How is additive manufacturing used in engineering?

29th September 2022

In this blog post, we take a look at the common applications and uses for additive manufacturing in the engineering sector, discuss the benefits of 3D printing in engineering and how it can benefit businesses. We also compare its merits to traditional manufacturing processes that are often more labour intensive, cost more and are more difficult to maintain. 

Creating jigs, fixtures and workholdings

Jigs, fixtures and workholdings are an integral part of the production process in many manufacturing industries. For example, jigs are often used to hold components in place during manufacturing processes and can also be used to prevent damage to the components or materials being used in the process. There are a number of different workholding devices available which can be used to securely hold a variety of different components in fixed positions during a production process.

  • Tooling aids
  • Measuring and testing equipment
  • Assembly jigs
  • Seating jigs
  • Fixtures: Welding fixtures, CMM fixtures, laser-marking fixtures, etc

Rapid prototyping

Parts made using additive manufacturing are often referred to as “3D printed” or “additively manufactured”. The finished products are normally created using a small computer-controlled machine called a 3D printer which uses special inks to print the part layer by layer until the finished product is complete. Many companies use 3D printing to produce prototypes in order to test the design before committing to large scale production. It is quicker, easier and often less expensive than producing a prototype using the traditional methods of machining and moulding. This process can drastically reduce the time required to develop a new product and make it available to customers more quickly.

Digitalising inventory

Digitalising critical inventory items like fixtures, workholdings and custom tooling means less time searching for parts and more time working on new orders. As well as improving efficiency it can also reduce costs and help to reduce waste by keeping the inventory items in use for longer periods of time and reducing the need to replace them as often. The ‘available on demand’ approach eliminates the need to retain legacy jigs and thus frees up valuable warehouse space that can be used for higher value activities.

Complementing existing processes

While 3D printing can do all of what lathe and moulding can offer, it is more applicable to low-volume production up to 1000s of parts. But, where a 3D printer excels, is in providing the supporting cast; the custom jigs, fixtures and workholdings that make CNC machining go around, as well as preparing for production like metal cutting – with prototyping. Particularly in the metal-working industry, the supporting role that 3D printing can play is huge, and can help on the shop floor and in other processes. Uses include:

  • Drilling guides
  • Sheet metal forming
  • Rubber press tooling
  • Fixtures 
  • Soft jaws
  • Workholdings
  • checking gauges
  • shot blasting masks
  • robotics and automation

To read more and get a thorough list of applications, you can read our 3D printing jigs and fixtures blog post.

“The financial advantages of including FDM technology in the prototype lab are evident. Now we can refine our designs more before we start cutting metal, which is where the dollars start going up exponentially.
Troy McDonald
Senior Engineering Manager, Medtronic

Bottom line benefits

Many of the traditional manufacturing methods are difficult to scale up and down to meet fluctuating demand levels or the rapidly changing landscape of the marketplace. The ability to respond quickly and efficiently to these changes is critical to the survival of many businesses in the manufacturing sector today. Additive manufacturing is more agile, and combined with digitalisation and automation can help companies to respond more quickly and effectively to change while reducing their costs and improving productivity at the same time.

Our case study with Waters shows how Stratasys technology helped them to save time and money in their production.

“Each prototype took around four to five hours to print. We would print overnight, arriving in the morning to assess the prototype and start thinking about any necessary modifications. “Prior to having a 3D printer we’d be looking at well in excess of a week for each one. Furthermore, the cost would have likely been around £300 each, so the savings are considerable."
Haydn Murray
Mechanical Design Engineer at Waters

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