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Can I 3D Print A Jig Or Fixture?

Professional manufacturers make use of jigs and fixtures on a routine basis, with each of these tools securing and guiding manual manufacturing processes. The jig is typically an appliance and allows for the precise use of cutting tools. It attaches …

Stuart Davis

May 21, 2020

Professional manufacturers make use of jigs and fixtures on a routine basis, with each of these tools securing and guiding manual manufacturing processes. The jig is typically an appliance and allows for the precise use of cutting tools. It attaches securely to the work-piece, which can be moved around freely as required. The fixture is a standard device which can be used for the secure attachment of an item to a work surface; enabling modifications to be made safely and efficiently. Jigs may be used across a range of work surfaces and stations, where fixtures are commonly used for a restricted range of manual fabrication tasks.

Manufactured jigs and fixtures will ideally fulfil these requirements:

  • High levels of rigidity
  • Precise manufacturing
  • Rapid and repeatable production
  • Desirable cost-efficiency
  • Hassle-free fabrication

It has traditionally been necessary to assemble jigs and fixtures either from modular kits or through the injection of molded design and tooling. The metal tooling process was carried out in-house or outsourced to industry specialists. However, the development of 3D printing technology has allowed for the on-site manufacture of tough and durable tools. The use of functional resins has become increasingly widespread across machining, assembly, and other production lines.

Jigs and fixtures may take the following forms:

  • Soft Jaw Vise Inserts
  • Drill Guides
  • Go/No Go Gauges
  • Assembly/Disassembly Jigs
  • Bonding Jigs

Prior to the use of 3D printers it was necessary to undergo the complete process of ordering, waiting for production, and trialling the use of a new jig or fixture. This was expected to take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. However, development of the 3D printer has enabled the overnight modification and production of jigs and fixtures suited to business requirements. Skilled manufacturing staff are not required to machine and fabricate new tools. One well-known car manufacture was able to achieve a lead time reduction of 92% (from 18 to 1.5) days through the integration of 3D printing technology.

Using 3D Printing for Significant Savings on your jigs and fixtures

The initial investment in 3D printing technology will soon be recouped when compared with the ongoing expense of outsourced manufacturing and supply. The essential tools can be made from resins with high levels of chemical and heat resistance. Such tools can also be produced in a variety of colours and surface finishes. There is a reduced risk of damage to those parts which are secured and manipulated with the printed jigs and fixtures. Manufacturers can make the most of the resulting time and cost savings in the creation of multiple tools for the achievement of improved worker comfort and safety. The skilled machinists are now able to spend time on key business tasks, with the jigs and fixtures being produced automatically on-site.

Consider the difference in cost and time associated with the production of a simple fixture as outlined in this table, and the case study shown below:

Milled from aluminium Milled from HDPE Printing in tough resin
Price £400.00 £300.00 £40.00
Lead Time 3 – 5 Days 3 – 5 Days Printed In <1 Day
Markforged Use Case - Dixon Gripper Composite Preview
Markforged Use Case – Dixon Gripper Composite Preview

Advanced 3D printing technologies from leading brands such as Markforged, Peel 3D and Pocket NC allow for the production of high quality jigs and fixtures. The tools can be easily customised, so the risk of product defects is greatly reduced. Investment in 3D printing technology will result in the desirable competitive edge and achievement of customer satisfaction given the production of high-precision jigs and fixtures.

Enhanced Design Capabilities

As there is no cost associated with the addition of complex design features it is worth considering the types of customisations that can be made with the 3D printing technology. You can add features and create geometries which would either be impossible or highly expensive to achieve in the machining process. Serial numbers, fabrication dates, and other key data can all be integrated; allowing for enhanced inventory management and tracking. Components which would be separated in the machining process can be combined when 3D printing. This will result in the minimisation of gap space and unwanted accumulation of dust and chips.

You can improve the functionality of printed jigs and fixtures through the addition of stock parts from industrial suppliers. This may allow for the increased rigidity and conductivity required in some applications. Metal shafts may be added for connection between expanded work spaces, without any reduction in rigidity. Washers may also be incorporated for the distribution of screw clamping loads across surface areas. The jigs and fixtures will inevitably wear given repeat use. However, the ability to rapidly produce these key tools will have the effect of cutting the supply chain and eliminating down-time.

Solid Print 3D stock a wide variety of printers entirely suitable for the production of quality jigs and fixtures. If you’re wondering which printer is best suited to your professional purposes then please go ahead and give us a call on 01926 333777 or drop us a message on the contact us page. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and make 3D printing recommendations based on your requirements.

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