Jigs & Fixtures: One Way Or Another It Can Be Printed

By Juan Carlos Gandiaga on

3D printing processes are easy to implement and offer a wide variety of materials to support a part’s requirements while eliminating cost, lead time and design barriers to adopting manufacturing aids on the shop floor. 3D printed jigs and fixtures open up new possibilities for manufacturing-floor productivity, with fast and nearly labor-free production that doesn’t require the overhead of highly skilled CAM programmers and machinists.

Advantages of 3D Printing Jigs & Fixtures

While the terms are often used together, there are distinct differences between jigs and fixtures. Jigs are custom-made tools used to guide and control the location and motion of another work piece during an operation. Jigs provide repeatability, accuracy and interchangeability, as well as maximize efficiency in the manufacturing of products.

Fixtures are devices used to locate and hold a work piece in a fixed location during a machining operation or another industrial process.Fixtures maintain consistent quality, reduce cost of production and enable a variety of parts to be made to correct specifications. Commonly used “off the shelf” fixtures include vises, chucks, clamps and collets. However, custom fixtures, designed and produced for a specific operation on a specific machine, are commonly used on the production floor.

The advantages of Jigs and Fixtures

While conventionally manufactured jigs and fixtures require high investment with uncertain returns, the return on investment (ROI) from a 3D printed jig or fixture continues to be high. Additive manufacturing can deploy jigs and fixtures where they previously could not exist due to several key advantages:

  1. Design Freedom
  2. Component Consolidation
  3. Better Ergonomics
  4. Weight Reduction
  5. Full Customization
  6. Just in Time
  7. No Machining

How 3D Printed Jigs & Fixtures Are Used On The Production Floor

The production floor offers a broad range of opportunities to implement additively manufactured jigs and fixtures. From assembly to quality control to logistics, jigs and fixtures are used to streamline integral operations to manufacture parts for a range of products and industries. See below a graphic of a representation of a general manufacturing floor and how and where we could implement the application of Jigs & Fixtures.

How 3D Printed Jigs & Fixtures Are Used On The Production Floor

FDM Technology for Jigs and Fixtures

For the most part this application and FDM technology is like peas and carrots, FDM utilizes thermoplastics like ABS, Polycarbonate and Ultem as the media to additively manufacture your designs. This technology from Stratasys works great for this application because of its speed, low cost materials and the ability to fill an order to achieve strong, stable and light parts. There is no silver bullet, so all applications call out for a material that would fit best, this is covered under the Material Selection Guide Document.

PolyJet Technology for Jigs and Fixtures

Now, there are situation where PolyJet technology would be a best fit, and this is when we need super precision, soft touch surfaces, a sterile environment or transparency is needed. PolyJet is also a Stratasys technology utilizing liquid resin that is being jet through Ink-Jet heads onto a platform and cured via UV-Light, this goes on layer by layer generating dense parts with up to 16-micron layers. The PolyJet systems are now advanced enough that they can Jet multiple material at the same time, allowing to print rigid structures and were your product needs to nest, we can add a soft touch rubber material to both grab and cushion the part.

Successful Customer Stories

BMW, a giant in the transportation world, used conventionally machined aluminum fixtures when assembling and testing bumper supports. The metal fixtures were uncomfortable and heavy for workers, who manually held the fixtures for each test and when applying the bumper supports. BMW recognized an opportunity to test out a more optimized fixture using 3D printing. Switching to 3D print technology Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) with ABS thermoplastic material for their fixture, BMW was able to create more customized fixtures that had previously been too costly to produce. The new 3D printed fixtures are 72% lighter than the previous fixtures. The lightweight fixtures have improved productivity and accuracy thanks to improved ergonomics that are far less taxing on the assembler. By switching to 3D printing, BMW has realized a 58% saving in cost per fixture and a 92% increase in faster lead time.

How BMW saved costs with Jigs and Fixtures

Pinpointing areas to streamline processes on the production floor is not always intuitive. However, these efficiencies and improvements can add up to a major financial advantage for your company. Many manufacturers are discovering how additively manufactured jigs and fixtures are key elements to improving worker productivity, eliminating manual error, or increasing lead time for inspection and delivery of parts. There are many benefits to partnering with a company that is familiar with jig and fixture manufacturing, including choosing the right 3D printing process to utilize for your application on the manufacturing floor. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing builds 3D printed jigs and fixtures for nearly every stage in manufacturing. Its Professional Services team can help with your design or identify opportunities to implement 3D printed jigs and fixtures that will streamline operations, improve quality and reduce cost.

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