Design custom 3D printed fixtures in under 20 minutes without CAD complexity

author avatar

12 Jun, 2024

Credit: trinckle

Credit: trinckle

Fixture design in CAD software is time-consuming – even for experienced engineers. fixturemate is an intuitive web-based software that allows anyone to design fixtures fast, whether you're familiar with CAD or not.

3D printed fixtures play a key role in agile production workflows, but designing them can eat up valuable time and resources.

Additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) is invaluable for executing agile production workflows, which are based on the ability to adapt to changing customer demands and new product designs. 3D printing has proven useful not only for creating small-batch end-use parts but also for enabling established production workflows to be supported by fixtures and other manufacturing aids customized to specific products.

However, while additive technologies have allowed manufacturers to streamline the production of bespoke fixtures, designing these fixtures has proven to be something of a bottleneck, requiring an in-house expert in CAD design to dedicate hours to designing these vital components. Fortunately, advances in design software tools are facilitating the design process and enabling CAD designers and engineers to design optimized fixtures and production aids more rapidly, freeing up time to focus on challenging design tasks.

The power of design automation

trinckle is one of the software companies addressing the challenges of agile production through design automation. The German-based company was founded in 2013 with the goal of automating design processes as far as possible to leverage the full potential of f 3D printing for product development and manufacturing. In the decade since its founding, the company has delivered on this mission, developing a series of software products that support engineering teams or end users by streamlining the AM design process and making it more accessible for those with and without extensive CAD knowledge.

Central to trinckle’s offering is its design automation technology, called paramate, which leverages advanced algorithms to generate designs based on simple inputs (including data sets, 3D assets, or 2D data, which can be adjusted using intuitive tools). The result is a solution that rapidly generates optimized 3D printable designs along with all necessary documentation and analytics. This technology platform can be used to multiple ends, like creating custom orthopedic devices, robotic end-of-arm-tools or—as we’ll see in more detail—fixtures.

fixturemate: Enabling fast custom fixtures for all

To address the growing demand for 3D printed fixtures and production aids across various industries, trinckle has developed a dedicated software tool called fixturemate. fixturemate is a web-based application based on trinckle’s paramate engine that offers a simple and intuitive workflow for designing fixtures that can then be exported as STL files for 3D printing. Notably, fixturemate was developed so that not only can CAD specialists accelerate design turnarounds, but even those without CAD experience can create custom fixture designs in under 20 minutes. 

From a user perspective, the online tool is straightforward, simply requiring users to upload a CAD file for the workpiece and define the fixture’s baseplate (this can be standard or customized). From there, users choose the type of support structure (rectangular, cylindrical, conical, or custom) and adapt it with simple click-and-drag behavior. 

trinckle’s fixturemate application streamlines the design of 3D printed fixtures using design automation.

Next, fixturemate creates a negative of the product geometry in the structure no matter how complex a free-form might be. This step ensures the 3D printed fixture will be the perfect fit for the product in question and is typically a time-consuming exercise in traditional CAD. In the final step before export, users can choose to add features and components to the fixture, including clamps, holes, cutouts, and text labels. 

Ultimately, the software tool turns what was once a largely manual design process into a highly automated generative process that can deliver significant time and cost benefits—particularly for complex part designs. For experienced CAD users and engineers, this frees up substantial time for more complex design projects and allows for greater productivity.

fixturemate applications

The ability to generate custom fixture designs and then 3D print them on demand means that manufacturers can benefit from greater productivity and consistency in their manufacturing workflows while still accommodating design changes on the fly. As any manufacturer will know, fixtures play a critical role in the production environments of virtually all industries—from automotive, to construction, to healthcare—helping to secure workpieces in place while they undergo all types of processing.

fixturemate can be used to design many types of fixtures, including assembly fixtures, machining fixtures, and carrier trays.

