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3D Metal Printing vs. Traditional Machining: Which Capability Is Right for Your Part?

When it comes to complex parts, customers who choose Wagner Machine have the option of traditional machining (subtractive manufacturing) or 3D metal printing (additive manufacturing).

There are many advantages to each manufacturing capability, but how do you know which one is ideal for your project? That’s where we come in! Our goal is always to steer customers in the right direction so that we can deliver the best end result.

Here is a basic overview of traditional machining and 3D metal printing so you can better understand these two options.

Why Choose Traditional Machining?

The rule of thumb at Wagner Machine is: if you can machine a part using traditional methods, that’s the right choice. The vast majority of projects simply don’t require metal additive manufacturing. Machining is almost always the more cost-effective option due to the following factors:

  • Buying a solid piece of material for machining is cheaper than buying powdered metal for 3D metal printing
  • The machining process itself has a lower bill rate than metal additive manufacturing because the equipment is less expensive
  • Traditional machining is a faster process than 3D metal printing, which reduces labor costs
  • 3D metal printing almost always requires finish machining

Even when we receive a design that’s impossible to machine, our first step is to contact the customer about potential adjustments that will allow us to machine it conventionally.

Why Choose 3D Metal Printing?

Since traditional machining is suitable for most projects (yes, even some of the most complex parts!), we reserve metal additive manufacturing for when we need to push the limits to achieve specific goals, such as:

  • Design complexity. Some parts really are too complex for conventional machining! Whether we’re talking internal features that are hard to access, embedded sensors or wiring channels, specific gas or liquid flow features, or thin walls that are impossible to machine, 3D metal printing allows us to make parts that require extremely complex designs. Sometimes it is also possible to reduce the overall number of components and improve performance by making a single, more complex part.
  • Thermal conductivity. The opportunity to include thin fins and unique cooling channels gives 3D metal printed parts better thermal properties than machined parts. Optimized internal cooling elements often can’t be machined.
  • Weight reduction. In industries like aerospace where every ounce matters, metal additive manufacturing can produce lightweight and high-strength parts to meet performance requirements. During the generative design process, we can provide some basic constraints (e.g. location of mounting surfaces or holes), input maximum strength or weight, and then let the software design the perfect geometry to accommodate those specifications.

Material Comparison

Material properties are similar for metal additive manufacturing and traditional machining. There is very little porosity in the type of 3D metal printing we offer. Properties of additive manufacturing materials, such as Hastelloy X, Iconel IN718, Titanium Ti6AI4V, and Aluminum F357 are much better defined than they once were, allowing for a reliable process that produces consistent results from one part to the next. Our machines also inspect every layer of the print to ensure the process is consistent throughout the build on every part.

While 3D metal printing materials are expensive ($50+ for powdered aluminum vs. $2-$3 per pound for solid), there are opportunities to save money for certain applications. For example, every kilogram a spaceship sends into orbit costs tens of thousands of dollars. If you can reduce weight with a 3D metal printed part, it’s ultimately a more cost-effective solution—even if the part itself costs more to make.

Wagner’s 3D Metal Printing Capabilities

Did you know that Wagner Machine recently invested in a brand new 3D metal printer? As a one-stop-shop for advanced manufacturing, metal additive is a natural fit for us. We’re thrilled that this technology is now reliable enough for prototypes and fast enough for production parts.

We make complex parts that other machine shops are too afraid to quote. While we prefer to machine parts whenever possible, we never want to say no to a job! We are excited to continue growing our capabilities to meet our customers’ demands.

If you’re unsure about the right process for your part, send us your model and we will help you determine the best solution.

What It Means to Be an ITAR Registered Machine Shop

When you specialize in making parts that other shops consider too complicated, every project is exciting! But some of the coolest RFQs we receive are for ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) parts.

What machine shop doesn’t want to build parts that could end up on the Moon or Mars?

Wagner Machine has the manufacturing capabilities to machine these high-stakes parts and the quality system in place to verify precision and accuracy. When you make parts for the military and national defense, you take all customer specifications seriously.

We are ITAR registered and committed to achieving the highest levels of ITAR compliance.

What Is ITAR Registration?

ITAR controls the export of physical materials and technical data pertaining to items found on the United States Munitions List. The goal of the regulation is to ensure that only United States citizens have access to military defense and aerospace information that could otherwise compromise U.S. national security or foreign policy.

