Used in metalworking and woodworking, 'jigs' are tools used to control the location or motion of manufacturing tools. The basic idea is that jigs speed processes by offering repeatable, accurate ways to complete various operations.
Think of it like this: A jig is used when a key is duplicated. The target key is essentially used as a jig to make accurate copying of the duplicate key simpler and faster.
European automaker Opel is now using 3D printed assembly tools to efficiently assemble their concept vehicles and a team led by Virtual Simulation Engineer Sascha Holl prints these plastic assembly tools in Rüsselsheim, Germany.
The tools are cheap and fast to produce, and Opel experts say the use of such tools made via 3D printing is a coming trend.
"In the future, more and more 3D assembly tools will be integrated into the production process," Holl said.
In the case of the Adam Rocks, set for a September launch, Opel uses an assembly jig to produce the vehicle name logo on the side window. To complete the vehicle's windshield assembly, a 3D printed inlet guide is used in the mounting process and ensures precise alignment of the part. Opel workers also use 3D printed tools to fasten a chrome step plate on door openings and install the a canvas roof.
Holl says he and his team use some 40 such assembly aids and jigs during their work at Eisenach.
"It enables us to quickly adapt," Holl says. "If something changes on the vehicle, we can easily modify the tool with just a few clicks. The 3D printing process enables us to produce every imaginable form and shape. Unlike conventional manufacturing technology, we don't have to accept any limitations."
The team also uses smaller elements to produce larger tools and jigs which can extend beyond the size limitations of their 3D printers.
Holl says the process of creating the jigs and fixtures involved manually fabricating them using a milled cast and resin. He says the use of 3D printing has reduced the cost of producing the tools by up to 90 percent and adds that the tools are 70 percent lighter.
The tools also undergo ergonomic fine-tuning.
"We can adapt the tools for each assembly situation, as well as make them user-friendly for our colleagues on the line," adds Holl.