When it comes to complex parts, customers who choose Wagner Machine have the option of traditional machining (subtractive manufacturing) or 3D metal printing (additive manufacturing).
There are many advantages to each manufacturing capability, but how do you know which one is ideal for your project? That’s where we come in! Our goal is always to steer customers in the right direction so that we can deliver the best end result.
Here is a basic overview of traditional machining and 3D metal printing so you can better understand these two options.
Why Choose Traditional Machining?
The rule of thumb at Wagner Machine is: if you can machine a part using traditional methods, that’s the right choice. The vast majority of projects simply don’t require metal additive manufacturing. Machining is almost always the more cost-effective option due to the following factors:
- Buying a solid piece of material for machining is cheaper than buying powdered metal for 3D metal printing
- The machining process itself has a lower bill rate than metal additive manufacturing because the equipment is less expensive
- Traditional machining is a faster process than 3D metal printing, which reduces labor costs
- 3D metal printing almost always requires finish machining
Even when we receive a design that’s impossible to machine, our first step is to contact the customer about potential adjustments that will allow us to machine it conventionally.
Why Choose 3D Metal Printing?
Since traditional machining is suitable for most projects (yes, even some of the most complex parts!), we reserve metal additive manufacturing for when we need to push the limits to achieve specific goals, such as:
- Design complexity. Some parts really are too complex for conventional machining! Whether we’re talking internal features that are hard to access, embedded sensors or wiring channels, specific gas or liquid flow features, or thin walls that are impossible to machine, 3D metal printing allows us to make parts that require extremely complex designs. Sometimes it is also possible to reduce the overall number of components and improve performance by making a single, more complex part.
- Thermal conductivity. The opportunity to include thin fins and unique cooling channels gives 3D metal printed parts better thermal properties than machined parts. Optimized internal cooling elements often can’t be machined.
- Weight reduction. In industries like aerospace where every ounce matters, metal additive manufacturing can produce lightweight and high-strength parts to meet performance requirements. During the generative design process, we can provide some basic constraints (e.g. location of mounting surfaces or holes), input maximum strength or weight, and then let the software design the perfect geometry to accommodate those specifications.
Material properties are similar for metal additive manufacturing and traditional machining. There is very little porosity in the type of 3D metal printing we offer. Properties of additive manufacturing materials, such as Hastelloy X, Iconel IN718, Titanium Ti6AI4V, and Aluminum F357 are much better defined than they once were, allowing for a reliable process that produces consistent results from one part to the next. Our machines also inspect every layer of the print to ensure the process is consistent throughout the build on every part.
While 3D metal printing materials are expensive ($50+ for powdered aluminum vs. $2-$3 per pound for solid), there are opportunities to save money for certain applications. For example, every kilogram a spaceship sends into orbit costs tens of thousands of dollars. If you can reduce weight with a 3D metal printed part, it’s ultimately a more cost-effective solution—even if the part itself costs more to make.
Wagner’s 3D Metal Printing Capabilities
Did you know that Wagner Machine recently invested in a brand new VELO3D Sapphire® 3D metal printer? As a one-stop-shop for advanced manufacturing, metal additive is a natural fit for us. We’re thrilled that this technology is now reliable enough for prototypes and fast enough for production parts.
We make complex parts that other machine shops are too afraid to quote. While we prefer to machine parts whenever possible, we never want to say no to a job! We are excited to continue growing our capabilities to meet our customers’ demands.
If you’re unsure about the right process for your part, send us your model and we will help you determine the best solution.