How CNC and 3D Printing are Possible Using a Single Machine

It’s time to explain in detail what makes ZMorph multitool 3D printer suitable for high-quality CNC and 3D printing. Check out how a single machine can serve these two purposes.

This is an argument as old as desktop 3D printing itself. Can one machine offer both additive and subtractive manufacturing capabilities without the loss of quality? Can 3D printer be used as CNC mill and vice versa? We believe that ZMorph multitool 3D printer achieved this goal. Here’s how we did it.

CNC and 3D printing
ZMorph 2.0 SX with CNC PRO toolhead at work

What’s the difference?

There are a few differences between single-purpose CNC and 3D printing machines. The latter requires high working speeds which can be increased by making the entire construction light, for example by using 3D printed parts. CNC mills, on the other hand, require high torque resistance and more durable parts that won’t bend during work.

CNC and 3D printing
3D printing toolhead in ZMorph 2.0 SX can be easily switched to CNC PRO and others

Since day one, one of the greatest challenges in designing ZMorph was finding a balance between the requirements of both CNC and 3D printing. The mills are usually slower because of the ball-screws and trapezoidal propulsion systems. We decided to replace them with faster low-elasticity double belt drive reinforced with steel rods – far more durable than single belt drives used in standard 3D printers.

CNC and 3D printing
ZMorph 2.0 SX with low-elasticity double belt drive reinforced with steel rods

In addition to the double belt drive, ZMorph 2.0 SX also features an encoder-based error correction system called Closed Loop System. This solution, more known among single-purpose CNC machines, makes sure that the machine doesn’t lose steps during work, especially at high speeds and high torques. If anything bad happens, the machine knows the last correct position of the toolhead and is able to repeat its last steps so the error doesn’t affect the final quality of the object.

New ZMorph 2.0 SX Multitool 3D Printer
Closed Loop System in ZMorph 2.0 SX

With every new iteration of the machine, we also improved and reinforced its construction by lowering the number of plastic components. With aluminum and stainless steel parts in ZMorph 2.0 SX, we’re sure that the machine can withstand high torques without suffering mechanical damage when recommended materials are being used. For example, we don’t recommend using CNC PRO toolhead for milling in any kind of metal although some users do it at their own risk.

Digest #11
ZMorph user Gueni made these metal engravings at his own risk but the results are awesome

At the same time, we know that the machine is perfect for milling in various types of wood (including beech, oak, maple, walnut, pine, chestnut). You can also use it to mill and engrave in plywood, machining wax, acrylic glass, PVC foam, silicone laminates, etc. CNC and 3D printing with a single machine are not only possible but can achieve high quality and high level of detail in certain applications.

Applications?

CNC milling can be applied in various rapid prototyping tasks as well as low volume manufacturing of market-ready parts and products. Acrylic glass can be milled and engraved to make parts for customized Arduino cases that can be easily assembled. Wooden CNC keychains are another example of such finished product made with ZMorph 2.0 SX.

customized Arduino cases
Arduino case CNC-cut from sheets of acrylic glass

Creating PCB prototypes is another possible application. Silicone laminate with milled tracks is ready for adding conductive paths and soldering in electronic components. In fact, with the advancements in conductive materials, multitool 3D printers will soon be able to 3D print conductive paths directly on PCBs evolving into small electronics workshops.

Laser PRO toolhead
These PCBs were laser-engraved and then CNC-cut from a sheet of silicone laminate

Like with all CNC machines, also multitool 3D printers are limited by their workspace, maximum milling depth, and maximum working speed. Once these are taken into consideration, it becomes possible to apply CNC and 3D printing into complex projects and combine these technologies also with laser cutting and engraving. Designer Paula Szarejko used ZMorph 2.0 SX to build a detailed architectural model. With CNC PRO toolhead she was able to mill parts of the terrain, openwork walls, and even patio floors that were laser engraved with patterns.

Is it safe for my machine?

Many users have concerns that CNC and 3D printing with a single machine could affect their performance when they decide to switch back to 3D printing. These concerns are absolutely justified as high torques tend to loosen the belt drives while messy shavings and sawdust gets everywhere and can even damage electronics. In ZMorph 2.0 SX we found solutions for all these issues.

CNC and 3D printing
Interchangeable CNC worktable for ZMorph 2.0 SX

First of all, we provide or users with exchangeable worktables for CNC and 3D printing which both provide a different type of surface – more rigid for milling and heated glass surface for printing. These can be easily switched thanks to magnetic latches.

CNC and 3D printing
CNC PRO toolhead milling in PVC foam

Thanks to plastic covers, working environment of ZMorph multitool 3D printer can be enclosed, so all byproducts created during CNC milling don’t get out. During work, you can always pause the process, open the covers and clean the interior using a vacuum cleaner. In fact, one of ZMorph users built his own modification for the machine that lets him connect his vacuum and pull out all the shavings and sawdust during work.

CNC and 3D printing
3D printed modification created by a ZMorph user to protect the Y-axis motor

We also made sure, that the entire interior of ZMorph multitool 3D printer is easy to clean and free of sensitive parts that could be damaged. This is achieved with lubrication-free handling solutions so there’s no grease to which sawdust could stick. We also enclosed all the electronics under the worktable, so they’re safe from CNC wastes. Additional safety measures can also be taken by CNC and 3D printing covers for the Y-axis motor and strip bearings on the bottom front and back of the machine.

CNC and 3D printing
Sawdust inside ZMorph 2.0 SX after completing a CNC project

CNC and 3D printing with a single machine require the user to remember about cleaning his machine after the job is finished or before switching to another fabrication technique. Solutions we used in ZMorph 2.0 SX makes this process fairly quick and easy, while the fragile components remain covered and safe from shavings and sawdust.

CNC and 3D printing
Cleaning of ZMorph 2.0 SX is very easy

What about the noise and vibrations?

CNC works are the loudest ones among all digital fabrication techniques, which makes it questionable, whether a desktop CNC machine should, in fact, stand on someone’s desk. Strong aluminum and stainless steel frame of ZMorph 2.0 SX decreased vibrations of the machine significantly. Plastic covers, on the other hand, lower the level of noise, but don’t block it entirely.

CNC and 3D printing
ZMorph 2.0 SX with CNC PRO toolhead and plywood worktable

This is why CNC works can be made in the same room where you sit and work, although we recommend placing the machine at a greater distance from your ears than during 3D printing. In fact, the best practice would be to use the CNC in the same, separate and enclosed, space as the laser engraver. This way you can be sure it won’t cause any kind of mess or noise-related inconvenience to you or your co-workers. At the same time be sure to keep an eye on the machine for safety reasons (or at least until you know that the G-code in use won’t cause any troubles).

Final word about CNC and 3D printing

Preparing files for CNC milling on ZMorph multitool 3D printer is very simple and the process itself has a much lower failure rate than any kind of 3D printing. Although one machine requires a little more cleaning and maintenance, it’s significantly less expensive to buy and use that two single-purpose devices.

CNC and 3D printing
CNC-cut hanger made using ZMorph 2.0 SX

Most of all, combining CNC and 3D printing also opens new material and production capabilities for your projects. It not only unlocks your creativity but also gives you a significant advantage over the majority of printing-focused competition.

Marcin Traczyk

Content Marketing Manager at ZMorph. 3D printing enthusiast and avid gamer

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