Manufacturing fixtures have traditionally been machined from metal – but times change. In this blog, our expert 3D printer training UK team outlines the benefits of AM-producing soft jaws, from boosting efficiency to freeing up manpower.


What are soft jaws and why are they important?

Soft jaws are a custom-made manufacturing fixture, designed to secure parts that need more precise handling than a familiar flat-jawed vice can provide. Let’s say you have a one-off component with unusual dimensions: by using CAD/CAM to design bespoke soft jaws, you can create an inverse of that part and ensure an exact fit.

Machined metal fixtures still have their place: when you’re securing a standard component, an off-the-shelf clamp will work just fine. But machining soft jaws the traditional way – usually from steel or aluminium – is a fiddly and time-consuming job that can swallow hours during the design process, swamp your CNC machinery and syphon manpower away from more important tasks. So what’s the solution?


 Creating soft jaws with 3D printing

Once you see the benefits of AM-produced soft jaws, you’ll never look back. With the right 3D printer and materials (see below), all the issues we’ve just described simply disappear. Critically, 3D printing soft jaws eliminates the need for CNC programming time, and as soon as the part starts being produced, there’s nothing more for you to do: you could even 3D print overnight and collect the completed tool in the morning, so keeping your machinery free for other jobs.


What printers and materials should I use for 3D printing soft jaws?

Metal fixtures have been the industry standard for many decades – but the rise of 3D printing has brought with it a raft of innovative new materials whose properties outpace even steel and aluminium. A high-quality composite thermoplastic – that is, a fusion of tough thermoplastic filled with carbon fibre reinforcement – is ideal for AM-produced soft jaws, offering stiffness and strength combined with light weight.

If you’re using composite thermoplastics, you’ll also want a 3D printer to suit – investigate Stratasys models like the Fortus 450mc and 900mc, talk to our sister company Tri-Tech 3D for more options, or enlist the experts at 3D Print Bureau to third-party-produce custom soft jaws on your behalf.

At 3D Print Academy, we show some of the UK’s most ambitious designers, developers and operators how to upskill and gain an edge. Boasting next-generation facilities, industry-renowned trainers and a complete programme of AM courses from FDM 3D printer training to Polyjet 3D printer training, we’re proud to be the first Authorised Stratasys Training Centre in the UK.


Grow your skillset today with the best 3D printer training in the UK, contact our team to find out more.

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