Why You Should Document Fixture and Jig Designs

Assembly Line

The role of fixtures and jigs in the manufacturing process

A successful manufacturing process relies on a manufacturer’s ability to build products in reliable and repeatable ways, so it’s important to make sure that the components used to build and test products are well maintained.

Two important components that assist in building and testing products are fixtures and jigs. Fixtures locate, hold or test a work in progress (WIP) part or assembly during a manufacturing operation, while jigs hold and guide cutting tools in drilling and boring operations. When these components work correctly manufacturers are more easily able to achieve bottom line goals like minimizing production costs, keeping quality consistent and reducing cycle times.

While fixtures and jigs are fundamental parts of a successful manufacturing process, many manufacturers don’t keep solid design records for these components—which is a problem when it’s time to replicate or replace a fixture or jig. In this article we explain why it’s important to capture and document your fixture and jig design information, and offer some tips for documenting fixture and jig design data.

Document and manage engineering changes using the ECO templates. When you need to make modifications to a component, you can capture change information in these templates and get it to the stakeholders who need to review and or approve.

Why you should document jig & fixture designs

You should always document your fixture designs, because you never know when you will need to replicate or replace them.

There are a number of reasons why you may need to replicate your fixtures and jigs. You may want to change contract manufacturers (CMs), add additional manufacturing lines to support production needs or need to repair a broken fixture or jig. Whatever the circumstance, if you have documented your jigs and fixtures, building a replacement can happen quickly.

Here are some additional benefits of documenting your fixture designs.

Avoid disruption to your supply chain

Although you may currently have a strong and productive relationship with your supplier, there’s always a chance something could cause disruption down the road. Natural disasters, financial problems and other inopportune events can force you to turn to another CM—and when this happens, you’ll want to be equipped to bring a new outsourcing partner on board with ease. This is difficult to do if your supplier has designed the tools used in your manufacturing process and you are unable to replicate them.

As an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), it’s extremely important that the design data lives with you, or that you’ve at least documented the information. To make sure you have the proper documentation of your fixtures and jigs from the beginning, you may want to settle how tooling and fixtures will be handled up front during the OEM-CM contract negotiation process.

Without ownership or documentation, it will be much harder to get access to fixture and tooling design information if you need to break ties with your supplier. In contrast, if you capture tooling and fixture designs from the beginning you can avoid a major disruption to your supply chain, and more easily ramp up a new supplier when needed.

Replicate the manufacturing process with ease

In addition to helping you bring a new supplier up to speed, fixture and tooling design documentation will make your life easier if you need to increase production or migrate to a new factory. An increased demand for product may require you to make some changes—like adding more manufacturing lines, or moving to a larger location. Whether you build in-house or outsource, creating an exact replica of the manufacturing line will take some time, but the process can be expedited when design information for fixtures and tooling has been documented and is readily available.

Fix broken fixtures quickly

It is rare that any device lasts forever, and fixtures and tooling parts are no exception. In many cases a breakage will be entirely unexpected, and you will need to act fast to avoid consequences. Although significant time could pass before your fixtures and jigs need to be repaired or replaced, once components are broken productivity comes to a standstill. To avoid serious delays you’ll need to promptly fix or replace the broken fixture or tooling device.

Without documented tooling design information, quick fixes are impossible—you and/or your suppliers will have to put your reverse engineer skills to work. This is a time consuming and tedious process which requires you to understand the tool’s purpose, and to research, identify and find equivalent replacement parts. With part information and instructions for building a new part, you can replicate fixtures quickly and keep your manufacturing line running smoothly.

These examples highlight the importance of fixture and tooling design documentation. From the initial design all the way through production, it is critical to know what parts are used to build the tool and to understand its purpose on the manufacturing line.

What jig & fixture data should you document?

While it is not necessary to document fixtures quite as rigorously as the products you bring to market, it is helpful to document the following:

  • Engineering requirements
    This information communicates the tool’s purpose and what it must be able to do on the manufacturing line. Be sure to capture key points and any tips that will help a technician understand the tool and execute an efficient rebuild. Try putting yourself in the shoes of the technician who will need to repair the fixture when it breaks two years down the road.

  • Drawings
    When designing a fixture, engineers produce drawings that will be used on the shop floor to help build the fixture or tooling device. There are many types of drawings that support the build process, including assembly drawings, machine drawings and part drawings. By saving any applicable drawings for a tool, you will minimize the time it takes to fix or create more later on.

  • Manufacturer’s part number
    Document the manufacturer’s part number for each part that is used in your fixture or tooling design. This number will come in handy if you don’t have a part in stock or if you can’t get it from your approved vendor. Because the manufacturer’s part number is used consistently across vendors, if you have the number you can search for the part from other sources. For more tips on documenting your parts, read our article “Tips For Finding & Documenting Electronic Components.”

  • Create a BOM
    All the items and components necessary to construct all your fixture and tooling devices can be listed in a bill of materials (BOM). The BOM will provide a snapshot of part details; part names, part numbers, quantities and units of measure. This information will support the build shop and help them understand exactly which parts are needed to build a fixture or tooling device. A BOM allows you to construct these tools quickly when timing is of the essence.

  • Internal part number
    Assign a company part number to the fixture and stamp it with this number. The number will provide you with a quick way to reference the device in the future. If you’ve created a BOM, you can also find all associated fixture parts and product data by using this number. [See our article, “Part Numbering Schemes—Intelligent vs. Non-Intelligent” for more information on part numbering.]

How to document jig & fixture data

Once you have determined what design data to document, the next consideration is how to document it. For many companies documentation takes the form of Excel spreadsheets, network drives or dedicated BOM and change management software like Arena PLM.

Simply listing fixture parts in an Excel spreadsheet is a great place to start—just be sure to list the part name and manufacturer’s part number in separate columns. You’ll have an organized list of the parts used in the fixture design, so if you need to find and replace a part you can do so with ease.

Fixture design drawings are typically sketches captured on paper. Because paper files are easy to misplace and get worn over time you should scan all your hard copy drawings. Capture the engineering requirements your fixture design must meet, along with any helpful notes, in an electronic format like Microsoft Word. Since electronic versions of drawings and engineering requirements can be backed-up on a server, you’ll mitigate the risk of losing information. Plus, typed notes are easier to read and saving files in a consistent file hierarchy will help you locate them quickly.

While spreadsheets and network drives can provide a means to organize data, it is difficult—if not impossible—to keep the data under version control with either of these methods. In addition, the restrictions you may face sharing the information with internal team members and supplier partners can hold you back and slow down your process.

Using BOM and change management software makes it easy to document, manage and control all product data, from fixture and tooling devices to the products you take to market. With part data—part numbers, manufacturer’s numbers, drawings and engineering requirements—stored in a centralized place, you will be better prepared to handle scenarios like fixing a broken fixture or adding another manufacturing line on the shop floor.

Conclusion: Jig & fixture designs are important

Having to create another fixture without any documentation means you’ll have to solve a fixture design puzzle before you can get started. Taking time to understand the design intent, locating the parts used to build the fixture and reverse engineering a fixture hinders productivity on the manufacturing line.

Documenting your fixture designs is just as important as documenting the products you take to market. The engineering requirements, design drawings and manufacturer’s part numbers are important pieces of data to collect and document. Creating a BOM and assigning an internal part number to your manufacturing devices can also help speed up the process to reconstruct or replace a fixture. Using BOM and change management software to document all this information can help you reach your time to market goals and keep your manufacturing lines running smoothly.

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