The additive manufacturing hype is not just about 3D printing cars or medical devices.   Jigs and fixtures very practical applications for 3D printing and broadly applicable and useful in any type of manufacturing.

To take advantage of benefits such as decreased labor costs, part consolidation, and increased productivity, industry professionals need a greater understanding of which 3D-printing process and materials make sense for their projects. This article looks at how engineers can successfully use 3D printing to streamline production — and help their companies’ bottom lines — for their next jigs and fixtures project.

Defining Jigs and Fixtures

Fixtures are manufacturing aids used primarily during assembly or product testing, such as locations for drilling, alignment, artwork placement, and other mechanisms.  These may include assembly line fixtures, calibration fixtures, drill fixtures, holding fixtures, shim fixtures, and test fixtures.

3D printing jigs and fixtures for repeatable processes can increase productivity with greater accuracy. Design engineers can more quickly and inexpensively alter parts using 3D printing as opposed to the time and expensive of traditional production.

BMW uses FDM to create fixtures and aids that are comfortable for workers to use, and promote repeatability and accuracy during product application.
BMW uses FDM to create fixtures and aids that are comfortable for workers to use, and promote repeatability and accuracy during product application. (Image source: Stratasys Direct Manufacturing)

Choosing the Right Process and Material

Not all 3D-printing processes or materials are suited for building jigs and fixtures, so it’s important to understand what technology and corresponding material can best bring a design to life. Two common processes used for creating manufacturing aids are Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and laser sintering (LS).

Popular FDM materials include ABS, ASA, PC, and PB-ABS, ULTEM  1010, ULTEM 9085.
Popular LS materiasl include carbon fiber-filled nylons, glass-filled nylons, mineral fiber-filled nylons, Nylon 11 and Nylon 12.

Both of these primary processes excel at building different types of jigs and fixtures.  However, it’s also worth knowing what 3D-printing technologies are not suitable for manufacturing aids. Vat polymerization processes such as stereolithography are not well-suited for the job, as they use materials with low elongation and tensile strength, resulting in brittle parts. Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) is a process which uses a precise, high-wattage laser to micro-weld powdered metals and alloys, with post-processing labor that can be intense and more expensive.

>> Read more by Bob Wolter, Design News, January 26, 2017

 

3D-Printed Jigs and Fixtures: An Overlooked Way to Aid Manufacturing