Using 3D Printers to Manufacture Jigs and Fixtures

One goal of manufacturers is to refine the manufacturing process and make it faster, more efficient, and more cost-effective. That’s why manufacturers often turn to the little details in a shop for opportunities to refine processes and make them ultimately reduce costs.

One area that is ripe for creating advantages is with jigs and fixtures. These essential tools exist to help make the manufacturing process easier and more efficient. A lot of makers spend a lot of time and money with jigs and fixtures because they work to simplify the process, save time, and enable superior work quality.

Did you know, though, that 3D printers can take that efficiency and multiply it? Using 3D printers and additive manufacturing, you can easily make jigs and fixtures that cost less than outsourcing and accelerate your production processes.

Lowering the Threshold

Whenever you adopt a new process or fixture, there’s a threshold, or barrier, to adding it to your processes. This is because we’re careful about what we create or add to our process for fear of bogging it down. We’re also concerned about how much it’ll cost to create this new jig or fixture. This means there’s justification that has to occur.

Additive manufacturing with 3D printers lowers this threshold and makes it easier to decide on creating a new fixture or jig.

This is because using 3D printing helps to:

  • Reduce overall cost by making it less expensive than outsourcing to a machining shop
  • Improve your processes and workflow
  • Increase your return on investment
  • Decrease lead time on new fixtures and projects

For example, the lead time to create custom manufacturing tools can be decreased by anywhere from 40 to 90 percent by using 3D printers. You can also experience cost savings of 70 to 90 percent compared to how much it’d cost to outsource fabricated fixtures and jigs. (One Stratasys customer made a $1,500 part for less than $200 in materials.)

Simplifying the Process

Much of the gains you’ll experience from manufacturing your custom tools yourself using 3D printers is because of the simple process you’ll use.

For example, if you use Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), a popular 3D printing method, there are just three steps to the process:

  1. Build and upload the CAD file
  2. Build the tool using 3D printers
  3. Post-process the tool for use

 

You don’t have to have a lot of experience with 3D printing or fabrication to make a tool, and you don’t have to wait on turnaround from an outsourced shop to produce your tool and send it to you. There are many steps eliminated in the process, which saves time and money.  The process, in many cases, can ake as few as 15 minutes of hands-on labor.

Additionally, additive manufacturing eliminates design constraints that were there with the traditional way of fabricating custom tools. You can expand your envelope through unmatched freedom of design without adding time or cost. You can make more complex tools, jigs, and fixtures without incurring additional cost – something that is unthinkable with current outsourced machining.

The benefits of 3D printing for making your custom tools, jigs, and fixtures are simple to understand. If you haven’t already developed an in-house 3D printing operation, now may be the time. You’ll realize savings, gains in time and efficiency, and a boost to your bottom line by bringing these abilities into your own facility using 3D printers.