If you’re considering CNC machining parts for your next project, understanding the cost of is crucial for effective financial planning, resource management, and overall decision-making throughout the product development process. In this article, we will explore the cost of CNC machining and factors that drive it. We will also dive into how it compares to the cost of 3D printing, top tips to reduce costs for manufacturers on a budget, and guide you on estimating the cost of your specific part or prototype.
How much does CNC machining really cost? A simple CNC part can cost from as low as $100 per piece, while larger metal parts might escalate into several thousand dollars or higher. There are countless factors that adds to the cost of CNC machining, from material, labour to the equipment, and many other little factors like changeover, cleaning, maintenance and so forth.
To simplify the calculation process, most companies employ a simple formula: raw material cost + machining cost + post processing cost + overhead cost, with a profit margin added to the total. In the next section, we will provide a complete breakdown of these factors.
1. Raw Material Costs
In CNC machining, material cost varies depending on the billet size, quantity and type of material. To give an idea, stock billets for CNC often range from around $3 per kilogram up to over $200 per kilogram. Metals are usually more expensive than plastics, and within their individual groups, some metals and plastics are more costly than others per kilogram. For example, you can expect machining titanium or stainless steel to cost more than aluminum, and CNC PEEK to cost much more than ABS or acrylic.
2. Machining Costs
This cost includes programming, manufacturing any fixtures and the actual cutting of the material. The shop will examine your part and, based on experience, estimate how long it will take to write the code for the machines, how long to machine it, and the overall complexity. Lathes generally cost less as they feature less complex moving parts, typically ranging from $15 per hour.
In China, some shops will quickly mill simple ABS plastic with little regard for tolerances for $5 per hour. While larger shops may charge from $10 – $30 per hour from 3-axis machining to 5-axis machining. In comparison, in Europe, you can expect 3-axis machining to cost roughly $30 to $40 per hour. For parts that demand high-speed 5-axis milling, costs can reach as high as $75 to $150 per hour.
3. Post-Processing Cost
Post-processing includes assembly costs and surface finishing operations like smoothing, bead blasting, polishing, and so forth. While early-stage or functional CNC prototypes can often get away with a simple deburr finish, when a high-quality appearance is required, extensive post-processing can end up significantly adding to the overall machining costs.
A good example is a smartphone. Since the product is essentially a flat rectangular cuboid, the materials might cost just $10 per phone, and there isn’t a great deal of machining to worry about. But the post-processing is key and the types are many. The screen will require a high polish finish, possibly an anodized aluminum frame, a high-quality laser-engraved barcode, and silk-screened or painted text or logos. Not to mention the assembly work.
4. Overhead Cost
For prototype quantities, overhead such as facility expenses, utilities, administrative costs and so forth are not contributing a great deal to the cost compared to the other factors, but it does influence the costs. There are also shops that are ISO certified, well-managed enterprises with proper inspection and quality control procedures in place. The efforts placed into managing and delivery better quality products will drive costs up a little. Others are one-man shops with very little overhead to speak of. You can get good parts out of the smaller shops, but they will struggle to do it consistently.
As with any business, suppliers and vendors are supplying you with parts to ultimately make a profit themselves. CNC companies seek a standard 10 to 20% profit with each order, but this rate can vary drastically from supplier to supplier. Certain parts may also command larger profit margins than others. For example, highly skilled appearance models may demand a higher profit margin than machined structural components.
Cost by Product Type. Is your CNC part a functional prototype or an assembly piece that needs tight tolerances? Is it a huge part that will need to be machined? Will it be made from an easy-to-machine material? The nature, size and complexity of the object you’re trying to create significantly impacts the overall cost of CNC machining. It indirectly impacts costs, as it may mean higher material usage, longer production times, and the need for bigger and more advanced machinery and tools.
Don’t Forget Shipping Fees. When obtaining a quote for CNC machining services, it’s essential to inquire about shipping costs if they are not explicitly included. Shipping fees can significantly impact the total expenditure and should be considered as an essential component of the overall cost estimation.
Material costs for 3D printing tend to scale more linearly with the number of parts produced, as each part produced typically requires its own dedicated amount of printing material. In contrast, with CNC machining, often the raw materials costs per unit may decrease as larger quantities are produced, as the same block (or slightly bigger one) may be used more efficiently for multiple parts.
For highly complex designs, CNC machining may be less cost-effective than 3D printing. This is because the intricacy of the process will require more expertise, advanced machinery and tools. Whereas, 3D printing often maintains relatively consistent costs regardless of complexity. As it is an additive layer-by-layer process, the complexity design does not substantially impact the cost.
Understanding these differences in cost implications helps in making informed decisions regarding which manufacturing process may be more cost-effective based on the specific requirements of a project. Understand better how suppliers calculate the cost of 3D printing.
Reducing CNC machining costs involves a combination of optimizing design, material selection, and manufacturing processes. Here are some tips to help you minimize CNC machining costs:
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