Applications like 3D printed organs are big news, but 3D printed jigs and fixtures are the true silent heroes — changing how modern manufacturing works.
Tools are always needed in manufacturing.
Various jigs, fixtures, templates, and gauges can significantly improve the efficiencies in the process, lowering the production time and saving on labour costs.
Many companies couldn’t afford to custom-make their own tooling until 3D printing became more widespread.
Applications of jigs and fixtures
Jigs and fixtures are the silent heroes of manufacturing because they’re usually being used unnoticed on the production lines. They’re used to hold, position, protect, and organize at all stages of the manufacturing process. They help with machining and assembly, as well as, in performing quality assurance tests. Even R&D departments can use jigs and fixtures in their experiments to make better products.
What is a Jig or Fixture manufacturing aid?
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A manufacturing aid is a device, platform, tool, jig, or fixture used to enhance, accelerate, perfect, or fix a manufacturing or assembly production.
Manufacturing aids range from simple guides to complex fixtures with multiple functions.
Traditionally, manufacturing aids are produced by tooling, which may have excessive labour costs and often extensive lead times. In contrast, using 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) to produce manufacturing aids, does not require the same excessive labour and extensive lead times of traditional manufacturing. Adding 3d printed jigs & fixture to your capabilities, results in significantly lower cost and flexibility in application.
3D printing is a truly simple, fast, and inexpensive solution for producing low-volume, customized manufacturing aids.
One challenge is the fixture or fitting size limitations of the smaller build volumes on common desktop 3D printers. Manufacturers have turned to 3D Platform’s large build volume 3D printers to overcome this challenge.
Real World 3D Printed Tooling & Fixture Case Study
Take this 3D printed Profile Rail Wiper as an example, it is designed to keep steel chips off the rail while helping retain oil and lubrication in the rail bearings. 3D printed on the 3D Platform large format 3D printer with PLA material, this simple manufacturing aid effectively extends the 5-axis vertical mill’s lifespan by keeping the steel chips off the rail and bearing system.
Project at a Glance
The industrial steel rail cutting machine has a built-in rail surface wiper that pushes big steel chips off the rail surfaces. But it failed to catch smaller pieces that can be caught in between the rail and the ball bearing system. This caused the ball bearing system to fail prematurely, and halt the steel rail cutting machine completely.
In addition, the coolant and DTE oil used in the system corroded the built-in wiper quickly, requiring frequent wiper check-ups and replacements, adding additional labour and replacement part costs.
Having access to 3D modelling software and 3D Platform’s industrial strength, large format 3D printer, an engineer decided to design, and 3D print an add-on wiper that fits tightly on the rail. This wiper is able to push even the smallest steel chips off the rail surface.
Choosing the right material for this project was crucial, for the part needed to perform and last well in the harsh corrosive environment it was deployed in.
After soaking samples of PLA, ABS, and NinjaFlex materials in the coolant and DTE oil for 48 hours, the PLA material stood out as the best material choice for this project. Not only for its ability to 3D print quickly and easily, but the PLA material also showed no signs of corrosion after the test.
Designing the profile rail wiper turned out to be more challenging than 3D printing the part. The engineer went through almost eight design iterations in order to fit the profile rail’s unique ridge design on the sides. But, within only one day, the engineer was able to quickly tweak the design, 3D print it and test run the 3D printed piece on the machine until it fit perfectly.
Project Timeline & Cost
The entire project finished within two days.
Each rail wiper takes 20 minutes to print. Using PLA material, it costs R2.79 cost per piece, a +500% saving in cost compared to using the traditional tooling approach.