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Additive vs Subtractive Manufacturing: Difference, Pros & Cons


What is additive manufacturing? How does it work? What is subtractive technology? What are the advantages of additive manufacturing?

Over the years, both additive and subtractive manufacturing processes have drastically shaken up the world. With their cutting edge technologies, they continue to create and parts that several industries can benefit from. But what is the difference between the two.


Additive Manufacturing vs Subtractive Manufacturing: Advantages and Disadvantages

Additive manufacturing refers to the process that creates an object by adding multiple layers. On the other hand, subtractive manufacturing removes or cuts away material to create parts. Both processes have different fundamentals, however, it’s interesting to note that they are often used together due to the fact that some of their applications overlap one another.

The below table compares and contrasts a few differences between additive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing.

Now that you have a better understanding between the two, let us now take a closer look at both processes in more depth.

Additive Manufacturing

As discussed in previous blog posts, additive manufacturing is mostly used in the world of 3D printing. Objects are built by adding materials layer by layer, until an object or part is created.

In this case, the technologies that are embedded in these additive manufacturing processes are used to create parts from virtual CAD models. Depending on the type of printer, this technology deposits material, melts and fuses powder and finally cures liquid photopolymer to create parts. In the end, these would require some finishing touches before they are ready to use, including a good polish and finishing.

Subtractive Manufacturing

Subtractive Manufacturing is used in several controlled machining and material processes such as metal, solid blocks, bars etc. Eventually these are all shaped by removing the material through cutting, drilling, milling or grinding.

All processes can be manually set or are else driven by what is more commonly known as Computer Numerical Control (CNC). In this case, a virtual model designed in CAD software acts like an input for the fabrication tool.  Coupled with the user input, the software simulation is the used to trigger the tool paths that aid the cutting tools to make the necessary removals, holes, channels etc.

When to use Additive and Subtractive Manufacturing

As discussed previously, while both processes are entirely different from one an another, they more or less work well side by side.

For starters, you are required to use both processes for concept models and prototypes. This makes sense because on the one hand, additive manufacturing helps with the production of small parts and their details, while on the other, you can adjust things accordingly since you’re at an early stage of the process. Additionally, subtractive manufacturing is more ideal for bigger parts, since they are available in more surface finishes.

Ultimately, both processes complement each other well. Together, you can create so many different things, according to the demand and what’s needed. So to answer your question, it’s best to look at this from an economical point of view as explained in the table above.

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