How 3D Printed Jigs & Fixtures are Transforming the Production Floor

Often overlooked and critically important to operations, jigs and fixtures play a pivotal role in manufacturing. Jigs, custom-made tools used to guide and control the motion of another work piece during an operation, and fixtures, devices used to hold a piece in a fixed location during an industrial process, are used to produce products reliably and repeatedly.

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, offers your business a powerful solution for producing jigs and fixtures. 3D printing manufacturing aids can reduce lead times, provide cost savings and add efficiencies to the production floor. Manufacturing performance is further improved by considering how the tool is used by manufacturing personnel and incorporating specific ergonomic features.

Faster Production

One benefit of 3D printing is shorter lead times; some parts can be produced in a matter of hours. Prototyping a jig or fixture to test its performance is sometimes critical and can be accomplished with 3D printing faster than ever before. 3D printed jigs and fixtures are built from a digital file rather than hard tooling, allowing you to produce aids on-demand and as needed. The CAD file can be updated and redesigned at any time, then reprinted and delivered in days.

Reduction of Costs

With advantages such as quick turnarounds and part consolidation, 3D printing jigs and fixtures delivers an overall less costly venture. The process also reduces material waste and helps you avoid costly expenses associated with inventory and storage. This feature of low-cost, virtual tooling is especially beneficial for products that have shorter life cycles or need for more frequent design changes to deliver improvements to market quickly.

Enhanced Performance

The ease of customization and ergonomic enhancements with 3D printed jigs and fixtures delivers an overall improved performance on the production floor. CAD files can be easily modified before each build, allowing for the painless customization of tools and aids. With additive manufacturing’s design freedoms, these customizations can include contours that improve tool handling and ease of use to help increase worker comfort. With no added cost, the jigs and fixtures can increase efficacy and safety for employees.

Design Freedom

A complicated jig or fixture that may have been designed for manufacturability and requires extensive machining or other conventional production methods can find new value with 3D printing technology. The design freedom of additive manufacturing removes traditional manufacturing constraints and opens new opportunities for tool configuration. Because of the technology’s ability to handle design complexity, tools previously envisioned with multiple components can be redesigned as one contiguous component.

This component consolidation also contributes to creating a lighter weight tool, increasing in worker comfort. Strong plastics used in 3D printing processes are an excellent alternative to conventional metals. Light-weight, 3D printed jigs and fixtures produce the same, or better, functionality while improving ease of use.

The Powerful Solution

Exploring additive manufacturing for this seemingly small application could significantly streamline your company’s operations. Take the time to learn more about the benefits of 3D printed jigs and fixtures. My company, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, recently published a whitepaper on the subject with success stories and other valuable insight.

A version of this article was originally published on Stratasys Direct Manufacturing’s blog on January 2, 2017. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing has provided 3D printing solutions and custom manufacturing for nearly 30 years.

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