A common mistake when it comes to 3D printing is to take parts produced with conventional manufacturing and try replicating them with additive manufacturing (AM).
Conventionally made parts are usually produced with a high degree of consistency and quality because of well-established manufacturing practices. But by trying to do them with AM, it’s like trying to force something that is not meant to be.
AM, in general, continues to grow quickly, and innovators are pushing the bounds of what we ever imagined possible in the early days of the industry. One area in which AM can help greatly is in manufacturing where jigs, fixtures, and other tools form the backbone of a production floor and are often overlooked despite being a critical component.
While jigs and fixtures can be bought off the shelf, AM allows you to design and customize them for operations that are unique to specific products for guidance and security. The deployment of AM jigs and fixtures on the production floor offer several key pluses that you can’t find with traditional manufacturing.
Freedom of Design
Without the limitations posed by injection molding or machining operations, you can now have nearly endless opportunities for tool configurations that would not have been feasible. The freedom of AM makes function and performance to be the main drivers of design, rather than cost or time.
Instead of producing many parts and consolidating them, AM’s ability to build complex geometries allows you to combine assemblies and print them in one piece to increase overall part performance. Costs and lead-time associated with traditional assembly operations are reduced or eliminated.
Traditionally manufactured tools are usually heavy and clunky, which puts on a strain on operators using them in terms of working discomfort and could result in a drain in production time. With 3D printed manufactured aids that can be designed for lighter weight, better contours and organic shapes, the safety, efficacy and comfort levels for workers are improved.
Traditionally made tools are usually assets because of their costs and have to be housed under inventory, which results in indirect costs of having to store, manage, and track them. AM meanwhile allows for a “just-in-time” inventory where you can print out replacement parts when needed quickly and effortlessly with just digital design files. Design revisions and updates can be performed painlessly to ensure optimal performance.
A part whether it’s designed for a tolerance +/- 0.005” or +/-0.0015 over inch, whichever is greater, it can be delivered straight off the machine with AM. While not universally required, post-machining is available for AM parts whose geometries require tighter tolerances. The complementary partnership of additive and conventional manufacturing can enhance the benefits that can be achieved with either process on its own. There are however many instances where no machining is required for AM jigs and fixtures, which saves valuable time and money.
In a nutshell, 3D printing can transform the factory floor in the making of jigs and fixtures while also see a reduction in overall costs. For example, carmaker BMW switched from using aluminum fixtures utilized in assembly and testing bumper supports with 3D printed ABS thermoplastic fixtures.
In doing so, BMW has achieved 58% saving in cost per fixture and obtaining a 92% increase in quicker turnaround time. The 3D printed fixtures are also 72% lighter than previous aluminum ones, and the improved ergonomics have also greatly improved the comfort and productivity level of the assembler.