Assembled with Ease
Solaxis' 3D printed automotive assembly jigs cut weight, improve accuracy and speed assembly.
Jigs used to assemble automotive parts traditionally share two downsides: They can be difficult to maintain and, because they’re made of metal, they’re heavy – up to 150 pounds. For a single worker, that’s too heavy to move easily amid a bustling factory floor.
But as the engineers at Solaxis Ingenious Manufacturing have demonstrated, jigs don’t need to possess any of those negatives. The Bromont, Quebec-based company specializes in 3D printing, 3D scanning, design, prototyping and tooling for clients.
With the help of Fortus 3D printers from Stratasys, the company designs and manufactures jigs for automotive suppliers, among its other work for clients in the aerospace, ground transportation, defense, robotics and manufacturing industries.
Iterations on Demand
One such automotive supplier uses a Solaxis designed jig to assemble high-volume plastic door seals. After developing several iterations of the jig, Solaxis was not only able to produce a 3D printed jig that is more than 100 pounds lighter than a typical jig for this application, but it also slashed the design and manufacturing time by two thirds compared with traditional methods.
Solaxis design engineers continued to refine the door seal assembly jig, producing at least a dozen different design iterations over the last couple of years. The rapid speed at which the designs could be built using Solidworks and Fortus 3D printers was relatively new for their automotive customer. This particular company was used to its own in-house injection molding, and its machine shop with mold and die tooling capability.
“From design to design, we could easily make changes,” says Solaxis President François Guilbault. “It’s not like we had to come back (to the customer) and say, ‘We have to redo your tooling’.”
This agility increases the flexibility of design, enabling Solaxis engineers to integrate minor adjustments, such as the placement of buttons and handles, the addition of chutes and other ergonomic improvements. This also enabled Solaxis to lessen the number of parts in the design, integrating off-the-shelf internal hardware that can be quickly replaced by the customer if a switch or wire breaks.
Depending on the part complexity, engineers can make CAD iterations in just eight to 20 hours, Guilbault says. Solaxis and the customer’s engineers shared files to quickly confirm the design and produce a new jig within days. Unlike a jig produced primarily by an operator using a CNC machine, Fortus 3D printers can run without supervision, with production scheduled at any time of the day or night, and on weekends.
“We shrank the overall design/manufacturing cycle time, which is traditionally 16 to 20 weeks, to three to five weeks,” Guilbault says.
The Solaxis jig measures 34 inches by 22 inches and weighs just 28 pounds, light enough for anyone to pick up and move. Now, every operator is expecting one of these jigs at their workstation.
In addition, by using the Solaxis jig, workers save an average of four seconds per cycle. With 250,000 cycles a year performed by a typical employee assembling the seals, the supplier has saved hundreds of hours in labor time.
“Just that cycle time gain alone justifies the price of the jig,” Guilbault says. “So their ROI is achieved within 12 months.”
Before working with Solaxis, the customer had recurring compliance issues. Deliveries to the OEMs were returned, resulting in substantial time and cost to re-inspect and fix the shipments.
Stratasys 3D printing technology enabled Solaxis to continuously improve the jig, saving the customer production time and money. In turn, the automotive supplier has significantly increased the reliability of the door seals it provides to its OEM customer. With zero compliancy issues the last two years, that means higher profits for the company.
In addition to enabling the development of specialized tooling, production components, and surrogate parts more quickly, Solidworks and Stratasys solutions allow Solaxis to offer innovative approaches that improve both performance and safety.
For example, during the development of a 36 x 24-inch jig with grippers for an automotive production application, Solaxis reduced the weight of the jig by one-fifth, from 150 to 28 pounds. Lightweighting the jig not only improved safety, it also cut four seconds per cycle from the process, a productivity improvement of 15 percent.
“Because we are able to provide customers with substantial productivity gains in a fraction of the time of conventional approaches, we’re realizing dramatic growth,” Guilbault says. “Initially, we did mainly prototypes. Now, our tooling and 3D printed production parts businesses have both grown significantly; each makes up roughly 20 percent of our revenue. We anticipate these services will soon become the core of our business.”