Custom jigs and fixtures are considered one of the most promising implementations for enhancing manufacturing productivity, operator satisfaction, and safety. However, the high labor, time, and costs that are traditionally needed to make jigs and fixtures have prevented their adoption in certain areas, despite their obvious benefits.
FFF 3D printing technology can help eliminate the hurdles that are preventing wider adoption and greatly expand the use of jigs and fixtures on the production floor. The fast-growing, professional-grade FFF 3D printing industry provides manufacturers with unprecedented opportunities as a reliable, affordable, and flexible solution.
Benefits of Utilizing Jigs and Fixtures
Tooling and fixtures are work-holding pieces that aid in the holding, positioning, and/or forming of other parts during their respective manufacturing processes. There are so many advantages to jigs and fixtures that it’s no surprise they are so prevalent in the manufacturing world. The following are some of the benefits:
- Quicker Setup: Having a standard reference surface to locate and hold parts means there is no need to manually measure and mark stock material before starting.
- Increased Accuracy: Similar to the last point, having consistent work holding surfaces eliminates the need to make manual adjustments to either the part of the tool and reduces user error. The rigidity of the fixture further increases accuracy.
- Improved Repeatability: In addition to improving the accuracy in a single operation, fixtures improve the consistency and repeatability across several operations.
- Ramped-Up Production Capacity: Jigs and fixtures can be designed to accommodate several workpieces, as opposed to just one at a time. Working in sets reduces the number of tool changes between processes as well as the number of times an operator will iterate.
- Empowers Lower-Skilled Operators: Since most of the setup is partly automated, it allows a semi-skilled operator to achieve the same results as a higher skilled one.
All in all, jigs and fixtures could lower costs and reduce lead times which is a reliable, affordable, and flexible solution for manufacturers.
Make Jigs and Fixtures by 3D Printing
Traditionally, only a few jigs and fixtures are needed for a production line and different production lines require different fixtures. As a non-standard product for small scale production, jigs and fixtures require a lot of effort to make traditionally. With FFF 3D printing technology, tool designers can now make tooling and fixtures in a faster and cheaper way.
- Faster delivery
In comparison with the conventional CNC machining process, 3D printing integrates seamlessly with the digital model building process, while reducing the time-consuming CAM step. Professional FFF 3D printing substantially reduces adoption barriers and costs. When using in-house FFF 3D printing, manufacturers can further eliminate the time spent on the outsourcing process. This opportunity could be relevant when operators need to restart production on the same day.
- Reduced cost
In comparison with subtractive manufacturing, like CNC machining, 3D printing reduces material waste and cost. Additionally, professional-grade FFF 3D printers like the Raise3D Pro2 series provide a convenient and hassle-free user experience. Once the printing preparation is finished, the 3D printing operation can run unattended. This reduces the cost of skillful labor required for traditional CNC machining.
- Customization and improved performance
With 3D printing, it’s obvious that faster delivery allows for more rounds of iterations, thus improving the jigs and fixtures performance. Additionally, FFF 3D printing is often compatible with a large pool of thermoplastics in various colors. This, when combined with dual extrusion FFF 3D printers like the Raise3D Pro2 series, provides tool designers freedom to print multi-material jigs and fixtures. This function could be relevant where color visibility or jigs and fixtures should be partly made with soft materials to avoid scratching the part.
The Application of 3D printing in Jigs and Fixtures
Many areas on a production floor can benefit from a 3D printed jig or fixture, ranging from high-end applications (machining soft jaws) to simple applications (alignment and assembly). For high-end applications, 3D printing becomes especially beneficial for fixtures meant for prototypes or small-run production, where the cost of creating a metal fixture is significant. Similarly, new opportunities for simple applications that were previously ignored due to costs are now accessible.
Generally, vices or chucks are the traditional work holding devices used when it comes to machining. There are other options too, but they all generally suffer from the same downside. They do not work well with complex shapes, and as such, require soft jaws to be made. Soft jaws are connectors designed to contour to the workpiece on one side and to be held firmly by traditional tools on the other. They are typically machined out of aluminum and can have complex surfaces. As such, they can require skilled labor and the use of a production machine to manufacture.
3D printing soft jaws allow you to keep production machines on task and lower the level of the skills needed. Durability is of course a concern, but they have been used effectively for short runs.
Assembly applications are a huge area where 3D printing fixtures excel. Most assembly processes aren’t subject to high dynamic loads, and the fixtures mostly just have to support the weight of the parts they are holding.
This significantly lowers the requirements for these types of fixtures and as such, can be made from more inexpensive plastics that may also be easier to print. A notable exemption in this category is welding assembly fixtures. Due to the significant heat introduced during this process, higher temperature materials and special considerations must be taken.
3D Printing is a Great Technology for Manufacturers
Smart factories should embrace new technologies to stay competitive and profitable while creating a safe and human-centric environment for its workers. As a reliable, flexible, materials versatile, and affordable solution, FFF 3D printing with Raise3D’s Printers opens up new opportunities for engineers and manufacturers to embrace a faster, better and cheaper way to do manufacturing.
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