3D-printed jigs and fixtures elevate production floor efficiency

3D printing is playing a key role in enhancing production line efficiency and reducing costs through its ability to fabricate jigs and fixtures that ease the assembly process. Speaking to PlasticsToday at Intermold Korea 2015 in Goyang, Daniel Thomson, General Manager of Stratasys Korea highlighted this trend through several real-world applications that were on show.

BMW jig for badge fixture returns58% cost saving versus CNC-machined alternative.

In one example, a jig used to mount a BMW badge onto the vehicle's trunk lid was 3D-printed by the automaker, taking the place of an existing jig fabricated from aluminum. Fabricated on a Fortus 400mc (fused deposition modeling (FDM)) machine in a build time of 25 hours from an ABS resin grade, the jig cost $176 compared with $420 for the CNC-machined metal jig. Further, lead time was cut from 18 days to just 1.5 days.

Thomson also highlighted a robotic end of arm tooling (EOAT) fabricated also fabricated on a Fortus 400mc from Ultem polyetherimide (PEI) resin that was 94% lighter, weighing around 1.4 kg versus 15.9 kg for the CNC-machined type. Further, lead time was just 3 days versus 20 days for the metal EOAT.

Stratasys' Polyjet inkjet printing-like 3D technology has also been used to manufacture productivity-enhancing fixtures, in one case study on show at Intermold Korea a heat insert cradle for Rutland Plastics. The UK-based processor traditionally made approximately 100 new jigs and fixtures annually from aluminum on its CNC milling machines. This process cost $1,500 per piece or $150,000 per year. But the true cost to the company was reportedly greater. Each new jig and fixture also took three days to create, meaning that the company was precluded from using at least one of its CNC machines to generate revenue for 300 business day.

Using its 3D printer instead to manufacture jigs and fixtures and reclaim its CNC machine time, Rutland was able to reduce per-fixture cost from $1,500 to $900. It also allowed Rutland to add 300 production days for one CNC machine back into its annual operations plan.

Polyjet technology continues to play multiple roles in product design says Thomson. A multi (three) head Polyjet printer, for example, can print handle bar grips of different hardness for field testing or a food container lid seal whose hardness varies at different locations, thereby enabling the designer to evaluate which hardness is best using a single sample.

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