MakerBot Stories | Fixtures for Our Factory — and Yours

The section of the MakerBot factory where the MakerBot Replicator Z18 gets made didn’t get much overhead light. So fluorescent tubes were hung above each workstation. The assembly-line workers weren’t used to the brightness, however, and some switched them off.

Scott Hraska, manufacturing engineering manager at the Brooklyn factory, knew that good lighting improves worker safety, productivity, and quality control. So he asked an intern to design a rectangular cap to cover the light switch; there are two holes for zip ties to fasten it to the workstation frame.

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“That’s all it does,” Hraska says of the light switch cover. “But that’s something you can’t buy — and it works really well.”

Factories need lots of things you can’t buy: custom jigs and fixtures that hold parts in place as products are assembled. And all of these fixtures can combine to make your product better and everyone happier: assembly-line workers; cost-conscious executives; customers who tell their colleagues about their experience with your product.

Ordering a custom aluminum fixture can take $10,000 and two or three weeks to get it machined, plus a thorough review and approval process. With a MakerBot Replicator, a company can leverage the 3D modeling knowledge of its engineering team to transform its manufacturing process, becoming more nimble and innovative.

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That’s what MakerBot does in its factory. To set up production lines for the fifth generation of MakerBot Replicator 3D printers, creating jigs and fixtures on earlier models saved “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” says Diana Pincus, MakerBot’s plant manager. “Without the Replicator 2 and 2X, we’d still have been able to start the line, but it would have been more costly, less efficient, and a lot more stress.”

3D printers can also create shapes that are too complex to machine. Testing an idea requires a few hours and a few dollars in filament, not a series of meetings to justify a $10,000 expense. For situations that require something more durable than extruded plastic, a 3D printed prototype will help perfect the fixture before a machine shop produces it.

Creating fixtures on a MakerBot Replicator, Pincus says, “is all leading to the goal of world-class manufacturing.” It supports MakerBot’s commitment to lean manufacturing methodologies like 5S, kaizen, and kanban.

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It also makes it easier to incorporate employees’ suggestions on how to improve the manufacturing process. At one station, Hraska pointed out a cup that holds screws that a worker had asked for: “Make it in two hours, and the guy is your best friend,” he says.

Before coming to MakerBot, Hraska never worked with a 3D printer before. “Once I realized I could make things, the biggest limitation was the size of the printer,” Hraska says. “And now we have the Z18.” For fixtures that require specialized materials or dissolvable supports, the MakerBot factory has a Fortus 900mc.

Most fixtures, however, can be made on a MakerBot Replicator, like the Raspberry Pi case designed by manufacturing process engineer Sydney Dahl. The case, which also houses a 2.8″ screen, allows MakerBot to replace a $500 tablet with a $100 custom computer.

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This Raspberry Pi case is one of nine things used at the MakerBot factory now collected on Thingiverse. It also includes holsters for drills and barcode scanners, and other attachments to 80/20 and Bosch Rexroth workstation frames. The possibilities are limitless; MakerBot also makes fixtures for wayfinding systems.

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Let MakerBot help you find your way to better manufacturing.