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What You Need to Know about CNC Prototyping

Bringing any product to market rarely is without challenges. Engineers of products or components that are CNC machined must take extra care to design products correctly. CNC is a subtractive process; once material is removed, it can’t be put back on. Rework isn’t generally an option when too much material is removed, and the parts become scrap. CNC prototype machining is one way this can be avoided and can give product manufacturers in any industry a competitive edge. 

CNC Prototyping Saves Money

A prototype is an integral part of new product development and can allow you to test the fit and function of a part before it goes into full production. Since machining centers can produce production parts, the prototype can be made to very closely resemble the end product. Metal is much stronger than plastics used in 3-D printed prototypes, so machined products won’t have weak areas that plastic prototypes can, allowing you to test it in more real-world applications. 

Once the part gets into production, the costs of fixing issues grow exponentially. There is a rule of 10 that states it costs ten times more to correct an error at the next production stage. Consider the cost if prototyping is skipped. 

Stage Factor
Design 1
Prototyping 10x
Manufacturing 100x
Assembly 1,000x
Use in Field 10,000x


Depending on the part, failure in the field of critical components could result in recalls or legal action. Applying design for manufacturability (DFM) principles to your design and prototype allow you to be proactive in reducing risks.

As inflation soars and costs increase, manufacturers are tightening the purse straps and being more strategic with spending. If you are considering CNC prototyping, you are in good company. The subtractive (CNC) prototyping market is expected to continue to grow at a CAGR of 14.1 percent from 2022 to 2031, with CNC prototyping being the largest segment. CNC prototyping remains strong because parts have greater structural integrity than those manufactured with additive technology. 

Getting Started in CNC Prototyping

If you haven’t had a prototype made of your part, there are a few steps you should be aware of. Working closely with your contact manufacturer is critical to ensure the process runs smoothly. For high-quality CNC prototypes, specific steps must be followed. 

Design - The first step is creating a design from your ideas. You may create multiple designs using DFM processes to determine the most efficient and cost-effective designs.

Generate CAD Files – CNC processes rely on CAD designs or other 3D files to run the part. The files will define the parts dimensions, features, and aesthetic specifications of the final product. 

Manufacturing    - Your CNC partner will likely determine the machining sequence if multiple machines will be used (CNC routing, turning, milling, drilling, etc.). They will program the machines, instructing the CNCs on which tools to use and how to machine the part. The prototypes are then manufactured. If the prototype has several parts, they will be assembled. The prototype can be a dummy part or a fully functional working part.

Testing – The final step is testing to ensure it has the expected functionality and looks. 

If the prototype is acceptable, the part can go to full production. If it fails any requirements, reiterations correcting the faulty aspect of it will be made and retested. 

Choosing Aztalan For your Prototyping Needs

At Aztalan Engineering, CNC prototyping is one of our specialties. CNC machines allow us to speed up our design and prototype production process. Our fast prototyping allows quick production without compromising the results or our high-quality standards. Every prototype has the same high degree of accuracy and is given the same level of attention by our engineers and technicians as production parts. 

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