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How does post-processing affect cost and lead time?

If you’re considering adding a post-process to your CNC machined, 3D printed or injection molded part, you’ll want to know how it will affect the budget and timeline of the project. Here’s an overview of what to expect and how to choose the right process.

Post-processing can enhance a part’s appearance and functionality, making it better suited to working under specific conditions. However, it also adds to the overall cost and time required for production. By preparing for this, you can better make informed decisions about your projects, leading to increased efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and overall success.

 What are common types of post-processing?

Post-processing refers to any treatment or finishing that is done to a part after it has been manufactured, such as polishing, painting, or coating. In this section, we’ll cover a few common post-processing techniques, as well as provide a bit of general information on the cost and lead time of each. 

  • Sandblasting. A processing technique that involves blasting a part with small particles to create a desired texture or finish. Sandblasting can be a time-consuming process, especially for parts with complex geometries or intricate designs. Its cost will vary depending on the type and quality of the abrasive used. Garnet sand, for example, can be expensive, while silica sand less so.

  • Brushing. This post-processing technique is used to create a uniform surface finish on materials such as metal, wood, or plastic, although it typically leaves brushing lines on parts. The cost and lead times associated with brushing depend heavily on part design and complexity.

  • Electropolishing. A post-processing technique that uses an electrochemical process to remove a thin layer of material from a metal surface, resulting in a smooth, polished finish. Electropolishing is generally a more expensive and time-consuming technique, but it can improve a metal’s corrosion resistance and durability.

  • Electroless nickel plating. Electroless nickel plating is a process that deposits an alloy of nickel-phosphorus onto the surface of a metal. This process is chemical only, so does not involve the use of electricity. Like electropolishing, it is fairly expensive, yet very effective. 

  • Painting. Post-processing techniques can also add color or decorative finishes to a part. Paint can be applied to a part by spraying, brushing, or dipping it. High-quality paints such as polyurethane or epoxy can be expensive, while lower-cost paints like acrylic may not provide the same level of protection or finish. Painting can also be time-consuming, particularly for parts that require multiple coats or detailed masking.


How does post-processing affect a project’s cost?

There are several factors that play into a post-processing technique’s cost. In this section, we’ll take a look at four of the most common. In general, however, the more complex and time-consuming the process, the more expensive it is.

  • Materials. The coatings, finishes, or other materials necessary for specific post-processing techniques can increase the overall cost of the product. Higher quality materials, of course, bear higher price tags. It’s also important to note that not every type of post-processing technique is suitable for all materials. 

  • Labor. Additional labor may be required to perform post-processing tasks, which can increase the overall cost of the product. Skilled workers may be needed to apply coatings or finishes, for example, and to perform quality checks on the product after post-processing. Production volume may also affect labor costs, as economies of scale may apply.

  • Equipment and tooling. Specialized equipment is usually required for post-processing, such as spray guns, ovens, or inspection equipment, which can increase the overall cost of the product.

  • Overhead. Post-processing may require additional space, energy, and maintenance, which can increase the overall overhead cost of the manufacturing process. 

You can instantly compare prices and lead times for processes available on the Protolabs Network platform via our quote builder. Just upload a CAD file and select a manufacturing technology to get started. 


How does post-processing affect a project’s lead time?

The amount of time required for a specific post-processing technique will depend on the method used, as well as the complexity of the part being processed. Protolabs Network can produce parts with complex geometries, but the general rule of thumb here is: the simpler the part, the less lead time involved. 

How can you reduce cost and lead time for post-processing?

 There are several ways to reduce the cost and lead time for post-processing.

  • Simplify product design. Parts with simple designs and less-intricate geometries can reduce the cost and amount of time necessary for post-processing.

  • Plan ahead. Be sure to incorporate all post-processing costs and lead times into your manufacturing schedule to avoid delays.

  • Use automation. By automating post-processing tasks, manufacturers can reduce labor costs and speed up the overall manufacturing process.

  • Consider standard post-processing options. Standard post-processing options such as anodizing or painting can help avoid additional costs associated with custom post-processing methods.

  • Digital manufacturing. By outsourcing part production and post-processing to Protolabs Network, you can leverage our global network of manufacturers. Compared with traditional manufacturing, our network always has production capacity and keeps prices competitive. 

 Get started with post-processing

To see how post-processing will affect your project’s cost and lead time, upload a CAD file to receive a free quote. Protolabs Network's automatic DFM analysis also helps to identify potential manufacturing issues before they occur, so you can keep to your production schedule. 

You can learn more about post-processing surface finishes and part marking on our website – or contact for personalized advice about your project.

CNC machining, 3D printing and sheet metal fabrication parts

Frequently asked questions

What is post-processing?

Post-processing techniques refer to any process that a manufactured part undergoes after it has been created to improve its surface finish, performance, or aesthetics.

What are other types of post-processing?

Additional types of post-processing include part marking techniques such as laser engraving, silk-screening, and part tagging.

What factors affect the cost of post-processing?

Material, labor, part design, equipment and tooling, and overhead are some factors that can affect the cost of post-processing.

What are the most and least expensive post-processing methods?

Post-processing methods used to achieve cosmetic finishes are typically more expensive than machine-finished parts.

How does post-processing affect a project’s lead time?

Post-processing adds a step to production that can lengthen the manufacturing process, leading to changes in production schedules.

How can you reduce the cost and lead time for post-processing?

You can reduce cost and lead time for post-processing by simplifying part design, automating tasks, and optimizing production schedules.


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