Jigs and fixtures play an essential role in the manufacturing process. Custom-made jigs guide and control machining tools, while fixtures hold the machined component firmly in place. Together, jigs and fixtures allow for accuracy and repeatability in manufacturing.
CNC machining can create jigs and fixtures in days or weeks. Lead times increase for parts with complex geometries or curved surfaces because the tools required to machine those parts can be slower. Many companies utilize 3D printers to produce jigs and fixtures, compressing lead times and expanding design freedom.
3D-printed jigs and fixtures have several benefits over those made by traditional methods. 3D printing solutions can help companies save time and money by eliminating skilled labor steps and optimizing production processes.
Reduce the Development Cycle
3D printers can produce jigs and fixtures within a day. They create pieces faster for two reasons: access to advanced materials well-suited for jig and fixture production and increased design capabilities. The material selection and design power of 3D printers significantly reduce turnaround time by eliminating the need for time-consuming production and post-production labor steps.
Engineers design jigs and fixtures for highly-specific operations that utilize optimized tools and amorphous parts. Standard workholding devices like clamps or vises are incompatible with unique shapes, so many fixtures are custom-made. With conventional machining, complex geometries require extensive planning, specialized tools, and highly skilled workers to program machines and combine individual parts into a larger structure. Depending on the part’s complexity, it can take days to weeks to complete.
3D printing affords companies with more design freedom. Printers can consolidate multi-part configurations into a single-piece layout to complete in a single printing operation. The elimination of labor steps and tooling saves time and money.
Producing a jig or fixture through an additive process is quicker than machining, as the materials are more flexible. 3D printers produce jigs and fixtures from the ground-up using high-performance resins. Programming a printer is a quick process that can only take minutes to complete, depending on the 3D printing system.
Comparatively, setting up a CNC machine is more time-consuming and requires a higher amount of labor steps. Operators must order materials that resemble the final object’s net shape to avoid excess material costs. The additional setup time and material considerations often make CNC machining a more expensive process than 3D printing.
High Accuracy and Precision
3D printers are capable of producing objects with a high level of dimensional accuracy and precision. Jigs and fixtures need to closely match the geometry of the parts designed to work with them. Inaccurate jigs will not adequately guide tools, while inaccurate fixtures won’t be able to secure materials.
Accurate jigs and fixtures require detailed surfaces and exact feature locations. Typically, 3D printing offers accuracy savings because printers can quickly iterate on a design. If the first part printed has an error, the engineer can immediately produce an entirely new one in less time than it would take to “fix” the previously machined version. Factories with 3D printers can work through multiple iterations of a design faster than they can get the first iteration of a machined jig.
Additional Benefits of 3D Printed Jigs and Fixtures
3D-printed jigs and fixtures are highly accurate and built from sturdy materials. They provide various benefits when integrated into a manufacturing line:
- Specialized Application: 3D printers have deep customization abilities to make jigs and fixtures for complex applications. Companies can use 3D printers to create parts that will improve their workflow. For instance, assembly jigs can streamline the process of adding features and connecting parts.
- High Performance: Jigs and fixtures produced by DLP printers perform just as well as machined jigs and fixtures. Although FDM and SLA printers can produce jigs and fixtures, they cannot crosslink the parts’ layers. The lack of crosslinking leads to subpar structures. Consequently, FDM and SLA-printed parts don’t perform as well as the highly effective parts made by DLP printers because of the weakness in layer lines, whereas DLP has the same strength in all directions.
- Durability: Modern 3D-printable resins are highly durable and offer specialty properties such as heat resistance, chemical resistance, and UV stability. The crosslinking ability of DLP printers allows users to create jigs and fixtures that hold up in industrial environments and don’t break when dropped.
- Reduce Material Waste: All forms of machining create waste to a degree. To machine a part, one removes and discards layers of material from an initial source to create a smaller object. 3D printers eliminate material waste by building from the ground up. The only material waste created by 3D printers comes from the support structures and sometimes minimal post-processing.
- Reduced Labor Costs: It takes minimal labor to 3D print jigs and fixtures. Preparing the STL file takes roughly five to thirty minutes. Setting up the printer takes five to ten minutes, depending on the software, and the actual manufacturing process is fully automated. Post-processing steps are usually required but reduced with advanced printing hardware. CNC machining is much more labor-intensive in comparison. The machining stage requires a worker to reposition the workpiece throughout the process continually. The more features a design has, the more machine setup steps and tool changes are necessary. Many conventionally produced jigs and fixtures are composed of multiple parts that are welded together after machining. All of these elements increase labor costs significantly.
- Increased Safety and Efficiency: The customization abilities of 3D printers allow users to make jigs and fixtures in ways that maximize performance. Parts are lighter weight making them easier to move around and more ergonomic. By enhancing usability and incorporating safety features directly into part designs, 3D-printed jigs and fixtures can make the workplace more secure and productive.
Improve Costs and Speed with 3D-Printed Jigs and Fixtures
Companies can produce 3D-printed jigs and fixtures more quickly and cost-effectively than conventional machining. The design freedom offered by 3D printers enables users to create parts that are ideal for specialized applications, enhancing productivity by improving workflows.
Companies can obtain 3D-printed jigs and fixtures by either partnering with a 3D printer-filled smart factory or utilizing an in-house 3D printer. At LuxCreo, we offer industry-leading materials and high-performance printing solutions capable of creating industrial-strength products. Contact us today to learn more about how additive manufacturing can benefit your operation.