ITAR registration is required not only of the manufacturers making USML parts, but any company in the supply chain, including distributors, sellers, and computer software and/or hardware vendors.

Being ITAR registered is great, but if a shop doesn’t consistently adhere to the stringent requirements, ultimately it’s nothing more than a piece of paper. It is of paramount importance that military and defense customers get the level of process documentation and security they expect when they work with an ITAR registered machine shop.

ITAR Compliance at Wagner Machine

At our Illinois machine shop, being ITAR compliant touches every aspect of our company, from sales and marketing to shipping and logistics.

What does it take to be an ITAR registered machine shop that’s fully ITAR compliant? Wagner Machine is committed to ITAR compliance in every facet of our operations.

Our ITAR Process Documentation

Our documentation processes were ITAR compliant even before we were registered, but we added a few additional measures after obtaining our ITAR registration:

  • Designating special job travelers for all ITAR part documentation
  • Protecting all documentation, ensuring that any physical or technical data pertaining to an ITAR part remain concealed when not in use
  • Requiring a signed NDA from everyone who enters our shop or quality department
  • Ensuring that our ITAR processes are written into our shop’s standard operating procedures (SOPs)
  • Requiring an escort for any visitors in our shop

Our Security Ensures ITAR Compliance

Network security has always been a priority at our machine shop. Here’s how we have maintained our ITAR compliance:

  • Invested $70,000 in server upgrades to ensure network security compliant with ITAR standards
  • Staff in-house IT and software development led by our Chief Information Officer
  • Key card logins for all computers
  • Implemented a highly secure digital quoting system built to protect sensitive data
  • Track files downloaded to external devices

When you need a dedicated machine shop to make your next ITAR part, send it to us using our ITAR compliant quoting system. We excel at creating complex machined parts for high-stakes applications.

When Machine Shops Ask Questions About Your Quote, the Customer Benefits

5 Reasons Machine Shops Ask Questions About Your Quote


When you submit a quote to a machine shop and they respond with follow-up questions, it signals that you’re working with a shop committed to quality, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.  

Machine shops understand that busy customers are often in search of a quick quote. We respect your valuable time and need for a fast turnaround. By taking an extra 5-10 minutes in the beginning of the process to get on the same page, helps us determine exactly what you’re asking for. Our goal is to accurately quote and get your part right the first time. 


Top 5 Reasons We Ask Clarifying Questions

In Wagner Machine’s 35 years of experience, we’ve found that we need to ask customers the same few questions during the quoting process. So don’t be surprised if we reach out to discuss any of these factors before providing you with a quote:

  • Tolerance requirements. Machine shops often want to clarify tolerance requirements. We may look at a quote and determine that the tolerances should be tighter than requested to ensure proper functioning of complex features. We want to save you time and money by making your parts once, not twice.
  • Specific part features. When we ask about specific part features, we’re usually trying to determine the most efficient way to make your part. For example, if a part was designed to be cut from one side, but cutting it from the other side would eliminate an additional operation, we want to discuss that option with you and present our recommendations. Sometimes engineers will design a part a certain way because they assume it’ll be easier for us to make, but that’s not always the case. When engineers and manufacturers put their heads together to collaborate, the end result is a better, more cost-effective part.
  • Function or aesthetics. If there are ways to improve the function or aesthetics of your part, whether for a trade show or for an end user, wouldn’t you like to know? During the quoting process, we often identify areas of improvement that won’t have any effect on cost. We take as much pride in machining your parts as you do designing them, so if we can improve them, let’s do it!
  • Material type and finishes. Believe it or not, material types and finishes are omitted from RFQs all the time. It’s important for us to know the material type you need for a part. If that information isn’t clear in the RFQ, we’ll reach back out to confirm.
  • Lead time. After receiving a RFQ, our first response is often, “When do you need this?” The reality is that we can’t send you an accurate quote without knowing the lead time. We expect your initial answer to be “as soon as possible,” “yesterday,” or “last week,” but the more specific/realistic you are, the better we can address your needs.


When you request a quote from Wagner Machine, there’s a good chance that we’ll reach out with clarifying questionsbut one thing we can promise is that we’ll never waste your time. Any further questions we have will be clear and direct, with the goal of building the best part at the lowest price. 

