CNC milling vs. manual milling: which is better?

If you want to make a product or part, you can use various production techniques. For example, having a 3D print made is an option, but in some cases it is better to choose another method.

Milling could be better among other things. This technology can be implemented in two ways. For example, you can opt for CNC milling, where CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control. In other words, a computer actually does all the work for you. This is not the case with manual milling, you do everything with your own hands. Below you can read more about these two variants, where the advantages will also be explained.

CNC milling

CNC milling is more advanced than manual milling and as expected offers many different benefits for both the machining company and the customers who outsource the production of their parts to a specialized company. CNC machines, for example, are incredibly accurate and can reproduce many parts with the same dimensions and thickness. They rely heavily on autonomous machining. This eliminates human errors. Human intervention is also very minimal with CNC milling. Not that much skill and experience is required to use the lathe and produce quality components. As a result, less labor will be needed, which will lower the costs of the project. Another great advantage of CNC milling machines is that they can always produce the same product. With CNC milling, the dimensions in all components are comparable down to the smallest dimensions. Moreover, a high production is without a doubt possible.

Manual milling

While CNC milling is preferred in most businesses and even for some customers, there are some applications and situations that are best suited for manual milling. It therefore has a large number of advantages. In contrast to CNC milling machines, manual machines do not cost that much. They do not require as many parts or space to operate, making them the preferred choice for businesses just starting out. In addition, manual milling reduces the time it takes to produce a part. The steps required are not as many as with CNC milling, so preparing a part usually takes less time. Running CNC lathes requires a lot of programming to make the machines work properly. With manual milling, you don’t have to worry about programming at all.

CNC turning

Just like CNC milling, CNC turning is a subtractive process. You can use it to produce parts with cylindrical properties. This is done by removing material from plastic or metal rods, which requires a special machine with sharp parts. You can think of cutters, but also center drills or tools under tension are used in CNC turning. A CNC lathe will also be used. This allows cheap parts to be created. Incidentally, you do have to determine which material you want to use, where you have quite a few options.

CNC machining

CNC machining can be done by hand, but it is of course easier to use a machine for this. Material will be removed from a block, thus forming the product, just like with CNC milling and CNC turning. CNC machining is possible with various materials, although metal is mainly used. Grinding and milling machines, among others, can be used during this process. In this way the material can be processed with great accuracy, so that it will get the right shape. CNC machining can also be done in other ways, such as by cutting, grinding, planing, et cetera.

3D printing in the metal industry 

We’ve been using 3D printing for some time now, but 3D printing services are still popular. Metal 3D printing is already being used by a number of Dutch companies, often requiring some post-processing. Here we see that machining is increasingly becoming part of a broader production technique. On the other hand, there are still many challenges for the sector, often because it is difficult to find qualified employees. Education and practice have not been aligned for some time.

Internet platforms and CNC machining services

Internet platforms are popping up like mushrooms. We are all familiar with Uber or, which make it even easier to purchase taxi services or book a hotel room. It concerns solutions for complex markets, because who really knows all the hotels in Paramaribo or the telephone numbers of Taxis in Berlin. We also see this trend occurring in machining. It is an industry that normally requires a lot of communication with the manufacturer, for example regarding product specifications, design and delivery time. As a result, it is often difficult to compare many quotes while the costs only increase. Fast and meticulous work makes a world of difference here.

There are already various platforms to which hundreds of manufacturing companies are connected and where you simply have to upload your CAD files. Not only in countries like the United States, but also in our own country. In the Netherlands, this concerns the online platform of 3D Hubs. You only have to upload a CAD file and you will immediately receive a CNC quote and after a few minutes you can start production.


The rapid development of the machining industry has also affected investors. For example, large companies such as BMW and General Electric have already invested in the American start-up Xometry and 3D Hubs raised 18 million dollars last year. Among others, Arthur Kosten (founder of and Erik de Bruijn (founder of Ultimaker) invested in Bram de Zwart’s company. With the capital, the Amsterdam-based manufacturing company moved to the American market. Because they also see that there is music in the future in the machining industry.