How 3D Printed Tools and Fixtures are Revolutionizing Manufacturing?

Published on : 29 July, 2022

Custom jigs and fixtures are considered one of the most promising implementations for enhancing manufacturing productivity, operator satisfaction, and safety. However, the pressure to deliver new products faster while reducing the cost to increase margin has prevented their adoption in certain areas, despite their obvious benefits. Whether it's jigs, fixtures or grips, tooling remains a vital part of the manufacturing process. Regardless of the complexity of your products, the productivity and efficiency of your production depend on the availability of high-quality tooling aids, which often represent a significant cost.

Over the last few years, there has been a radical shift in how these tooling aids are produced: from Tesla to Boeing, NASA and more, leading manufacturers have seen the benefits of 3D printing as a means of tooling fabrication. Recent advances in 3D printing have, however, reduced the cost of durable tooling drastically while accelerating the time to market for new products. More than ever, we’re seeing customers look to Markforged machines to 3D print strong, accurate, durable tooling suitable for their production environment.

3D Printed Tooling & Fixtures: A Powerful Solution For The Production Floor

On the production floor, jigs and fixtures play a pivotal role in the manufacturing line. Traditional manufacturing methods require jigs and fixtures to be CNC machined or manually welded and assembled. This process can take days (or weeks if outsourced), not least because machining parts requires intensive planning and skilled machine operators. Unsurprisingly, using traditional manufacturing methods results in long lead times and high production costs and offers little flexibility in new design changes.

With fast and near labour-free production, 3D printing (aka additive manufacturing) offers a powerful solution for producing jigs and fixtures. 3D printing manufacturing aids can reduce lead times, provide cost savings, improve performance and add efficiencies to the production floor.

Earlier additive manufacturing was almost entirely limited to prototyping until Markforged introduced the ability to print continuous fiber composites and low-cost MIM-based (ADAM) metal printing. Manufacturers now have a viable technology to solve their expensive tooling problem. The biggest barrier to implementation? Education. Markforged is working to educate the manufacturing community on the benefits associated with functional 3D printed tooling. As a result, the manufacturing landscape is beginning to take notice.

3D Printed Tooling & Fixtures

Download the whitepaper to read three practical applications for 3D printed tooling and fixtures and how they shorten lead times, reduce material costs, and increase machine bandwidth.

3D Printed Jigs and Fixtures in Action

Many manufacturers are already using the economic and productivity benefits of 3D printing for tooling production to their advantage.

  • Dixon Valve

Dixon Valve, for example, has utilized Markforged printers to create both metal and composite gripper jaws. The company needed jaws that would be strong enough to withstand the physical and chemical rigours of a manufacturing environment. They also needed a cost-effective solution that would cut down the number of time engineers spent making tools. The composite jaws enabled engineers to retool a robotic arm in less than 24 hours, while the metal jaws were able to hold abrasive parts without wearing them out.

  • Centerline Engineered Solutions (CES)

Phil Vickery, President at CES, viewed 3D printing as a method to make looks-like prototypes but was excited to push the boundaries of a 3D printer's place in the machine shop. He found the perfect project to test its strengths within a month of purchasing the Mark Two. A customer needed two of a relatively simple formed part, and the cost that they were willing to pay for the parts was far below that of the press brake tooling required to fabricate them. To save the prospective job, Phil decided to try printing the forming fixtures. Not only did the printed tooling not break, but it also reached customer-forming depth specifications.

Printing tooling using a Markforged 3D printer has allowed Phil to accept and complete more jobs profitably, improving his relationships with customers without affecting his bottom line.

Want to learn more about the Centerline Story? Check out this Case Study.

Cost Benefits of 3D Printed Tooling

We are seeing manufacturers able to 3D print anywhere from 10-50% of their durable tooling used in their process. This represents a significant value when factoring in that the average cost savings of a 3D printed part vs. a machined part are 80%! Oftentimes, the more important factor is that these printed parts are delivered 85% faster than before. Then there is a whole list of secondary benefits which positively impact the business as well, such as line changeover efficiency, line optimization design cycle time reduction, reduced scrap rate, increased throughput, and even ergonomic benefits for the operators. You can begin to see that the total value at stake by adopting 3D printed tooling on the factory floor starts to impact the bottom line. This revolution has already begun – are you being left behind?

Learn more about how businesses are utilizing Markforged printers for manufacturing purposes in our applications section.

Request a sample part to test the strength of our materials.

Download the Free Report on How COVID-19 has Impacted Supply Chains

Gain key insights including: COVID-19 pandemic impact on business. 3D printing use during the health pandemic. Challenges facing manufacturers using incumbent technology. Future plans for investing in additive manufacturing. And more...

Get the report