Often when we hear about 3D printing, we hear about recent headlines such as; Defence Distributed or the amazing advances in medical design. Such as the National Health Service (NHS) incorporating rapid prototyping into their routines for carrying our complex surgical procedures and planning the operation using accurate parts produced from CT scans:
At present in the UK, productivity is a ongoing issue for industry. Companies are constantly looking for new methods to increase productivity and reduce their bottom line. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the “productivity puzzle” has been an issue for years. So how do we tackle that? We shouldn’t be working harder, but smarter.
Tools are always required for manufacturing, where certain jigs, fixtures, templates and gauges can significantly improve the process. Delivering repeatable parts to a high standard, while lowering the associated production time and labour costs. Most companies aren’t convinced with 3D Printing as a primary application, however it can provide a useful tool in supporting the manufacturing process whilst also keeping costs down.
Most jigs are currently produced using traditional subtractive methods such as CNC milling & turning. These methods are often wasteful, as up to 85% of material is removed in the process, where rapid prototyping only uses the required material (often less if parts have a defined infill for example). These subtractive processes have high operating costs, with operators short in demand with high contractor rates.
Fixtures and jigs are an essential part of any production line. Whether it be used to hold, position, protect and organise at all stages of the manufacturing process.
Nick Jones from Solid Solutions wrote an article for SolidWorks describing his own frustrating experience for getting a watch repaired. After numerous failed attempts to remove the back from watch makers, he was almost forced into sending the watch back to the manufacturer for repair. Nick resolved the problem using a simple jig assembly which enabled him to safely remove the back and repair the watch to a professional standard.
The automotive industry is currently benefiting the most from the use 3D printed jigs and fixtures. Companies like Audi, BMW, Honda and Volvo are incorporated these types of parts into their production lines, mainly used to fit & connect components together for assembly. Where as BMW took it a step further in their Munich plant and created bespoke, personalised 3D printed assembly support tools for their employees.
This ergonomic tool; a flexible finger cot which protects workers against repetitive strain injuries (RSI). Each of these finger cots is made specifically for its user, where the worker’s thumb is measured using a 3D scanner and then printed using Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). This innovative orthotic device is used in the assembly area where rubber plugs are fitted into machined holes. These have to be pressed in manually with the thumb and require a certain amount of effort, through the use of this tool it increase productivity, employee comfort and overall happiness. Long term this could potentially reduce short / longterm workplace injuries which can be costly for companies both operationally and legally.
With all the advances of 3D printing and rapid prototyping, the technology is more than accessible to all businesses whether they be blue chip or SME’s. The adoption of the technology can give a competitive advantage and help improve a companies income and productivity.
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