Additive manufacturing (or popularly known as 3D printing) has proven itself to rapidly manufacture strong and functional parts. The technology is changing the way products are being manufactured but alternatively it is also improving the efficiency of traditional manufacturing processes.

To put this in
perspective, all manufacturing factories require the help of production aids to
manufacture and assemble the products. A production aid is any device type of
tool, jig, fixture, or a device used to enhance, optimize, and assist or
speedup the manufacturing or assembly process.

More often than not, production aids are customized to suit the product being manufactured but manufacturing such customized tools in limited quantities is always costly.

Considering the importance of production aids and its limited quantities, 3D printing can be a perfect fit in this scenario. Factories can leverage the capabilities of 3D printing to produce them at reduced costs. 3D printing can hand a powerful tool to organizations to improve its overall plant efficiency.

We’ll first look at the benefits of using 3D printing in creating production aids.

VALUE OF 3D PRINTED
PRODUCTION AIDS

With 3D printing,
production aids can be manufactured rapidly. This starts a chain reaction to also
speed up the pace of production and assembly, thus cutting down the
time-to-market to take your product from factory to customer.

  • Improved
    Plant Efficiency

With faster production
and assembly leading to faster output and delivery, plant efficiency can be
considerably improved.

  • Reduced
    Cost of Production

By improving part
repeatability and accuracy, rejections can be reduced, leading to reduced cost
of production. When manufacturing jigs and fixtures, 3D printing can eliminate
the time needed for iterations before finalizing on the desired jig or fixture.

By using the design freedom capability of 3D printing, innovative and complex fixtures can be designed and printed to improve the production and assembly performance with fewer constraints.

Compared to traditionally manufactured production aids, 3D printed production aids can be more efficient. It can be made from lighter materials but still offer comparable strength and durability. Alternatively, the tools can be topology optimized to reduce weight and material usage.

3D printing offers the
capability to consolidate multiple jigs and fixtures into a single production aid
thus operators are able to perform multiple operations at the same work station
using a same fixture, saving costs, storage, and handling.

As factories are
getting more advanced there is even more impetus on ensuring workers’ safety.
By 3D printing customized safety aid solutions such as safety latches, casings,
locks, and even obsolete safety parts, the workplace safety can be improved.

TYPES OF 3D PRINTED
PRODUCTION AIDS

Let’s take a look at some of the different types of production aids that
can be 3D printed to improve overall plant efficiency.

Jigs & Fixtures

Jigs and fixtures
are customized tools used to hold, guide and control the movement of a workpiece
while other operations are carried out.

Examples of
customizable jigs and fixtures include guides for burr removal, dimensional
accuracy testing, sticker pasting in packaging operations, etc. All can be
manufactured on demand.

Guides

Drill guides are a
commonplace tool on all shop floors. They ensure that holes are drilled in
their intended center and are not deflecting from this position in either
linear or angular terms and are staying within the prescribed tolerance limits.

Marking Tools

In traditional manufacturing a part travels from one work station to the other as different operators perform cutting operations and it is important that the cutting accuracy and repeatability is maintained in all parts. For this, a tool can be 3D printed to perfectly identify the marks to perform accurate cutting operation.

Safety Latches, Casings
and Locks

Apart from making sure
the production is carried out efficiently, the plant also has to ensure the
safety of its workers. For this a plant employs multiple safety tools like
latches, casings, locks and more. These safety tools help minimize on-site
accidents.

Go / No-Go Gauges

Go / No-Go gauges are
used in a manufacturing plants as a testing tool to test weather a finished part
meets the dimensional standards. A Go/No-Go gauge can easily identify any
deflection of the part in terms of its form, shape and dimension. It can
rapidly conform or reject a part according to the fit in the gauge instead of
using other measurement tools like calipers.

Maintenance Parts

Custom quality check and maintenance parts a can be rapidly manufactured.
Simple customizable tools such as stopper tools used to tighten nuts and bolts
can be kept in the individual machine’s toolbox, thus increasing maintenance
efficiency while saving time.

3D PRINTING OF
PRODUCTION AIDS

Production aids can be 3D printed through
various 3D printing technologies. For industrial printing, the commonly used
technologies include Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Selective Laser Melting (SLM),
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) and Binder Jetting.

SLS 3D Printing

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is a
powder-bed fusion technology. It uses a powdered material that is sintered via
a laser to form the object. This technology offers greater design freedom than
some of the other 3D printing technologies. For parts involving complex
designs, SLS can be effectively used.

SLM & DMLS 3D Printing

FDM printing can offer cheaper production
aids, SLA can offer aids with smoother surface finishes while SLS can provide
greater design freedom but all these technologies print only with polymers. For
industrial parts requiring heavy-duty jigs, metal 3D printing is recommended.
Metal 3D printing technologies suitable for production aids include SLM, DMLS and
Binder Jetting.

Selective Laser Melting (SLM), Direct Metal
Laser Sintering (DMLS) are both powder-bed fusion technologies but for metals.
Both of these technologies can be used for small-size precision production
aids.

Binder Jetting

Binder Jetting technology can be used in
case of large parts. This technology also uses powdered metal material but uses
a binder material to fuse the metal particles together. The greatest advantage
of binder jetting is that it can manufacture parts at a fraction of the cost
compared to DMLS/SLM and Material Jetting. Moreover it is suitable for low-to-medium
batch production when multiple tools need to be mass produced for the entire
factory.

CONCLUSION

Factories can leverage 3D printing to create high-quality production tools to improve their plant efficiency. With 3D printing’s wide applicability, range of materials, design freedom and manufacturing flexibility, this technology provides many benefits that should not be overlooked.

Written by

manuboss