Additive Manufacturing 101: Jigs & Fixtures

| The Essentium Team

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3D printing jigs and fixtures

Whatever a company makes on its factory floor, chances are the employees use specialized jigs and fixtures on the assembly line to complete the manufacturing process. Jigs and fixtures represent a tremendous opportunity for additive manufacturing to increase efficiencies and reduce costs on the production floor. But what exactly is a jig, and how does it differ from a fixture?

A jig is a custom-made tool that is used to control the motion and position of another tool or action to help with the assembly of a larger product. Common examples are drill guides and clamps for the milling of holes at precise locations and angles, and routers for perfectly beveled edges.

A fixture is a cradle or platform used to hold parts securely in position during a production or assembly process, and for post-process quality control inspection (go/no-go gauges) to ensure a finished part meets tolerances for final assembly.

Both are required for high quality production in any mass manufacturing environment. Jigs provide the accuracy and repeatability for workers to efficiently produce components that will meet manufacturing standards. Fixtures enable a number of different parts to be made to proper specifications, and ensure consistent quality of every finished piece, reducing costs.

The problem, and the resulting opportunity for 3D printing in manufacturing, is that traditional jigs and fixtures are usually made from machined metals such as aluminum. These are often heavy and expensive tools that require weeks or months of lead time to design, test, tweak and produce, and often are not very ergonomic for the user. A lost or broken tool, or any changes in product design for next year’s model may require extended downtime for replacement or retooling. This is where additive manufacturing can bring a number of advantages to the production floor, including:

  • Faster production and reduced lead times at lower cost. New tools can be prototyped and modified quickly. When a jig or fixture is lost, worn out or broken, replacements can be printed on demand a matter of hours at a fraction of the cost of a machined replacement. Additive manufacturing is an excellent solution for reprinting jigs and fixtures with a limited lifespan or for specialized production runs.
  • Expanded design freedom and customization. An idea for an improvement in design or function to a tool can be implemented quickly. This also allows engineers to design jigs and fixtures with improved ergonomics to increase worker comfort and safety, such as sleeker contours for easier gripping or better control and maneuverability.
  • Significant weight reduction. A number of filaments are available that match the strength of metal pound for pound while producing jigs and fixtures that are up to 70% lighter – great for large fixtures or tools that need to move around the production floor.
  • Tool consolidation. Reduce overall assembly time and steps by printing multiple components as a single piece that could not be merged using traditional tooling machines.
  • CAD-assisted accuracy. 3D printing can produce tools with tolerances measured in thousandths of an inch. That makes it great for producing quality control, testing and inspection fixtures.

In summary, additive manufactured jigs and fixtures are lightweight, produced quickly without waste using minimal labor, are infinitely repeatable, and when made using the proper material, can meet or exceed the functionality of traditional tools machined from metal.

Click here to request a demonstration of how Essentium and the HSE 180S Series, featuring a build size that can fit 85% of global jigs and fixtures, can help bring efficiencies to your factory floor with 3D printed jigs and fixtures.


Essentium, Inc. provides industrial 3D printing solutions that are disrupting traditional manufacturing processes by bringing product strength and production speed together, at scale, with an open ecosystem and material set. Essentium manufactures and delivers innovative industrial 3D printers and materials enabling the world’s top manufacturers to bridge the gap between 3D printing and machining and embrace the future of additive manufacturing.

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