News Feature | July 1, 2014

Hybrid Manufacturing: Combining Two Processes In One Machine

By Trisha Leon, contributing writer

Hybrid Manufacturing:

3D printing has grown in popularity throughout the manufacturing industry as it provides a way to create highly customizable products rapidly. One drawback to 3D printing, however, is finishing that products require after they are manufactured.

That’s where computer numerical controlled (CNC) machining comes in. Products are milled by machining in order to be ready for use.

“As these two technology bases have improved, so too have peripheral devices such as 3D scanners, robots, and metrology systems. For manufacturers this is all good, but more often than not the additive/subtractive techniques are viewed as mutually exclusive”, according to Joshua Johnson of 3D Printing Industry.

Hybrid manufacturing, though, is a process that combines the speed of 3D printing with the finishing of milling or subtractive manufacturing. 3D printers create products by laying down material layer by layer, while CNC technologies rapidly cut or mill metals or wood into smooth, finished products. Zach “Hoeken” Smith, co-founder of Makerbot Industries and sole proprietor of Hoektronics, explains the differences: “The key difference between the mechanical systems for additive manufacturing (3D printing) and subtractive manufacturing (CNC) is in the positioning system and the requirements each one has. For 3D printing, the requirement tends towards lower accuracy and faster speeds. For CNC, it tends to be on the opposite end of the spectrum: lower speeds, but higher accuracy.”

Companies have begun to recognize the advantages of combining these processes in one machine. Johnson writes that though the two processes are quite different, “one commonality that most open source 3D printers and almost all CNC devices share is their use of G-code and simple extrapolation from 2D vectors to physical shapes and motions. Because of this common language many controllers, as well as linear motion components, can be used for both processes in the same machine.”

Hybrid manufacturing appears to be gaining ground as evidenced by the positive reaction it’s received. As new developments in hybrid manufacturing continue, doubtless production techniques will improve and the technology will become more accessible.