In manufacturing processes, the production of custom jigs and fixtures is often deprioritized against a long list of manufacturing needs. In-house metal 3D printing enables the rapid production of a jig or fixture that is perfect for a specific need. Typically, a full production cycle includes multiple manufacturing operations—broaching or boring holes, welding, assembly, and machining critical dimensions. An expansion in production volume also escalates the need for consistency and reliability across all operations in order to ensure parts and assemblies perform as intended.
Designed for a specific part or task, custom jigs and fixtures are critical to establishing recurrence and precision during each stage of manufacturing to render parts that are optimized for their application.Often, in order to manufacture custom jigs and fixtures, engineers are required to piece together off-the-shelf components as a temporary solution, while they wait for the custom tools to be machined and assembled. In addition to long lead times, traditional manufacturing can present significant limitations to the design—blocking the development of a custom part that is more suitable for the need. In-house metal 3D printing allows engineers to produce jigs and fixtures rapidly, using a design optimized for the precise demand. And the ability to produce replacement parts on-demand is critical to operational efficiency.
3D PRINTING CONFORMAL JIGS & FIXTURES
Conformal jigs and fixtures are designed to adhere to the shape of the part that is being manufactured while allowing an even distribution of the clamping forces. Often, this includes complex designs that are difficult—or almost impossible—to machine.
One of the key benefits of additive manufacturing is design flexibility. With 3D Printing,cost-per-part and fabrication time do not increase with design complexity, so custom jigs and fixtures that respond to the needs of the application are easier and cheaper to produce. In addition, processes like Bound Metal Deposition™(BMD™) enable print-in-place assemblies, part unification, and part light-weighting with the use of closed-cell infill for lightweight strength. Bringing the benefits of metal 3D Printing in-house reduces lead times associated with the production of custom jigs and fixtures—compared to machining or leveraging a third-party print shop. Manufacturers can prototype parts more easily and efficiently, to further optimize the design and produce replacement parts on-demand, in order to avoid disrupting the product development timeline.
METAL VS PLASTIC
Many jigs and fixtures need to be made of metal to comply with the conditions of the manufacturing environment. Plastic parts will deform under high heat or when exposed to abrasives. Metal is much stronger, more solid, and more durable than plastic so, if it is to be subjected to significant forces, metal jigs and fixtures are entailed to prevent deflection and preserve repeatability.
Alternative metal additive manufacturing methods, like Powder Bed Fusion (PBF), present processes that have a higher cost due to expensive hardware and materials. Also, they require several secondary operations that increase labor costs and lead time. Even for manufacturers who have PBF machines in-house, using them to produce parts in low volume is too cost-prohibitive and time-consuming to be a viable solution.The Studio System enables rapid iteration and allows manufacturers to produce parts in-house and on-demand at a lower cost-per-part. Designs are optimized for the specific need—enabling the production of custom jigs or fixtures that are built to perform while committing to increase the overall operational efficiency.