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What Affects the Cost of CNC Machining? Plus: Tips to Reduce Your Costs

What Affects the Cost of CNC Machining

Precision CNC machining is a manufacturing method used in many different industries. CNC machines can machine complex parts with unbeatable accuracy and repeatability. There are millions of unique parts manufactured every day using CNC machines.

With that said, CNC machining is a more expensive manufacturing method. Most CNC machines only work on a single part at a time, the equipment is expensive, and machinists need proper training. That leads to higher manufacturing costs. 

At a time when everyone is focused on cutting costs wherever possible, you’re probably looking for opportunities to reduce your own manufacturing costs.

In this article, we’ll share the primary factors that impact the costs of CNC machining, and give you some tips to reduce those costs.

What impacts the cost of CNC machining?

Every machining project is slightly different, so there are a lot of factors that make up the total cost.

The primary factors are:

  • The material
  • The part design
  • The machining time
  • Secondary operations

The part material

The part material is the first thing that impacts the cost of your project. Different metals each have varying costs, which makes a big difference. For example, stainless steel usually costs about 5x as much as carbon steel. And titanium costs significantly more than stainless steel.

The part material also affects the manufacturing costs. Machining steel parts is more expensive compared to aluminum or brass. Harder metals require more expensive cutting tools, and those tools need to be replaced more often. Hard metals also take longer to machine.

How can you reduce the costs of your materials?

Depending on your specific project, you might be able to choose a less expensive material. In some use cases, you need to use a more expensive material for the part or component to function properly. 

You also need to consider the lifetime value of your parts, not just the upfront costs.

Even if you have the option of a less expensive material, choosing the more expensive option can make your parts last longer, and end up being less expensive over time. A cheaper, weaker part that needs to be replaced more often isn’t always the right choice.

The part design

CNC machines have the capability to produce intricate parts with very tight tolerances. But some features are more difficult to machine. A part design that has more unique features will also be more expensive to manufacture. Some parts will require additional rounds of machining, or specialized equipment. 

Specific features like sharp internal corners, thin walls, high aspect ratios (long thin parts), and long threads are all more expensive to machine. 

How can you optimize your part design?

Similarly to the part material, some features are necessary. You won’t always be able to get rid of more expensive features. Removing expensive features like the internal corners or thin walls will reduce your overall costs. You can also consider splitting up the more complex parts into multiple simpler parts that can be assembled.

The machining time

CNC machines cost time and resources to run. The longer you run them, the higher your costs will be. The machining time includes the set up time, and the type of machine used. 

A multi axis CNC machine is more expensive to run than a CNC milling machine. And more complex parts require longer set up times. Once the machine is set up, it doesn’t require as much human intervention. So, making a larger order means longer machining time, but the time per part and cost per part is lower.

How can you reduce machining time?

Making a bulk order of parts can reduce the machining time per part. A smaller order means the set up time is a bigger portion of your manufacturing costs. The set up time is about the same whether you order 50 parts or 50,000.

A simpler part design also reduced the machining time, and you can possibly use a lower-cost CNC machine.

Secondary operations

Secondary operations can be things like additional machining, deburring or buffing the parts, painting, heat treating, anodizing, or plating. These are all beneficial and can increase the visual appeal and durability of the parts. But they do increase the manufacturing time and costs. 

Reducing secondary operation costs

A simpler part design usually makes secondary operations less expensive. If reducing costs is your top priority, think about if the secondary operations are necessary, or how beneficial they are. It can also help to work with a machine shop that has a broader network of operations and capabilities. Working with a single manufacturer that can provide everything you need will be less expensive. 

Should you look overseas to reduce your machining costs?

It’s usually assumed that U.S. manufacturing is more expensive than overseas. While that can be true, you might not be saving as much as you think. Our customers have found that the benefits of using a domestic supplier outweigh the lower labor costs of overseas manufacturers. 

When you’re ordering overseas, you’ll also be paying significantly more for shipping and tariffs. And it will take much longer to get your order. Choosing a domestic manufacturer eliminates additional taxes, import fees, currency exchanges, and other hidden fees. Local suppliers also reduce unexpected supply chain interruptions and improve your inventory control.

Spex is a precision machine shop that was established in 1946. We use a variety of CNC machines and other processes to manufacture custom precision metal parts. Reach out to our team to get a quote on your next project. 

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