can use 3D printing if you need to complete smaller prototyping projects that don’t require much details for the prototypes, so that you save a lot of time and money in doing so. Meanwhile, you can still use CNC prototyping for larger projects that require much more details and accuracy for the prototypes. This way, you will have the balance between producing quality prototypes and keeping the costs of the prototyping down.


So, will 3D printing replace CNC machining for rapid prototyping? Maybe not, because both of these methods have their own benefits and disadvantages, and they complement each other in terms of cost-effectiveness and results for the prototypes.

Thus, companies should focus more on using each of these methods in their best interests, rather than trying to ditch one method in favor of the other. This way, they can keep their production efficiency while aiming for higher ROI in their production.