Request a quote today and we’ll be in contact with you quickly to discuss your request and provide valuable information about our products and services.

Use Water Jet Cutting Services for Your Next Part

Do you need a flat part manufacturing process that can handle a wide range of materials at varying thicknesses with a fast turnaround time? Do your flat parts require secondary processes such as tapped holes, countersunk holes, or custom hardware?  Water jet cutting has many advantages over torch, plasma, or laser cutting.

While abrasive water jet cutting has been in industrial use since 1982, the last 10 years have brought about major advancements that make waterjet a practical process for an increasing variety of parts.


What Is Water Jet Cutting? 

Water jet cuttingalso commonly called abrasive water jetis an extremely versatile machining process that uses ultra high pressure water, mixed with an abrasive to cut virtually any material. 

Benefits of Water Jet Cutting

Most benefits of water jet cutting come down to flexibility of materials and short lead times available for this service:

  • Wide range of materials. We can cut any flat material other than tempered glass or toxic materials like lead or beryllium. We have cut every standard material imaginable, including the basics like wood, plastic, aluminum, steel, titanium, stainless steel, and tool steel. We also have experience with the fun stuff, such as hardened steels, tungsten, molybdenum, carbide, inconel, hastelloy, invar, monel, kovar, and other exotics. If you have something extremely soft, like rubber, or brittle, like glass, ceramic, or composites, we have cut those also! If you aren’t sure it can be cut on a waterjet, there is a good chance we have already cut it or something similar and know how to do it.
  • Greater material thicknesses. While laser cutters and turret punches are great for thin materials, an abrasive water jet can accurately and efficiently cut materials up to 2” thick. We can cut much thicker than 2”, but we will usually recommend a different process that is more efficient, if possible, because cut speed gets significantly slower as material thickness increases.
  • No heat-affected zones. Although water jet cutting is technically a thermal process, it’s precisely controlled and focused, which allows it to cause almost no heat-affected zone. There is no need to worry about brittleness or reducing the workability of a material when using the waterjet process.
  • Quick and easy. Because the abrasive water jet process is so easy to set up and program, it’s a better option than laser cutting or turret punching for customers seeking prototype quantities. All we need is a 2D dwg or dxf file.

Why Choose Wagner’s Water Jet Cutting Services

The team here at Wagner researched many abrasive water jet manufacturers and had test parts cut on various machines before going with OMAX.

Our advanced abrasive water jet machines, additional machining capabilities, and years of experience, make us the best choice for water jet parts. When you choose Wagner’s water jet cutting services, you’ll enjoy these extra benefits:

  • Shortest lead time. If you’re looking for a 1-day turnaround, chances are we can make it happen. While most machine shops don’t stock materials in house, we have a huge in-house inventory of common sheet and plate material. You won’t find a shorter lead time anywhere else in Illinois for waterjet parts.
  • Advanced nesting software. We use JetCAM nesting software to save you money through better material utilization and reduced programming time. It has decreased our material utilization by over 50% on some jobs.
  • Tight tolerances. With advanced taper compensation technology, our abrasive water jet can easily hold tolerances of +/-.005”. Water jetting isn’t typically known for its high accuracy, but we have the expertise to hold your required tolerance—and the inspection equipment to verify it!
  • Complementary services. Water jet cutting makes up only a small fraction of the services we provide at our Illinois machine shop. We regularly finish waterjet cut parts on our CNC machines or create custom hardware depending on customer requirements. We can provide you with a completed part or assembly.


For your next project, abrasive water jet or otherwise, choose a precision machine shop that’s been honing its craft since 1982. Request a quote from Wagner and one of our project managers will contact you quickly to discuss next steps.

Why a Machine Shop No-Quotes — and How to Find One That Won’t

Have you ever had this experience? You submit a request for quote (RFQ) to a machine shop, only to hear back that the volume is too low, the part is too small, or the job is too complicated. That is, of course, if you even receive a response at all. Sound familiar?

The dreaded no-quote is to be expected when submitting RFQs for complex parts or extreme (high or low) volumes. But what if it doesn’t have to be?  

The general mindset at many machine shops is that they want to avoid hard parts — and the no-quote is an easy way around that. Avoid no-quotes in the future by understanding why shops respond this way and how to find one that won’t. (Hint: Look for a shop that loves the challenge of a complex part.)


