Additive Manufacturing Tooling - Why 3D Printing Technology is Ideal for Jigs, Tools & Fixtures?
Updated: Mar 27
Additive Manufacturing (AM, also known as 3D Printing) originally started as a method for rapid prototyping, providing the benefits of speed and flexibility to the early stages of product development, while leaving most elements of production to traditional manufacturing methods (like CNC or injection molding). Over the years, new 3D printable materials, printers, and processes, were introduced to market. These significantly enhanced the mechanical properties and quality of 3D printed parts but also allowed a more affordable price per part. Subsequently, we have witnessed the diffusion of the use of 3D Printing beyond prototyping to advanced phases in product development like New Product Introduction and even end-use parts production, across different industries (like Aerospace, Machinery, Automotive, and more).
Nonetheless, a vast majority of discrete manufacturers are hesitant to utilize 3D printing for their end-use parts for obvious reasons; it requires high expertise which does not always exist in their companies (and is expensive to outsource). It also requires the implementation of a structured process that allows iterations in the design and testing of the 3D-printed parts to assure optimization.
Luckily enough, production does not concern only end-use parts, and recent research of the most common industrial uses of 3D printing reveals that tooling has become a very prominent application for AM. This is thanks to the many advantages that AM holds, such as short lead-time, high customization, and significant cost reduction – which make AM ideal for producing tools, jigs, and fixtures.
Additive Manufacturing for General Industry and Tooling Market is Expected to Reach $5.48 Billion in 2029
Tooling with traditional manufacturing or 3d printing?
Jigs and fixtures are components used to aid in the machining, positioning, and assembly of parts in large-scale productions, and to provide an accurate and repeatable manufacturing process. Tools, jigs, and fixtures can be fabricated from various materials, metals, and plastics. Tooling is vital for optimizing manufacturing processes and producing high-quality parts, as it increases the productivity and efficiency of production while reducing human errors and lowering production times.
The production of jigs and fixtures requires high levels of customization and precision, hence it is usually a very time-consuming, expensive, and technically challenging process, which normally results in long design and production cycles. Industrial 3D printing can help manufacturers to produce their tooling equipment more efficiently. More and more companies have already recognized the advantages of 3D printing as a method to fabricate tooling equipment, due to the technology’s ability to produce low-volume, complex and customized equipment on demand.
Several key benefits of Additive Manufacturing for tooling include:
Shortening lead times
According to Deloitte Insights, the speed of production of 3d printed parts is usually much faster than the production of the same part in traditional methods, even up to 90 percent. One of the key reasons for this is that tooling production via traditional manufacturing involves many lengthy processing steps, which can sometimes take even weeks, while AM demands less machining steps and something does not require machining at all. AM’s benefit of speed also makes it ideal for producing numerous iterations and making changes in the design of the part, enabling to facilitate flexibility and innovation. The increase in productivity leads to a dramatic reduction in production cycle times.
The ability to perform quick turnarounds in design allows major cost savings, especially at low production volumes. Reducing the associated costs makes it possible for companies to modify and update their tooling more frequently and helps companies to meet the demands of product design cycles. Additive Manufacturing also reduces the material scrap rate, allowing manufacturers to save costs on the material. Additionally, the automated process improves product yield, and eliminates human error throughout the assembly, and reduces labor inputs, compared to traditional manufacturing methods.
Volkswagen Autoeuropa reached cost savings of 98% and lead time savings of 89% with AM when they managed to print their wheel protection jig for €21 per part instead of €800, in just ten days as opposed to 56 days previously.
Improvements in functionality and quality
Additive Manufacturing enables the production of more complex designs that would be difficult or impossible to produce with traditional manufacturing. It enables more frequent changes and replacements so it improves the components’ designs and functionality. Production via AM can even yield higher quality tools with longer part life, due to more homogeneous heat transfers which provide better cooling characteristics, and less tool deformation. Higher-quality parts decrease the rejection rate and also lowers unit costs. AM creates opportunities for Part Consolidation, which can optimize the functionality of the tool and eliminate the need for assembly.
Exco Engineering improved the quality of their tools and printed long-lasting die inserts that have lasted for more than 150,000 cycles.
3D printing for tools, jigs, and fixtures allows manufacturers to produce a customized design that is adjusted exactly to the part’s performance, and to improve the aids’ safety and ergonomics. Tools fabricated with Additive Manufacturing are lightweight and can be tailor made for the specific application and even for the specific user (which is especially useful for medical devices).
As 3D printing technologies continue to develop and improve, the use of AM for tooling continues to increase. Additive Manufacturing for tooling increases companies’ ability to innovate, customize their products and quickly re-iterate for faster product development cycles, and it is likely to impact supply chains and products even more in the future.
From shortening lead times and reducing costs to improving functionality and ergonomics, the advantages of AM for tooling affect the whole product development process. However, there are still some challenges that remain to exist, such as the demand for more usable materials, the requirement to produce bigger tools, and the knowledge and skills needed in AM design.
AM for tooling provides great opportunities for lead time and cost reduction, particularly in cases of low volume-high complex parts, when redesigning can improve the component’s functionality, and in cases with significant potential of weight reduction. Companies who aim to optimize their supply chain and increase the productivity of their manufacturing processes should identify these opportunities and use the advantages of AM for tooling.
Identify opportunities for cost, lead time and weight reduction with CASTOR
CASTOR is a decision support software that conducts a technical and economic analysis, informs manufacturers when it is beneficial to use 3D printing instead of traditional manufacturing methods, and provides feedback on each part. It recommends suitable technology and material for 3D printing, estimates the cost and lead-time for each part, and connects the manufacturer to a service bureau that can print and supply the part according to the requirements.
CASTOR's easy-to-customize software recommendation, helps engineers to unlock the full benefits of industrial 3D printing and helps them focus on the right parts that can make a difference.