Tooling Becomes the Critical Path at Medtronic
As a global leader in the medical device industry, Medtronic’s core mission is to transform healthcare through innovation. Central to that is its ability to streamline the production process and get products to market faster. At Medtronic’s Restorative Therapy Group (RTG) division, in Warsaw, Indiana, 3D printed gages, jigs and fixtures are the silent heroes that keep manufacturing running smoothly. They support multiple CNC & other machine platforms in a 24/7 production environment. Since the manufacturing areas are arranged as production cells, the modularity of the designs fit each individual cell’s needs.
They are also helping in metrology, quality control, assembly, laser etch and even maintenance. 3D printed items are used to hold, position, protect, organize and assemble at all stages of the manufacturing process. While 3D printing jigs and fixtures saves significant dollars and time verses machining, the financial impact comes from maintaining continuous flow of the production line. Richard Booth, a senior design engineer for gages, fixtures and jigs for over 17 years at Medtronic’s RTG division emphasizes, “Time is everything. With 3D printing, if an engineering request comes through and a jig needs to be changed for production to continue, it can be designed, printed, and ready within hours or days vs. two to three weeks with our internal machine shop or six to eight weeks with an outside vendor, at a significant savings.”
Accelerates Time to Market
Unlimited Design Freedom and Precision
To manufacture jigs, fixtures, and gages, Medtronic has turned to FDM® (fused deposition modeling) printers because they provide the freedom to design lightweight, complex, ergonomic shapes that make manufacturing more efficient. Employing industrial-strength thermoplastics means reliable manufacturing aids for product assembly, including alignment tools, part identification gages, and holding devices, all designed to stand up to the rigor of a harsh production environment while meeting medical industry standards. Printed to precise specifications, they are a perfect fit for the job. “Traditional manufacturing methods cannot deliver the shapes or the level of precision needed,” according to Booth. FDM can hold tight tolerances in complex geometry and can build much faster and more repeatable than traditional machining. This is very important when duplicate fixtures and gages are needed. FDM can also produce features that are not possible to create by any other means.
Now, with unlimited design freedom and the speed with which 3D printing can produce parts, designs of all shapes and sizes can be optimized Unlimited Design Freedom and Precision — whatever their complexity — through several iterations on demand, with ease. “Best of all,” according to Booth, “Complex geometries can be produced at no additional cost, whereas with machined jigs and fixtures we were often limited due to the high cost of production. For example, an FDM fixture that costs $1,000 to build internally could potentially cost $20,000 when machined on the outside. On average, we estimate FDM parts cost 80% less to produce when compared to machined parts. Over a four-year period we estimated a $6 million savings versus what would have been spent if we had contracted the parts to an outside machine shop.”