“Fix” Your Fixtures

Since its infancy, CAD has been a tool for engineers and designers alike. Analogous to going to your tool box and getting something to remove a bolt, you will usually have several options to choose from. Will a ratchet be best for this situation? Maybe a pair of pliers? Each condition and the environment in which the bolt is in will determine the best solution… Sometimes, we just need to reach for the torch and sledge hammer!

This being the case, I thought I’d share a few methods I’ve uncovered over the past 25 years utilizing 3D parametric CAD, specifically to design jigs and fixtures.

Method 1- 3D Printed Parts

Most of us have access to either a 3D printer and/or a 2.5 axis CNC router. These machines are priceless when it comes to taking something that is virtual in SOLIDWORKS and making them in reality. This is by far the most common practice we see today to achieve this. In a few short hours, very precise and custom fixturing can be brought to life with a simple click of a print button. SOLIDWORKS has many features available to assist in creating these very important components. My personal favorites are listed below:

Creating Multibody Part in Preparation

Following the Combine Operation, Offset Surface can be used to adjust the fixture as necessary.

Method 2- Templates

Complex Bend-Steel Tubing

Route Check fixture on CNC.

MDF/Plywood usually works fine. I’ve even used high density foam, and HTPE. Basically, whatever you have available will suffice. Note: Be sure the surface won’t catch fire!!! Wood and red hot steel don’t work well together.

What about those insane junctions on welded frames? Fisheye cuts, not a problem!

Insane Junction

Individual tube derived to generate dxf or full scale drawing

Full Scale drawing

Simply cut this template out with scissors, and wrap around your tube. Trace curves with a Sharpe. Remove material with tool of your choosing. Repeat for back side of tube. Small hash marks can be embossed on the tube to aide in clocking angles in the event one side is rotated relative to the first cut.

Method 3- Purchased Fixturing Systems

My third method is a little heavier on the pocket books, but is a great solution for professional applications. I have firsthand experience using these systems. They can be used early on the design process to fabricate prototypes, and on the backside as a quality control check fixture. You can tear em down….and build them back the same way 2 years later. Think of the possibilities, not to mention the floor space you can save by getting rid of all those versions of fixture templates!

The concept is simple. Create a library of 3D components, that reflect what the shop has available. A precise 3D model of the fixturing table usually provides mounting holes, or a common coordinate system between a scanner, SOLIDWORKS, and the fixturing table in the shop will do the job as well.

You ultimately decide how to get the information from a virtual environment, to a real one. Traditional drawings can be used to locate the items. However, MBD remains top on my list of next generation graphical communication for engineering.

Bluco, the manufacturer of the system I used, is a common option when looking to purchase these types of items.

Bluco Fixturing system


For those of you readers that have additional ideas, I’d love for you to share them. I believe the more creative we think in these respects, the more powerful the technology we have access to will become.

By: Rob Stoklosa • SOLIDWORKS Application Engineer • TPM

TPM, Inc. is the Carolina’s largest 3D CAD provider and a leading technology company proud of its reputation of providing cutting-edge solutions to the engineering and design community for the past 40 years. Founded in 1973, TPM Inc. serves more than 3,000 customers across the Southeast each year. Inspired by our founder, Jerry Cooper, we are committed to offering our clients the best: 3D Design Software, 3D Printing and Scanning Options, Data and Document Management Solutions, Large-Format Graphics, Wide-Format Plotters and Office Equipment, and Reprographics.