To ensure repeatability and precision in parts and assemblies, jigs and fixtures represent an integral part of lean manufacturing. However, the cost of product development and lead time weigh significantly when producing jigs and fixtures. This is where metal 3D printing comes into play, especially with Bound Metal Deposition (BMD) technology from Desktop Metal that changes how metal is manufactured.
So, what are jigs and fixtures? They are essentially tools that hold, support, and/or locate a part as it is being manufactured or machined. The jig also plays a role in guiding the operating tool. Part assembly, welding, and other subtractive manufacturing processes like milling and turning all rely on jigs and fixtures.
Consistency and reliability across manufacturing processes are crucial, to ensure parts and assemblies perform in their application especially with high volume production.
So why not traditional manufacturing, here are some reasons.
- Requires a skilled operator
- Plastic, sheet metal, and those with thin walls deform or wrap when using common solutions
- Creation of intricate and conformal shapes are extremely challenging
- Outsourcing to a 3rd-party manufacturing firm makes production difficult, expensive, and time-consuming
Why 3D print then?
- Allows for greater flexibility in design
- Cost and fabrication time do not necessarily increase with part complexity
- BMD technology enables print-in-place assemblies and part consolidation and simplifies the fabrication process
- No requirement for skilled operator
- Ability to print with closed-cell infill, resulting in a lightweight design while conforming to the application requirements
- In-house metal 3D printing allows for lead time reduction
- Rapid design iteration or optimization for specific needs are enabled
Although there have been advances in plastics, metal is still a preferred option when it comes to jigs and fixtures for manufacturing. Plastic parts most often than not distort under extreme heat or when exposed to abrasives, which make them unsuitable as jigs and fixtures. Metal is however much stronger, stiffer, and more durable than plastic. In cases where significant force is applied, metal jigs and fixtures can prevent deflection and preserve repeatability.