Absolute Solutions was recently asked by an automotive company to design some inspection fixtures for some formed steel sheet components. These parts were almost impossible to manufacture with standard toolroom methods and due to the complex profiles, the inspection department were also a bit worried about how they were going to check them accurately and efficiently.

At the start of each shift, the metrology department scanned and checked the “first-off” parts produced on the production line using the laser scanner at the start and the middle of each shift. This was not only time consuming but also delayed the start of production. In fact this inspection process was delaying each shift by a minimum of 18 minutes, which added expense to each component.

We assessed several of the parts the the company was experiancing problems with and the team eventually turned to the additive technology, fused deposition modelling (FDM) 3D printing. Using the CAD data of the parts, we designed the inspection fixtures around the complex shapes and then got them printed using a very high quality 3D printer, which could print at the tight tolerances required. The FDM materials used were the latest tough, wear-resistant thermoplastics and hardened metal inserts were used for locating pins. The customer saw potential in using this method to produce inspection fixtures and agreed to supply an initial job lot of fixtures.

These inspection fixtures not only drastically reduced the down time at the beginning of the shift but after a short training period the employees/operators checked the parts themselves and signed them off, removing the 18 minutes downtime and reducing the demand on the quality assurance department.