STRATASYS – Streamlined Jig and Fixture Production with FDM

by Mark Bashor

My Personal Experience

There was a time when (for me, at least) FDM 3D printing was just a bullet point from a manufacturing technology class. While finishing up my engineering degree at the University of California, Riverside I spent a couple years working part-time as a junior manufacturing engineer. At that time, I was working for a company that made aircraft landing gear and other hydraulic actuation components. Part of my role at the time involved arranging the assembly cells, creating the detailed work instructions, and of course designing any necessary small tools, jigs, or fixtures. In general, I designed, “manufacturing aides” that couldn’t be bought from a local industrial supply house.

While a vast majority of the things I created were very simple, the process to get them out on the assembly floor and into the work instruction (final step) was such a painful process. I still have nightmares about it to this day.

Below I will try to highlight the typical process of obtaining each manufacturing aid.

The (Old) Process

Figure 1: Typical Manufacturing Aid

Long before any manufacturing of this tool could begin – the first steps include:

  • generate a tool ID
  • create a detail drawing of the tool
  • create a BOM for any necessary purchase items.

It would in many cases take 1-2 more hours to perform the necessary GD&T in order to have the finished tool drawing and BOM like the one shown in Figure 2, ready for approvals.The first step in the officially documented process was to design a simple (to manufacture with basic machine tools) object capable of performing the task. Something like the one shown to the right in Figure 1 would be typical. For most simple tools, this would take 15-30 minutes before everything was up in CAD and the design was ready to be locked down.

Ready, set, wait! Once I submitted the completed drawing to document control it was usually a whole week or more until the document had made its rounds of review and approvals, was officially uploaded to the database, and released for manufacturing.

With an approved drawing in hand, I would forward the BOM to the folks in procurement, so they could order the items I needed. Two to three days later the items would “magically” show up at my desk.

Figure 2: Traditional manufacturing aid detail drawing

With raw materials now firmly in my possession, there was only one last obstacle to overcome at our in-house machine shop– the production schedule. During busy times such as near the end of month things like manufacturing aids were seen as a distraction to meet challenging production goals.

As such, it was not uncommon to hear “I’ve got 3 days left to hit my numbers for the month so how about I get to that first thing next week”. I eventually began to recognize that 1 week was the general best case for in-house machining lead time.

Figure 3: FDM 3D printed vs. traditionally manufactured aid

Streamlining the process with FDM

From start to finish it was usually 3 weeks or more from the time a manufacturing aide was designed until it was produced and ready to be used out on the floor. Outside of the person that designed the tool and the person who produced its unique components it was also “touched” by the following departments:

  • Engineering
  • Document Control
  • Procurement
  • Quality

Valuable resources were consumed but little to no value was added. Creating each of the hundreds of aids we used each day was a project instead of the simple task it could have been.

Now that I have been involved with 3D printing for the better half of decade my perspective has certainly changed. Sometimes I ask myself – How would that process look if I was in a similar role today with access to even the most basic of FDM printers like a Stratasys F123?

The simple answer is A LOT different. The reality is that most of the manufacturing aides I could design in a day could easily print overnight and be ready to use in production the following day with little to no disruption of otherwise busy departments. While its hard to quantify, this could literally shave hundreds of dollars out of each tools’ cost and most importantly save time which is often priceless.

  • Time & cost savings
    • 40 – 90% lead time reduction
    • 70 – 95% cost reduction
  • Streamlined, efficient process
    • Eliminate detailed drawings
    • Minimize PO & payment requirements
    • Task, not a project
  • Digital inventory
    • Reduction in storage space
    • Quick replacement or revision
    • Simple duplication

Additional Benefits

Additionally, there are benefits that we can’t directly compare. One example of this is increased tool complexity. Since there is little to no penalty for complexity and with the soluble support offered by the Stratasys we can print virtually any tool geometries that we can design without driving up the cost.

Also, due to the robust properties of the engineering grade thermoplastics like Ultem and carbon filled Nylon12 available on Stratasys FDM 3D printers we can build tools that are lighter, easier to handle, and safer to use than traditionally manufactured metal tools.

If you are not currently using 3D printed jigs and fixtures throughout your manufacturing operation, I encourage you to try and see if you can find any good candidates. Also, if you need help, GoEngineer has a dedicated manufacturing team that would be happy to work with you to identify any low hanging fruit when it comes to helping you find the tools to streamline your business.

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Mark Bashor

About Mark Bashor

Mark Bashor holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Riverside. He was formerly a Sr. Applications Engineer for Stratasys and has prior experience in the aerospace and manufacturing industry. Mark has been helping customers successfully execute their additive manufacturing strategies for over 7 years.

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