Printing Jigs and Fixtures Leads to Big Gains in Manufacturing Productivity
Jigs and fixtures that hold parts or tools in just the right way to simplify manufacturing, assembly or inspection operations can dramatically increase shop floor productivity. For example, Digi International uses fixtures with integrated masks in a conformal coating process that eliminate the need for taping parts, saving about $123,750 for a typical production run.
CPI Aero produces fixtures that hold aerospace assemblies with complex contours so that they can easily be inspected with gage blocks and calipers, saving dozens of hours per assembly. Genesis Systems Group increases the safety of waterjet cutting by using end of arm tooling (EOAT) for a robot to move the part around the waterjet, eliminating potential safety hazards involved in moving the waterjet.
Untold numbers of jigs and fixtures such as these help the companies that use them save time, increase productivity, improve quality and provide a safer workplace environment. But each of these jigs and fixtures must be specially designed and built for their task, which means they must be produced in small lots, often of one. It is typically very costly and time-consuming to make these parts using traditional manufacturing methods which operate most efficiently when producing large lot sizes.
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For example, Digi did not even consider producing fixtures with integrated masks using traditional CNC machining because it would be difficult to justify the cost of programming and setting up the CNC machine. In the past, CPI Aero contracted with CNC machine shops to build complex inspection templates to exacting tolerances but these templates were expensive and had a long delivery lead time. Genesis Systems previously used CNC machines to create custom robot EOAT but the leadtime and cost was also very high.
Additive manufacturing reduces manufacturing costs
These three companies and many others have discovered that additive manufacturing is ideally suited to jig and fixture making because it reduces manufacturing cost by up to 90 percent while also reducing the time required to get the new tools into the hands of manufacturing personnel.
Additive manufacturing can economically produce jigs and fixtures in quantities as small as one because it produces parts layer by layer and does not require tooling, molds or CNC programming. Additive manufacturing also gives engineers designing jigs and fixtures the ability to define whatever shapes will provide the highest levels of productivity without worrying about the limitations of conventional subtractive manufacturing processes.
The Stratasys Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) additive manufacturing process used by these companies also provides a sparse-build method that reduces the weight of jigs and fixtures which makes them easier for workers to handle.
Digi originally purchased an additive manufacturing machine for producing prototypes but quickly found that it also substantially reduced the cost required to build hybrid carrier and masking fixtures. CPI Aero reduced the time required to produce inspection fixtures from 40 days to 3 days and the cost of four sets of eight templates for a typical assembly from $29,541.20 to $1,108 by making them with additive manufacturing.
Genesis Systems reduced the cost of making EOAT by 94% with additive manufacturing, reduced lead time from 30 days to 3 days and cut the weight of the tooling from 15.9 kg to 1.4 kg, which made it possible to use smaller, less expensive robots.
Additive Manufacturing reduces labor and time to market
The cost advantage of switching to additive manufacturing in producing jigs and fixtures is overshadowed by the reductions in labor and time to market that can be achieved on the production floor by using custom jigs and fixtures in more applications. Digi reduced masking labor by 55 seconds per printed circuit board for its outdoor product, saving about 92% of the cost of applying and removing tape to mask components that are not to be coated.
CPI Aero took advantage of the design flexibility provided by additive manufacturing to add features to inspection templates that make it possible to inspect additional dimensions, reducing the time required for final assembly. Genesis Systems leveraged additive manufacturing’s ability to create intricate and complex shapes by creating an internal channel for a pneumatic line that enables grippers to hold parts with a vacuum. This reduced the need for external pneumatic lines that could be damaged in the waterjet environment.
Building jigs and fixtures with additive manufacturing is faster and less expensive, making it possible to deploy them in many new applications, resulting in substantial improvements in manufacturing cost, leadtime and quality.