Why Shops No-Quote

When machine shops no-quote, the reason can usually be traced back to capability. For example, a job that’s easy for a shop that does wire EDM may be impossible for a shop that only does milling. A conventional 3-axis CNC machine can’t efficiently make a complex part with small features on multiple sides, but a 5-axis mill with a high-RPM spindle can. 

Shops typically refuse to quote a job for one of the following reasons:   

  • The part is too large or small. Parts that are too large to fit in the work envelope of specific equipment are obvious no-quotes, but features or parts that are too small are also a grey area that many shops try to avoid.
  • The job is too time-consuming. Shops that have older or fewer machines, limited capacity, or limited experience may determine that a job isn’t worth the cost and effort to tie up resources for an extended time.
  • The shop doesn’t know how to do it. Parts may have features that a shop has never encountered before and they don’t want to buy custom tooling or dedicate programming resources to make the part as designed.
  • Tolerances.  Tight tolerances of complex features, specific surface finishes, profile tolerances, or other GD&T requirements can be extremely difficult to check without advanced inspection equipment.
  • Volume. Some shops won’t do high volume mill or lathe work because they don’t have enough machines or automated processes. On the other hand, some shops won’t do prototype work because they don’t have the experience to make small quantities efficiently.
  • Material. A shop may not have enough experience with the required material. Every type of material poses unique machining challenges, and those challenges vary based on part geometry, tolerances, finish requirements, and many other factors. In addition, some types of material can be extremely expensive, which makes inexperience even more costly.  


Common Types of No-Quote 

Unfortunately, no-quotes leave many customers feeling high and dry. Common types of no-quotes include ignoring the RFQ, emailing a refusal (with or without an explanation), or passive-agressive quoting. You’ve gotten a passive-aggressive no-quote if you’ve been quoted $1,000 for a $50 part with no explanation.


Find a Shop That Likes Figuring Out Complex Parts

Manufacturers typically prefer sticking to what they already know, because it’s the easiest way to complete projects, keep the shop running, and make money. If your goal is to avoid a no-quote, find a shop like Wagner Machine that won’t no-quote based on complexity, volume, inspection requirements, or material. 

The harder a part is to make, the more we want to make it.

Our drive to solve complex manufacturing challenges means we’re more likely to quote a project than most other shops. Taking on complicated projects helps us:

  • Excel at creating complex parts
  • Hone our skills to make simple parts better and faster (we love those, too!)
  • Discover cool tricks and efficiency bonuses that can’t be found doing the same thing day in and day out
  • Keep machinists on top of their game and ready for the next challenge

We have the right people, the right equipment, the right experience, and the right software. We’ve seen it all (feel free to test us), so whatever you send our way, chances are good that we know how to do it—and do it right. In the rare case that we can’t take on a project, we’ll take the time to explain in detail.  

Something we hear a lot is: “Contact Wagner. They’ll do anything.” It’s true. Submit an RFQ and put us to the test.

The Job Shop Show – Kurt Wagner of Wagner Machine

Kurt Wagner, second-generation owner of Wagner Machine Company in Champaign, Illinois joins Jay Jacobs on The Job Shop Show.   Wagner Machine is a precision machine shop with all sorts of capabilities and Kurt has an innovative mind that doesn’t like to say no!

Wagner Machine and Acieta Industrial Automation

A little over a year ago we purchased a second robot to automate one of our Hurco 5-axis mills. After the pain and difficulty of trying to piece together and program our original robot cell we decided to look at what was available for an out-of-the-box solution. We needed something that would be quick to setup, fit in the space we had, and reliable enough to be left unattended over the weekend.

After considering our options, the one that best fit our needs was the Acieta Lean Machine robotic cell. A few of the factors that pushed use toward Acieta were their use of a Fanuc robot, which we knew from experience and reputation were dead reliable; their small footprint, which fit in the tight space we needed it to; and the multiple parts trays, which let us run hundreds of parts without having to reset anything.

Below you’ll find a testimonial that we did for Acieta when they visited our shop earlier this year.

Productivity Up and the Lights Off from Acieta on Vimeo.

If you’re interested in learning more, or purchasing your own Lean Machine cell, you can visit