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Saving Shop Time with 3D Printed Tools: The Value of 3D Printed Fixtures, Jigs, and More

Oftentimes, it’s not the manufacturing of a component itself that ends up being the most difficult in the fabrication process, but the creation of the fixtures to hold the workpieces. For example, pipe bending is a common process for creating anything from a Formula SAE chassis to furniture. The problem in cases like these is fixturing: standard clamps and vise jaws are rectangular and will compress the pipes if used without a fixture. These clamps will only provide two points of contact with the pipe, making the bend difficult and messy. Without a large pipe bending setup already, this process can be incredibly tricky. Not only is there a danger that the pipes may be scratched by the tooling, but a custom setupis required to get the right combination of angles. Fabricating your own custom fixtures on a mill is feasible, but not cost effective – additionally, extra steps are necessary to ensure the fixture will be non-marring.

This is one of many situations in which the material properties of Markforged come in handy: parts printed in Tough Nylon, reinforced with any of our fibers, can be used for tough, non-marring fixtures for manufacturing and assembly. Keith Durand, PhD and Senior Mechanical Engineer at Markforged, used this to his advantage when designing and building his own french horn.

‍A 3D printed fixture in use as a tool to assist in the fabrication of a french horn.

The unique material capabilities allowed Keith to make a set of cost effective, customized, and creative fixtures so that he could easily create his horn. Had he gotten these parts machined out of Nylon, it would have cost $521.71, while printing them in house was over an order of magnitude cheaper, at $42.12. From fiber-reinforced cheater-bars to clamping profiles for bending the brass pipe of the french horn, the material strength of the parts our printers output is sustainable in fabrication and shop environments.

‍A 3D printed cheater bar to help get the perfect angle bend of a brass pipe.

While fixtures, jigs, and soft jaws are often not really considered until after the design process is finished, these fabrication tools are sometimes some of the hardest to make themselves. A tricky soft jaw to hold a complex part for a drilling operation may take hours longer to manufacture via a CNC or manual machine than the operation itself, and will take precious bandwidth away from the CNC machine for just a one-off part. This is where the Mark Two can really shine: as a complementary addition to a machine shop. Many operations end up being cumbersome, and machinists will either just deal with it or have to machine yet another component to assist them. With the Mark Two, strong, non-marring 3D printed tools can come to the aid of machinists to simplify the fabrication process, thus saving shops money and machine time.

For more on Keith’s french horn fabrication, read here!

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