3D Printing in Manufacturing: The Ultimate Multitool

Using 3D Printing in Manufacturing to Create Efficiency

It seems like every day I see another article or video showing off a new use for 3D printing, or additive manufacturing. From biomedical advancementsprosthetics and dentistry to construction, agriculturetextiles, and jewelry, and even archeology and space exploration, 3D printing has made leaps and bounds in the last few years. The more this technology progresses, the more people speculate about the disruptions it will cause in traditional manufacturing. These are legitimate concerns that manufacturers should be aware of when they're planning for the future, but there are presently many ways that we can implement 3D printing in manufacturing to enhance efficiency, repeatability and precision.

The Manufacturing Efficiency Tool Box

Manufacturing engineers and production operators have many tools at their disposal for creating a more efficient process. These tools range from implementing manufacturing principles, like Six Sigma or 5S, to installing robotic arms that perform repetitive tasks quicker and more precisely than a human ever could. Some of the most common tools used in manufacturing are jigs, fixtures and nests.

What are Jigs, Fixtures and Nests?

The terms jig, fixture and nest are often used interchangeably, but they are in fact different things. A jig guides the instrument so it will cut or grind (or whatever else it may be doing) the work in a consistent pattern, while fixtures and nests hold the work in place so the instrument hits it in the same spot every time. A nest is a holding fixture that is formed to fit the exact contours of the part being worked on. The problem with these tools is that they are often highly custom and can take a long time to fabricate using traditional machining methods. At Broadview, we have been developing a process for designing these jigs, fixtures and nests in a way that allows us to 3D print them within a day or two of our customer's request.

How 3D Printing Increases Profitability for Our CNC Department

One simple example of how we use 3D printing in manufacturing can be found in our CNC department. We have two CNC machines at Broadview that are mainly used for prototyping and small production runs, which means we're constantly changing our machine setups. By 3D printing the nests and fixtures needed for certain jobs, we save our machinists the time they would normally spend fabricating the nests and fixtures themselves. It especially saves time for organically shaped parts with a lot of curvature(like the one shown below) because these shapes take a long time to cut in a CNC machine. The less time they spend completing machine setups, the more time they can spend fabricating revenue-making parts for our customers. 

3D Printing in Manufacturing: CNC Nest

3D Printing in Manufacturing: CNC Nest

The other great thing about using 3D printing in manufacturing for nests and fixtures is that the soft plastic material secures the workpiece without scratching or marring the surface. With traditional machined aluminum fixtures, this can be a real concern. And if we ship a part with a scratch on it, and our customer complains, we have to remake that part at our expense.

How One Client Got a 29 Week Head Start on Production

Another example showing the value of 3D printed fixtures can be found in a recent project for a customer. One of our manufacturing engineers has been helping them set up a new production line. The tooling provider offered a 30 week lead time on one of the tools he specified. Instead of waiting 30 weeks for that tool, our engineer used the client's CAD data to 3D print some essential parts of the tool, allowing him to run a few hundred pre-production parts for testing. The 3D printed tools were designed and installed within 4 days, before the tool maker could even provide preliminary tooling designs.

Is Tooling Development Constraining Your Resources?

We would love to help you overcome this challenge and save money by creating efficiency in your manufacturing process. Tell us about your tooling needs, so we can help you conserve precious time and resources.