Can 3D printers replace machine tools?

Shery George | 2 September 2021

You need a metallic component. You can quickly import the software model and the part comes out of the 3D printer in no time at all. Swarf doesn’t occur. There is practically no waste. This quickly leads to the question: can 3D printers replace classic machine tools? This blog examines this question for three relevant comparison categories: sustainability, accuracy and productivity.

  1. Sustainability:

The sustainability has the highest priority in the production of components.

Here the 3D printer has clear advantages over the machine tool. While swarf occurs and coolant is used on the machine tool, the 3D printer works dry and without waste. This is a clear advantage for the 3D printer in terms of sustainable environmental protection.

  1. Accuracy

Here the machine tool has clear advantages. Because 3D printers produce at best with an accuracy of about ± 0.05mm. For machine tools, accuracy is dependent on the following influencing factors and is therefore difficult to quantify:

  • Design
  • Kinematics
  • Structural analysis
  • Dynamics
  • Thermology
  • Tribology

However, the result remains clear in any case. Because the accuracy of a machine tool is always higher.

  1. Productivity

Machine tools are particularly suitable for mass production

Productivity can be defined as the ratio of output to input used. Accordingly, the time factor plays a decisive role. The production time per component is many times shorter in a machine tool than in a 3D printer. Therefore, a 3D printer is suitable for prototypes or small batches. However, for high volume and mass production, machine tools are a much better choice.


We come back to our initial question: are 3D printers replacing classic machine tools? We say: it depends.

Machine tools provide clear advantages in terms of accuracy and speed. They can therefore be used very efficiently in mass production. On the other hand, 3D printers are particularly sustainable because no swarf is produced and no coolants need to be used. The waste is minimal. They are particularly suitable for prototype production.

In conclusion, we can state, both technologies have their merits. In the short and medium term, machine tools will not be replaced by 3D printers. It will be exciting to see how 3D printing will develop in the coming years. There are already showcase projects in the aerospace industry that could revolutionize aircraft construction. Often these are prototypes, typical of 3D printing.

Learn more about 3D printing from polymer here:

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