3D Printed Tools Boost Efficiency on the Factory Floor

3D Printed Tools Boost Efficiency on the Factory Floor

Manufacturing aids, including jigs and fixtures, help hold and position parts for subsequent operations. While some general-purpose tooling is made for multiple uses on the factory floor, jigs and fixtures are often custom made for specific operations, and are especially useful for managing complex production and assembly operations. With HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) and advanced materials, 3D printed tools can be made faster and less expensive while further enhancing quality and productivity.

Endeavor 3D’s unique capabilities, including HP MJF 3D printing, allow manufacturing aids like jigs and fixtures to improve production and assembly line quality and productivity.

About Jigs and Fixtures

Jigs are normally used in manual operations and are designed to guide drilling or cutting tools. Fixtures are heavier-duty manufacturing aids and are often used to move and align materials and parts into position. Both help ensure accuracy and repeatability in manufacturing, ultimately enhancing productivity, raising efficiency, improving quality, and reducing cost, while providing better ergonomics and safety for workers.

Choosing the Right Manufacturing Aid

The choice of jig or fixture depends on the type of work being performed, the complexity of the workpiece, and the level of accuracy and repeatability needed.

Jigs are designed to guide cutting tools and ensure material is removed in the correct location and orientation. They are typically used for drilling, reaming, boring and tapping operations, and common types include:

  • Template jig – a simple device with holes or bushings that guide a cutting tool
  • Plate jig – incorporates drill bushings and hardened inserts to increase durability and precision
  • Channel jig – utilizes a channel-shaped cross-section making it suitable for holding workpieces of various shapes and sizes
  • Diameter jig – specifically designed for drilling radial holes on cylindrical or spherical workpieces
  • Leaf jig – a two-plated jig that swings open on a hinge, allowing loading and unloading
  • Ring jig – a circular jig used for holding and locating workpieces with a central hole
  • Box jig – a complex jig that maximizes support and stability by completely enclosing workpieces

Assembly fixture

Fixtures are used for many different operations, including milling, turning, grinding, assembly and more. They are used throughout the factory floor to hold workpieces securely and accurately while subsequent operations are performed. Common fixture types include:

  • Turning fixture – used on a lathe to hold workpieces during turning operations
  • Milling fixture – holds workpieces during operations on a milling machine
  • Grinding fixture – Used on a grinding machine to hold workpieces 
  • Boring fixture – holds workpieces on a boring machine
  • Tapping fixture – helps create threaded holes by positioning workpieces during operations
  • Duplex fixture – used in machining and assembly operations to hold two workpieces simultaneously
  • Welding fixture – holds workpieces in precise alignment for welding operations
  • Assembly fixture – used to hold components in correct position 

Jigs and fixtures in automotive

Who Uses Jigs and Fixtures?

Automotive

Manufacturing aids like jigs and fixtures are essential in the automotive industry. They ensure accuracy and repeatability by holding and positioning parts along the assembly line. Jigs and fixtures are used with many body-in-white processes including welding, brazing and riveting. They are also used through many different engine assembly steps, installation of the vehicle’s electrical, air and fluid systems, and throughout the interior, assisting with everything from dashboards and seats to airbag modules and more.

Industrial Manufacturing

By securing and aligning components, jigs and fixtures contribute to the efficiency and quality of industrial manufacturing. Jigs are frequently employed to guide cutting and shaping tools. Fixtures are used with CNC machining, fabrication and assembly, supporting complex shapes. Manufacturing aids are used throughout production and ensure that processes are repeatable. As production scales up, they also help maintain consistency and reduce errors.

Robotics

With robotics, jigs and fixtures are employed to hold and position workpieces during production, assembly and inspection. These tools are designed to foster interchangeability, where every part is manufactured within an established tolerance. The exact location and orientation of each workpiece is well understood and robots assimilate with the tooling to achieve high speed and provide consistent repeatability without human intervention.

Medical

Jigs and fixtures are used to manufacture a wide variety of medical devices, including implants, prosthetics, and surgical instruments. They help ensure products are made to precise specifications, which is critical in the medical field. Jigs and fixtures are also used during procedures. Drill guides, for example, help doctors accurately place holes for medical and dental implants, among many other use cases.

Conventional Jig and Fixture Manufacturing

Like other tool and die applications, jigs and fixtures are traditionally made from cast iron, steel, aluminum and other metals, They are typically manufactured with subtractive technologies like CNC milling. The specific design and construction of each tool is determined by the target workpiece, operation and expected production volume. With traditional technologies, design is limited to the range of cutting motion. The process is also time consuming and expensive as each jig and fixture must be designed, manufactured, processed and assembled, prior to use on the factory floor.

Long CNC Lead Times

As the name implies, computer numerical control (CNC) machines use software to cut precision parts from raw materials. But, machining precise, high-quality components like jigs and fixtures typically requires long lead times and higher financial costs. The complexity of the part, number of setups, material choice and machine availability all contribute to costly delays. In addition, recent global supply chain disruptions have exacerbated the problem, contributing to even longer lead times for CNC work.

3D Printed Tools Offer Important Advantages

3D printed fixture

There are several reasons why additive manufacturing is quickly becoming a leading solution for producing jigs and fixtures. For one, the technology is much faster and devices can be printed overnight. It is also much less expensive, especially for very low quantities. But 3D printing also offers other benefits. It unlocks design freedom, which empowers engineers to create new, performance-enhancing jigs and fixtures. It also excels at customization, enabling manufacturers to create specific tooling for very detailed tasks.

See how HP uses MJF to create tooling for its own manufacturing operations -Image via HP

MJF is a Force Multiplier

When it comes to manufacturing jigs and fixtures, HP’s Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D printing solution is highly cost-effective. It is also capable of producing complex parts with fine detail and great structural integrity. With its isotropic material properties, MJF is ideal for producing accurate and durable jigs and fixtures.

Materials Designed for the Rigors of Industrial Use

HP’s Nylon PA-12 material has a tensile strength of up to 80 MPa and a flexural modulus of up to 12 GPa providing high strength, rigidity and toughness. In addition it is lightweight, easy to post-process and offers excellent chemical resistance, making it well-suited for producing jigs and fixtures. In addition it’s also cost effective and readily available, making it a popular choice for jigs and fixtures in a wide range of industries.

Learn more about Nylon PA 12

HP also offers different grades of Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). It is a flexible and durable material that offers an excellent alternative to rubber and other materials used to produce manufacturing aids. In addition, TPU offers good chemical resistance and abrasion resistance. It is also non-marking and a low-friction material, which prevents items from sliding. Further, TPU is inexpensive, making it a cost-effective choice for jigs and fixtures.

Learn more about TPU

Let’s Talk!

Does your company use jigs and fixtures as part of the manufacturing process? If you could improve the functionality, turnaround and cost of producing these devices, what impact would it have on your business? Could you enhance the quality of your products? Improve productivity on the assembly line? Reduce cost while simultaneously improving worker comfort and safety?

If the answer to any of these is yes or even maybe, contact us today.

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