3D-Printed Jigs and Fixtures: An Overlooked Way to Aid Manufacturing: Page 2 of 3

With the manufacturing industry continually abuzz about 3D-printed cars, airplane wings, and biomedical devices, the role jigs and fixtures play in 3D printing has often been overlooked, as has the associated impactful benefits.

the most widely-used industrial thermoplastics. It combines the most desirable properties of both ABS and PC.
•    ULTEM  1010: Excellent strength and thermal stability as well as steam autoclaving.
•    ULTEM 9085: High strength-to-weight ratio; UL94 V-0 rated.

Popular LS materials include:
•    Carbon fiber-filled nylons: Electrostatically dissipative, high strength-to-weight ratio.
•    Glass-filled nylons: Dimensionally stable with excellent stiffness and elevated temperature resistance.
•    Mineral fiber-filled nylons: Stiff, non-conductive, and typically RF-transparent.
•    Nylon 11: High elongation with superior chemical resistance.
•    Nylon 12: Rugged, general-purpose nylon with good mechanical performance and chemical resistance.

Both of these primary processes excel at building different types of jigs and fixtures. Because LS builds in a chamber just below the plastic's melting point, making its parts more susceptible to warping, FDM is better for creating manufacturing aids with large, flat surfaces. On the other hand, LS can create support-free builds, making it more suitable for parts requiring organic and curving shapes, like fixtures, ducts and pipes.

Laser sintering conforms to organic shapes and is commonly used for guides on tubes and ducting

Laser sintering conforms to organic shapes and is commonly used for guides on tubes and ducting. (Image source: Stratasys Direct Manufacturing

It's worth noting which 3D-printing technologies aren't viable for building manufacturing aids, to avoid spending time and resources where there's no potential.

Vat polymerization processes such as stereolithography are not well-suited for the job, as they use materials with low elongation and tensile strength, resulting in brittle parts. Because this technology cures materials with UV energy, parts are also more susceptible to degradation from light over time. Their resins also have low heat deflection, making them warp in in hot temperatures. Simply put, parts built via vat polymerization processes don't have the stamina or strength to handle the repeated use required of durable manufacturing aids.

Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) is a process which uses a precise, high-wattage laser to micro-weld powdered metals and alloys. While it's great for building dense metal parts used in aerospace and energy applications, it's not ideal for making jigs and fixtures as the post-processing labor can be intense and more expensive than FDM or LS.

 

Putting Knowledge into Practice

Understanding the main processes and materials to use is key to a successful project. Leading manufacturers in a number of industries have put their knowledge of 3D-printing manufacturing aids into practice, building reliable and durable jigs and fixtures for various applications. These aids have helped companies improve manufacturing and transform the production process.
 
A major German automaker used FDM with ABS thermoplastic to produce ergonomic handheld assembly devices and fixtures. They are up to 72% lighter than conventionally produced metal manufacturing aids. The weight reduction translates to a better experience for workers, who use the 3D-printed aids and tools hundreds of times a day.

BMW uses FDM to create fixtures and aids that are comfortable for workers to use, and promote repeatability and accuracy during product application. (Image source: Stratasys Direct Manufacturing)
BMW uses FDM to create fixtures and aids that are comfortable for workers to use, and promote repeatability and accuracy during product application. (Images source: Stratasys Direct Manufacturing)
 

In this case, the assembly and test fixtures are used for attaching bumper supports and fixture magnets. These aids incorporate tubes that bend and curve in a fashion

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