To address the versatile needs of these industries and others, fixturemate can be used for myriad production aid applications, including assembly fixtures, inspection fixtures, measuring fixtures, bonding and welding fixtures, machining fixtures, tool organization trays, carrier trays, and more. As mentioned, fixturemate users can also easily integrate common features, like clamps and mountings, into the fixture design to facilitate assembly and integration into existing workflows. Moreover, users can add embossed or debossed text for easier part identification and organization. 

trinckle’s design automation solution is already being used across many industries to streamline production line setups and keep things running smoothly. The company’s customers include key players in the Automotive, Aerospace, Transport, Manufacturing, and Packaging industries.

Automotive case study: Audi Sport 

In the automotive space, trinckle’s fixturemate has become an indispensable tool to German car manufacturer Audi Sport, which relies on the software to design various fixtures at its Böllinger Höfe facility. Audi Sport started using 3D printing in 2012 at the factory, taking advantage of the technology’s agility and design freedom to produce manufacturing aids and tooling to support its automotive production. In 2019, however, as the automotive company was preparing to launch the production of the Audi e-tron GT electric car, it realized it needed a large number of new production fixtures — as many as 200 — in a short amount of time.

While the company had previously designed its fixtures manually in regular CAD software—a process that could take anywhere from two to four hours per part—it now needed a more streamlined process that would enable the rapid design of the necessary fixtures for electric car production. In fixturemate, Audi Sport found the ideal solution to this challenge.

Leveraging the intuitive fixturemate software platform, Audi Sport engineers and trainees were able to design custom fixtures in under 20 minutes and send the designs directly to their in-house 3D printers. This meant that the 200 new fixtures required to get the Audi e-tron GT production up and running were made in record time. 

For example, Audi Sport was able to rapidly iterate a tool with integrated clamp holds for the pre-assembly of the vehicle’s air-conditioning compressors and cooling lines. Not only did this 3D printed fixture ensure all components were aligned during assembly, but it also reduced the need for additional staff in the assembly process, which had previously been needed.

According to Audi Sport, fixturemate enabled it to cut fixture design time from 2-4 hours to 10-20 minutes, while the combination with 3D printing reduced lead times for fixtures from six weeks to 48 hours and reduced fixture part costs by an astonishing 80%.

AUDI Sport relies on hundreds of 3D-printed fixtures created using fixturemate at its Böllinger Höfe facility. Credit: Trinckle/AudiSport

The design automation workflow also increased Audi Sport’s production agility, allowing it to make last-minute changes without having to spend hours redesigning. Moreover, where previously only CAD experts were able to design the fixtures, fixturemate made the design process more accessible to a wider range of users, including trainees and process and production engineers. This meant that experienced CAD users were able to enlist support from other team members for greater design scalability.

With fixturemate, Audi Sport was able to design fixtures in as little as 10 to 20 minutes. This enabled their production team to conserve resources for more complex challenges. Credit: Trinckle/AudiSport

Since fixturemate simply exports a printable STL file, it is also easy to use with existing 3D printing workflows. For instance, at Audi Sport’s Böllinger Höfe facility, the software is used alongside the company’s UltiMaker 3D printers and users can easily export fixture geometries from fixturemate into Cura slicer software, where additional features like infill percentage and layer height can be adjusted. From there, the 3D model is sent to one of Audi Sport’s UltiMaker machines, which creates the fixture layer by layer using Tough PLA, TPU (for fixtures with protective surfaces), ABS, PETG, or another thermoplastic material. If an assembly aid ever fails or needs replacing, it is quick and easy to 3D print a replacement.

fixturemate has empowered CAD experts at Audi Sport to efficiently create in-house fixtures, even for complex part geometries. Credit: Trinckle/AudiSport

Get started with fixturemate

Overall, trinckle’s fixturemate solution offers users an intuitive and highly accessible way to design 3D-printed fixtures. The semi-automated process, which leverages user input to generate optimized fixture geometries, can dramatically speed up lead times for tooling—from weeks to mere days or even hours—and empower a wider range of users to participate in the establishment of agile production chains. 

To learn more about trinckle’s cutting-edge software solution and its many applications, don’t miss the company’s upcoming webinar. on 26th June. 

Ready to design custom fixtures in minutes?

Get a free 15 day trial of fixturemate software. 
Follow the link and use the code 'wevolver'