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These soft jaws were 3D printed with FDM® Nylon-CF10, a composite nylon polymer.
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Why You Should Consider 3D Printing Soft Jaws Instead of Machining Them

Rob Levesque Senior Marketing Content Manager
Robert Levesque June 20, 2023
June 20, 2023

Why You Should Consider 3D Printing Soft Jaws Instead of Machining Them

Operating a machine shop is not an easy task. Client order changes, machine breakdown, lack of skilled labor, and supply chain disruption are all threats to meeting schedules and staying on budget. One option to alleviate machine and labor supply constraints is to offload non-value-added jobs like fixture-making to additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing.

How is that possible? For those unfamiliar with what 3D printing involves, we’ll briefly explain what it is and how this technology can help innovate processes, and get to market faster.

What is 3D printing?

Individuals who work in industrial machining may not be familiar with 3D printing simply because their focus is machining and the tools and processes that support it. But rather than spend the time here to explain what 3D printing entails, check out this helpful 3D printing FAQ which briefly explains the process and its benefits.

 

Why should traditional metal holding fixtures be replaced with 3D printed soft jaws?

First, let’s be clear that traditional metal fixtures are not going away. They’re still more appropriate when the workpiece can be adequately fixtured with straight clamps and off-the-shelf tools. But where 3D printed CNC fixtures shine is for machining irregular shapes that need custom fixturing to hold the part. That’s typically the application for soft jaws.

You might be thinking that machined soft jaws work just fine. But the process of making them can be a resource constraint – it requires design time, CNC programming, and machining time. Machining them also uses tooling resources that could otherwise be used for value-added production. 3D printing eliminates the CNC programming time and replaces machining with a hands-off process that frees up in-house CNC resources. You can 3D print the tool overnight and have it ready the next day.

How Can 3D printing make an effective CNC fixture – it’s not metal?

The answer lies with composite thermoplastics, which offer high strength and can substitute metal in specific applications. Composite materials are a combination of durable thermoplastics and carbon fiber reinforcement. The addition of carbon fiber results in a material much stiffer and stronger than just the base polymer.

Replacing metal with plastic may be a paradigm shift, but it’s not a new idea. The automotive and aerospace industries have used polymers instead of metal for a long time, reaping the benefits of better manufacturability and lighter weight.


What’s the bottom line – why should you switch?

For the right application, 3D printed CNC fixtures like soft jaws save time and money. They free up internal human and machine resources. They add breathing space to your already busy production schedule, allowing you to focus on meeting that schedule and potentially make room for additional customers.



Which 3D printers can make soft jaws?

As mentioned, carbon-filled composite materials are best suited for soft jaws. Printers capable of using these materials include the F123CR composite-ready printers, the Fortus 450mc, and the F900. However, if you’re new to 3D printing or don’t have composite-capable printers, consider printing your soft jaws through Stratasys Direct Manufacturing. It’s a great way to validate whether 3D printed soft jaws are a good fit for your operation.

In our next post, we’ll highlight a customer and their sucecss after adapting to 3D printed soft jaws and the results it’s produced for their operations.

Learn More in the Webinar

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