3D PRODUCTION SYSTEMS
Time Required Cost Skill Level
By Wayne Meyers, Stratasys, Inc.
Manufacturing engineering’s daily challenge is to maximize production quantities while maintaining
quality and managing costs. To keep operations at their peak, it relies on manufacturing tools that
include jigs, fixtures, templates and gauges.
The applications for manufacturing tools range from machining operations to final inspection.
They are used to align, assemble, clamp, hold, test and calibrate components and sub-assemblies
(figure 1). Some are simple in form and easy to construct while others have sophisticated designs
that are difficult to produce.
Manufacturing tools are commonly machined or fabricated from metal, wood or plastic. Like
the items that they are used to produce, these tools go through the design, documentation and
production process. For an elaborate or intricate tool, there may be a prototyping, evaluation
and design iteration cycle to produce a jig or fixture that performs as needed. On average,
production of a manufacturing tool takes one to four weeks.
Throughout the manufacturing operation, manufacturing tools are common, and yet, they are
virtually transparent when production is running smoothly. However, when problems arise, their
role becomes obvious. To avoid production halts or product defects, immediate solutions are
needed and new manufacturing tools must be quickly designed, manufactured and deployed.
However, the lead time can prove to be a barrier. So, manufacturing engineering may have to
resort to short-term, stop-gap repairs.
FDM FOR MANUFACTURING TOOLS
Fortus 3D Production Systems with FDM (fused deposition modeling) technology provide
manufacturing engineering a fast and easy alternative for production of manufacturing tools.
Using FDM for direct digital manufacturing (DDM), new tools can be put into service just hours
after the design is complete (figure 2). FDM also offers the advantages of design optimization,
labor reduction and cost reduction.
In contrast to machined manufacturing tools, the FDM process requires fewer steps, fewer
resources and less effort on the part of manufacturing engineering. With direct access to a
Fortus system, the engineer converts the digital design into a production tool. There is no need
for detailed engineering drawings (figure 3), requests for quote, negotiations with the internal
machine shop or oversight of a supplier. The self-serve nature of the work flow makes the
manufacturing engineer more productive and allows immediate response to problems on the
production fl oor.
The manufacturing tools that are produced with FDM are free of design constraints imposed by
traditional manufacturing methods. This promotes better designs that address the functional
needs and ergonomic requirements of the manufacturing, assembly and inspection processes.
Made from tough and durable thermoplastics, the FDM tools will withstand the abuse of the
manufacturing environment. And when it is time to replace a worn or damaged manufacturing
tool, simply call up the digital data and manufacture another one in only a few hours.
There are no process modifications required when producing manufacturing tools with FDM. It
can be a simple substitution for traditional manufacturing methods. The only requirement is that
the jig, fixture, template or gauge is designed in 3D CAD so that an STL file is available.
To maximize the performance and efficiency of a manufacturing tool, consider capitalizing on
the freedom of design that FDM offers. The additive fabrication process eliminates constraints
TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT:
– MaterialiseRapidFit software
– Modular fi xturing system
Figure 1: Assembly is one of many
applications for fixtures. Show here is
an FDM fixture supporting an electro-
Figure 2: A roller arm fixture assists in
assembly. Versus CNC and FDM, there
was a 94 percent cost reduction when
made with FDM:
Estimate using CNC method:
Delivery 3 – 6 weeks
Estimate using FDM system
Delivery 1 – 2 days
Figure 3: FDM eliminates the time-
consuming process of detailing
engineering prints (top). Instead,
a simple work instruction diagram
(bottom) can be used.
imposed by machining and fabrication. This allows manufacturing engineering to design a
manufacturing tool with fewer parts, reduced weight and better balance.
In CAD, create the 3D design of the manufacturing tool. Where the tool makes contact with
a component or sub-assembly, simply use a Boolean subtraction to create perfectly mated
surfaces. Then, offset the surface slightly to avoid interference.
An alternative to manually designing fixture components is Magics RapidFit, a software module
from Materialise.RapidFit, which is discussed in the “Manufacturing Tools: Modular Fixtures”
application guide, automatically creates contact elements from the CAD data of the part that
is held by the tool. This guide also details the construction of modular fixturing systems (fi gure
4), which are ideal for single- or intermittent-use applications.
If the manufacturing tool has tight tolerance specifications, add machine stock to the critical
areas. After construction in the Fortus system, the tool can be milled to design specifi cations.
When designing a manufacturing tool that is made with FDM, try to break free of old design
practices. Instead of designing to satisfy the constraints of the milling, turning or fabrication
process, focus all efforts on designing the tool for the best performance. Make it as complex
and intricate as it needs to be rather than trying to simplify the design to make it practical.
Since FDM is an additive fabrication technology, design complexity will have no impact on time
Following are some design tips to assist in breaking from design traditions:
A manufacturing tool constructed from a Fortus plastic will be lighter than a comparable tool
made of metal or wood. However, further weight reductions are possible. Since the addition
of features does not drive up manufacturing time or cost, remove material from the tool by
adding pockets, channels and holes. Eliminating excess material will reduce worker fatigue
when using a handheld assembly tool. For larger, stationery tools, the weight reduction will
make it easier to move. In either case, reducing the material in the manufacturing tool will
reduce FDM build time and cost.
