At Medtronic’s Restorative Therapy Group (RTG) division, 3D-printed gages, jigs and fixtures are the silent heroes which help manufacturing at RTG operate smoothly. They encourage multiple CNC as well as other machine platforms at a 24/7 environment. And while those devices save substantial dollars and time in contrast to machining, the lasting impact comes from keeping continuous flow of this manufacturing line.
3D printing provides the liberty to look lightweight, complex, and ergonomic gages, jigs and fixtures.
“Time is all,” said Richard Booth, a senior design engineer at Medtronic’s RTG division. “With 3D printing, even if an engineering petition comes through along with a jig needs to be changed for production to continue, it may be designed, printed and prepared within days or hours versus weeks together with our inner system shop or an outside vendor.”
Tooling becomes the critical path into the launching of Medtronic’s revolutionary new products and this is where 3D printing is transformative. The tooling group can be brought in very late to the procedure, with high urgency, to make the needed jigs and fixtures to get production up and running. Together with 3D printing, the team can have the designs intact, printed, and ready to go within one-to-five days.
An additional advantage is that 3D-printed jigs and fixtures can easily be altered or substituted, at minimum or even no excess cost.
“With machined jigs and fixtures, we’re often limited due to the high cost of manufacturing,” Booth said. “An FDM fixture that costs $1,000 to construct could potentially cost $20,000 when machined on the exterior. We estimated $6 million in savings within a four-year interval.”
“The Warsaw Medtronic site has utilized FDM printers to assist many projects achieve faster speed-to-scale reaction times by reducing the process development times and cutting prices.”
Jigs and fixtures don’t change people at Medtronic, but alternatively, make their work easier and more effective. The materials utilized in 3D printing are lighter than steel, reducing the load on employees and improving security. Additionally, unlike solid alloy, FDM jigs and fixtures could be printed using a variable-density infill to further reduce weight.
As a worldwide leader in the medical device business, Medtronic’s core mission is to enhance health care through innovation. Central to that is its capacity to constantly rethink and improve manufacturing, and get products to market faster. 3D printing has become an integral component of this goal.