How do you increase efficiency, throughput and safety? It’s a question that drives all manufacturing, including the medical device industry. One answer is 3D printing.
At Medtronic’s Restorative Therapy Group (RTG) division, 3D-printed gages, jigs and fixtures are the silent heroes that help manufacturing at RTG run smoothly. They support multiple CNC and other machine platforms in a 24/7 environment. They’re also used in metrology, quality control, assembly, laser etch, and even maintenance. And while these devices save significant dollars and time compared to machining, the lasting impact comes from maintaining continuous flow of the production line.
“Time is everything,” said Richard Booth, a senior design engineer at Medtronic’s RTG division. “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 versus weeks with our internal machine shop or an outside vendor.”
Tooling becomes the critical path to the launch of Medtronic’s innovative new products and this is where 3D printing is transformative. The tooling group is often brought in very late to the process, with high urgency, to create the needed jigs and fixtures to get production up and running. With 3D printing, the team can have the designs complete, printed, and ready to go within one-to-five days.
An additional advantage is that 3D-printed jigs and fixtures can easily be modified or tweaked, at minimal or even no extra cost.
“With machined jigs and fixtures, we were often limited due to the high cost of production,” Booth said. “An FDM fixture that costs $1,000 to build internally could potentially cost $20,000 when machined on the outside. We estimated $6 million in savings over a four-year period.”
“The Warsaw Medtronic site has utilized FDM printers to help many projects achieve faster speed-to-scale reaction times by reducing the process development times and cutting costs.”Duane Wilson, Director of Engineer, Medtronic RTG
Jigs and fixtures don’t replace people at Medtronic, but instead, make their work easier and more efficient. The materials used in 3D printing are lighter than metal, reducing the load on workers and improving safety. Also, unlike solid metal, FDM jigs and fixtures can be printed with a variable-density infill to further reduce weight.
As a global leader in the medical device industry, Medtronic’s core mission is to improve health care through innovation. Central to that is its ability to constantly rethink and boost manufacturing, and get products to market faster. 3D printing has become an integral component of that goal.