For Mark Bashor, manufacturing engineer at GoEngineer, 3D printing used to be just a bullet point from a manufacturing technology class. He came to appreciate how easy it could make the development of jigs and fixtures after a stint as a part-time junior manufacturing engineer at a company that made aircraft landing gear and other hydraulic actuation components.
At that job, Bashor arranged the assembly cells, created detailed work instructions, and designed small tools, jigs, and fixtures; basically “manufacturing aides” that couldn’t be bought from a local industrial supply house.
While many of these tools were simple, the process to get them out on the assembly floor and into the work instruction (final step) was difficult and “painful.” Says Bashor, “I still have nightmares about it to this day.”
The previous way Bashor had to develop tooling involved the following steps:
- Generate a tool ID
- Create a detail drawing of the tool
- Create a bill of materials (BOM) for any necessary purchase items
It often took one to two hours to perform the necessary Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerances (GD&T) for the finished tool drawing and BOM like the one shown in Figure 2, to have ready for approvals.
The first step in the officially documented process was to design a tool that could perform the needed task and yet was simple to manufacture with basic machine tools. A tool like Figure 1 is a typical example. Most simple tools take 15-30 minutes before everything was up in CAD and the design was ready to be locked down.
Once the completed drawing is submitted to document control, it could take a week or more until the document made the rounds of review and approvals, was officially uploaded to the database, and released for manufacturing.
With an approved drawing in hand, Bashor would forward the BOM to procurement, so they could order the needed items, which would arrive two to three days later.
The last obstacle to overcome was the production schedule. During busy times, such as near the end of month, things like manufacturing aids were seen as a distraction to meet challenging production goals.
As such, it was not uncommon to hear: “I’ve got 3 days left to hit my numbers for the month so how about I get to that first thing next week?” Thus, one week was the general best case for in-house machining lead-time.
From start to finish, it was usually three weeks or more from initial design to final manufacturing aid. Creating each of the hundreds of aids used each day was a project instead of a simple task.
Bashor has worked with 3D printing for about five years now and his perspective has changed. Most of the manufacturing aides he can design in a day and print overnight. They are ready for use in production the following day with little to no disruption of other busy departments. “It’s hard to quantify, but 3D printing literally shaves hundreds of dollars out of each tools’ cost and most importantly saves time.”
To Bashor, the benefits include:
- Time & cost savings
- 40 – 90% lead time reduction
- 70 – 95% cost reduction
- Streamlined, efficient process
- Eliminate detailed drawings
- Minimize PO & payment requirements
- Task, not a project
- Digital inventory
- Reduction in storage space
- Quick replacement or revision
- Simple duplication
Additionally, Bashor finds benefits that he can’t directly compare. One example is increased tool complexity. Since there is little to no penalty for complexity, he can print virtually any tool geometries he can design without driving up the cost.
Also, due to the robust properties of the engineering grade thermoplastics like Ultem and carbon filled Nylon12, he can build tools that are lighter, easier to handle, and safer to use than traditionally manufactured metal tools.
Said Bashor, “If you are not currently using 3D printed jigs and fixtures throughout your manufacturing operation, I encourage you to try and see if you can find any good candidates. When it comes to helping you find the tools to streamline your business, you should take a good hard look at 3D printing.”