In the world of product design and development, few new technologies have generated headlines like today’s 3-D printers. Popular among engineers and hobbyists alike, these devices are producing everything from prototypes and parts to fully functional products, jewelry and toys. While additive systems are well suited for a variety of applications, any seasoned engineer knows that when it comes to tools, the more you have the better.
Read: Additive & Subtractive Machining in One Desktop Platform
That is where subtractive technologies come in. Tried and true, subtractive rapid prototyping (SRP) technologies can give your additive environment a few extras that can make your business more productive and profitable.
The primary advantage that subtractive technologies offer is the ability to produce prototypes in end materials such as metals, woods, plastics and more. With additive systems, you can quickly, easily and accurately create a prototype, but are often limited to the proprietary materials that come with the printer. Adding an SRP system to your environment can help you bridge the gap from initial prototype to a more refined, realistic one.
With SRP milling machines, small-lot production is easier, faster and more affordable as well. This allows you to diversify your business beyond the world of designing and prototyping and into the realm of custom manufacturing. We have customers of our MDX CNC mills involved in a variety of custom manufacturing applications, ranging from movie props to spinal implants and prosthetic ears.
With SRP, you get tighter tolerances and smoother surface finishes. While this is true, these capabilities aren’t always required. However, when needed, there is no substitute. This high level of precision SRP offers allows you to fully evaluate the integrity of your design for both functionality and design quality.
Another reason to have SRP in your shop is for proof of manufacturing. The fact is that CNC milling more accurately represents actual manufacturing processes than additive processes. Creating your final prototype in SRP can help you identify and troubleshoot any aspect of your design that may not lend itself to manufacturing. This can save tremendous amounts of time and money down the road.
SRP is also a great complement to additive technologies in terms of automating the finishing processes. Prototypes produced by additive systems can be transferred to the SRP system for drilling holes and creating a smoother surface finish. You can also mill any components within your design that are beyond the capabilities of an additive system.
Many additive shops today outsource to SRP environments when the job calls for it. Having a machine in-house can save you money and, equally importantly, enhance your quality controls. In addition, you can expedite your turnaround times and keep your design concepts confidential for complete security throughout the product development process.
While these are all important considerations when selecting a prototyping technology, it is important to note that for many applications, 3-D printing gets the job done handily. In fact, the process of laying down layers of material can allow a designer to produce intricate details within any areas of a prototype that the milling machine can’t reach.
In the end, versatility and value go hand in hand. The more you can diversify your shop, the more applications you can handle in-house. Bringing subtractive technologies into your additive environment will allow you to explore new creative avenues, deliver results of unmatched precision, and serve your clients in new ways.
Filed Under: Rapid prototyping