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Jigs & Fixtures: the 3D unsung heroes

Jigs and fixtures. Not exactly glamorous. Especially not when recent weeks have seen news of 3D printed dresses and jewellery at the Met Gala and a Swedish company creating the first 3D printed diamond composite. Diamonds in industry might not have the same kind of glamour as a New York ball, but as Swedish manufacturer, Sandvik put it: ‘’It may not be sparkly, but it’s a world first.’’

High-impact world-firsts and celebrity high-glamour stories aside, we felt it was time to shine a light on 3D printed jigs and fixtures. Seriously, we think these are the unsung heroes of manufacturing.

If you’re a manufacturer, accuracy is everything. And quality. So is cost. Oh, and speed. So how do jigs and fixtures help? We know their function is to hold, position and guide during production MatterHackers put it like this:

‘’A jig is a type of custom-made tool used to control the location and/or guide the motion of parts or other tools. In other words, a jig holds the work and allows the guiding of a tool. A fixture holds the work in a fixed location and allows for modifications to be conducted to the workpiece.’’

Nice. And important. Jigs and fixtures enable you to improve the repeatability and the quality of your product. Inaccuracy is your enemy and jigs and fixtures are here to help, making work easier and more efficient, significantly improving the manufacturing process, lowering production times and decreasing costs. Excellent.

But rewind a second to ‘’custom made’’. As we know, this is where 3D printing comes into its own. In recent history, jigs and fixtures were designed and tooled for traditional manufacturing methods such as injection molding. Time consuming and costly. These days, with the advent of 3D printing, they can be designed and printed in a matter of days (or even less), freeing manufacturers and adding far greater flexibility to the entire production process.

Additional jigs and fixtures can be added to production lines where previously, they may have been considered too costly or time consuming to create, allowing manufacturers to address problems or refine processes throughout all stages of production. 3D printing is transforming the factory floor.

‘’Compared to CNC machining, 3D printing jigs and fixtures takes 25% of the time to produce, wastes less material and costs don’t increase with complexity.’’ Find out more on the Stratasys website here.

And on the theme of timing, TCT Magazine looked at how Additive Manufacturing is streamlining the workflow. In their feature, HP 3D Printing’s Scott Schiller has this to say on 3D printing jigs: “There’s way more cost impact in the flow of the production line, and if you have a change notification coming through and you need to change that jig for the whole production line to work, timing is everything.”

Timing is everything. And being so responsive, 3D printing enables you to create new jigs and fixtures as and when required.

And it doesn’t stop there. Marcin Traczyk fromZMorph:

‘’The automotive industry is currently seeing one of the highest levels of 3D printed jigs and fixtures adoptions. Companies like Audi, BMW, Porsche, and Volvo use them mostly to fit, connect, and hold components together on the production lines. But BMW Group went a step further and introduced customized 3D printed assembly support tools for their employees. Made for each individual, these flexible finger coats make certain actions easier to perform efficiently while keeping people’s thumbs safe.’’

Staggering customisability? Sorted. Timing, cost, accuracy and quality? Are all these factors improved with 3D printed jigs and fixtures? We think so. And so do the big players at the forefront of industry.

There’s been a lot of focus on Additive Manufacturing and the production of end-use parts. The role of AM in jigs and fixtures is just as important and set to rise significantly. Our Fortus 900 and our HP Multi Jet Fusion machines have been used for both, producing accurate, strong and durable prints that help manufacturers improve their production processes.

After all, not all parts are 3D printed, but 3D printed jigs could be used on all manner of parts, 3D printed or not.

Do you have a 3D scanning or printing project we can help with? Please get in touch!