CNC Engraving Aluminum Parts with 3D Printed Fixtures

So for starters: what’s CNC engraving? Simply put, CNC engraving is a process of engraving a design into a hard surface using a rotating tool in a milling machine.

You can engrave an art project, image, nameplate or a serial number to a part. CNC engraving is without a doubt a very rewarding and practical application of CNC machines.

It allows for repeatable producing numerous quantities of products quicker and easier than the traditional methods.

Engraving custom aluminum parts with 3D printed fixture

CNC Aluminum Engraving

There’s a wide range of materials used for CNC engraving. However, one of the most popular is aluminum. Why?

It has an exceptional strength-to-weight ratio, great corrosion resistance and it offers great machinability. The use of CNC aluminum has grown immensely. It’s the go-to material in the most manufacturing sector.

Custom aluminum component
Custom aluminum component

Engraving Machine

To CNC engrave aluminum components you don’t have to use expensive CNC engraving machines or marking equipment. There are a lot of custom solutions to consider. To engrave small batch of aluminum parts instead of outsourcing the work we decided to use ZMorph VX Multitool 3D Printer.

Small butch of aluminum parts ready to be engraved
Small batch of aluminum parts ready to be engraved

Thanks to the interchangeable toolhead system in ZMorph VX you can change the machine from a 3D printer to a CNC engraving machine in just a few easy steps.

Changing from 3D printing to CNC milling on ZMorph VX

3D Printed Fixtures

Engraving, like all CNC operations, demands rigid material holding. To make sure that the material, will be held down during engraving you can choose between various types of working piece solutions. Just to name a few: t-slots, keyed vises or fixtures.

With ZMorph VX you can go step further and 3D print unique fixtures tailored for different parts and components. In this case, the fixture was designed in Fusion and then 3D printed on ZMoph VX with PLA.

3D printed fixture
3D printed fixture

The fixture has special t-slots so it’s easily mountable on the CNC worktable and it can be used for another runs.

Mounting CNC worktable with 3D printed fixture
Mounting CNC worktable with 3D printed fixture

It can store up to 9 parts. It keeps them sturdy and it’s very easy to use. Special grooves on the side make the part removing easy.

Removing the parts from the fixture
Removing the parts from the fixture

CNC Engraving

After mounting the fixture on the CNC worktable it’s time to engrave with CNC PRO Toolhead. It takes around 4 minutes to complete all 9 parts.

CNC engraving the aluminum parts
CNC engraving the aluminum parts

The whole process is easy to set up and to rerun. Removing the parts from the fixtures takes a moment thanks to the easily removable CNC worktable and the grooves in the fixture.

CNC engraving the aluminum parts
CNC engraving the aluminum parts

Results and Savings

The two decisive cost components are machine and fixture costs. In comparison to traditional methods, you have to take into account factors like a machine, material, and other indirect costs.

Each button engraved on ZMorph VX costs 10 cents total while outsourced $1.50.

The 3D printed fixture costs less than 50 cents. Additional savings to consider are when you take into account inventory and logistics cost. Less transportation is needed since multiple parts are engraved in house.

Comparing parts before and after CNC engraving
Comparing parts before and after CNC engraving

For 100 parts the rejection rate was below 2%. The engraved sings are highly visible and accurate. After engraving the parts are ready to use.

Ready-to-use buttons
Ready-to-use buttons

Marking a small batch of aluminum parts is often expensive as it requires a lot of effort. Using custom solutions like multitool 3D printers can save you a lot of time, space and money. The main advantages of CNC engraving with ZMorph VX are fast delivery time, full control over the process and means to produce unique fixtures on the go.

Ready-to-use aluminum components
Ready-to-use aluminum components

With ZMorph VX you can combine all the advantages of 3D printing and CNC milling. You can learn more about how CNC and 3D printing are possible using a single machine in this comprehensive article.

More metal CNC milling guidelines.

Bartek Lanc

CMO at ZMorph. 3D printing & bioengineering enthusiast.

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