Manufacturing tools are often constructed in pieces to allow them to be machined or
fabricated. This is unnecessary for an FDM tool. Instead, consolidate all pieces of the tool into
a single part. Part consolidation has many benefits. It will eliminate assembly of the tool, which
decreases labor and time, while eliminating interference issues and improving accuracy. Single-
piece construction also simplifies tool room operations as there are fewer items to inventory,
maintain and track.
Design for Function:
Due to the limitations of fabrication and machining, manufacturing tools would have very
linear designs with geometric shapes. This is no longer necessary. FDM encourages designs
with freeform shapes and flowing lines (figure 5) that can improve the performance of the
manufacturing tool. It also promotes ergonomic designs that improve the productivity of line
Iterate the Design:
The first design does not have to be the final design. The initial version of a sophisticated
manufacturing tool can serve as a functional prototype or bridge-to-production solution. Since
there is little delay and minimal labor required to make subsequent tools, gather performance
data from the first iteration; make design a revision; and produce a better manufacturing tool.
Following the design of the ideal manufacturing tool, export an STL file and import that data
into Insight build preparation software. Standard build parameters may be used. However, for
large or bulky items, consider using sparse fi ll (figure 6) or double dense sparse fill. This build
technique will reduce the volume of material within the part, which reduces weight, build time
All Fortus materials can be used when producing manufacturing tools (figure 7). For material
selection, the primary factors will be the suitability to the mechanical and thermal conditions
under which the manufacturing tool will operate. For example, if strength and rigidity are
required, PC or PC-ABS may be ideal for the application. If temperature and chemical
resistance are needed, PPSF may be the better choice.
Figure 4: Modular fixturing systems are
ideal for intermittent use. Pictured is
an FDM-made modular system (white)
used to support a gas tank while being
Figure 5: FDM manufacturing tools can
have complex designs without driving
up time or cost.
Figure 6: To reduce weight, build time
and cost, consider sparse fill for thick-
Figure 7: All FDM materials are suitable
for manufacturing tools. Pictured is an
ABS fixture for mounting a heat shield.
For complex and intricate manufacturing tools, consider using one of the ABS materials, including
the PC-ABS blend, so that soluble supports can be used. The soluble supports will reduce direct
labor and ensure that support material is completely removed, even from inaccessible features.
Producing manufacturing tools requires no special consideration. Prepare the STL file and build
the tool in the same way as any model or part.
Following the build, the part is taken off of the Fortus system, and the support structures are
removed. In most applications, no other finishing work is required. The manufacturing tool is ready
to be deployed to the manufacturing fl oor (fi gure 8).
If a manufacturing tool is damaged or lost, it can be replaced quickly and with little effort. Simply
access the tool’s design data in CAD, export an STL file and rebuild the jig, fixture or gauge.
Because replacement and duplication is so efficient, consider digital warehousing for
manufacturing tools that are used infrequently. Instead of carrying an inventory in the tool
room, dispose of the tool between uses and rebuild when needed. This new practice will
eliminate warehousing issues such as spending an inordinate amount of time searching for the
Manufacturing tools are vital for the productivity of the manufacturing process and the quality of
the products. Replacing machining and fabrication with FDM makes production of these tools a
simple, flexible, affordable and fast process. Instead of waiting weeks for a manufacturing tool, it
can be ready in a few hours, often with a cost reduction of 50 to 75 percent.
With FDM, the manufacturing tools are constructed faster and made better. The short lead
time allows iteration of a tool’s design. Combined with the freedom of design, manufacturing
engineering can create manufacturing tools that are optimized for performance and
Manufacturing engineers tend to gravitate to FDM when given access to the technology. It
eliminates steps in the process, reduces dependency on others, expedites delivery and increases
productivity. In many cases, this leads to more manufacturing tools on the manufacturing fl oor,
which increases production quantities, product quality and fi nancial gain.
For more information about Fortus systems, materials and applications, call 888.480.3548 or visit www.fortus.com
Figure 8: After removing supports,
manufacturing tools are ready for use.
Cost estimate of part pictured:
Estimate via traditional method:
Cost: $3,000 – $4,000
Delivery 2 – 6 weeks
Estimate using FDM:
Delivery 1 – 2 days
FDM PROCESS DESCRIPTION
Fortus 3D Production Systems
are based on patented Stratasys
FDM (Fused Deposition
Modeling) technology. FDM is
the industry’s leading Additive
Fabrication technology, and the
only one that uses production
grade thermoplastic materials
to build the most durable parts
direct from 3D data. Fortus
systems use the widest range
of advanced materials and
mechanical properties so your
parts can endure high heat,
caustic chemicals, sterilization,
high impact applications.
The FDM process dispenses two
materials—one material to build
the part and another material for
a disposable support structure.
The material is supplied from a
roll of plastic filament on a spool.
To produce a part, the fi lament
is fed into an extrusion head and
heated to a semi-liquid state. The
head then extrudes the material
and deposits it in layers as fi ne as
0.005 inch (0.127 mm) thick.
Unlike some Additive Fabrication
processes, Fortus systems with
FDM technology require no
special facilities or ventilation
and involve no harmful chemicals