Additive manufacturing used for hydraulic workholding

James Tool Machine & Engineering Inc. uses 3D printing for workholding manufacturing. North Carolina shop uses additive manufacturing to assist in the engineering and building of hydraulic workholding. The company president said the days are numbered for subtractive manufacturing processes (most cutting machine tools).


3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has been incorporated into the engineer and build phases of James Tool workholding devices and other products. A printed model is in the foreground, and the background is a Stratasys Dimension 1200ES machJames Tool designs and manufactures a wide variety of hydraulic workholding devices used in aerospace, automotive, and other high-precision industries. The company, based in Morganton, N.C., recently has installed 3D printing, a form of additive manufacturing, to its Engineer & Build Hydraulic Workholding Division. Because of the continuous custom work done here, it is imperative that the company advances with the technological developments in the design and production of its products. James Tool also offers CNC production machining and nonproduction precision machining to its customers, who comprise major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and suppliers to the aerospace, automotive, off-highway, energy, nuclear, and transportation industries.

According to Jeff Toner, president of James Tool, “We are always watching trends in the manufacturing industry, and we started seeing 3D printing make an impact, some years ago. We waited until the technology had evolved and become more affordable before making our investment.” The first machine was purchased recently and is currently used to support the company’s workholding division as well as help in the estimating of CNC machining opportunities.

CAD to model

Depending on the process and machine, additive manufacturing can make intricate parts that require little or no finishing. Courtesy: James Tool3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing in which material is built up, one layer at a time, to create a 3D solid working model from a CAD file. James Tool engineers believe this technology is substantially changing the way the company can serve its customers. It is referenced as additive manufacturing to distinguish it from the subtractive process of traditional machining, in which metal chips are removed from the surface of a blank workpiece.

James Tool assigned a team to research the current 3D printing technologies in great detail, before making their purchase decision to acquire a Stratasys Dimension 1200ES machine. This machine can run parts with a 10x10x12-in. envelope in an ABS plastic substrate.

Additive manufacturing involves the incremental buildup of material to produce a working model or a finished part, depending on materials, machine, and application. This is a valve. Courtesy: James ToolAs Toner explains, “We were up and running parts within two hours, after the installation and setup. This included the initial calibration on the machine and training from the local technician.” Because James Tool had run 3D imaging in its CAD designs for more than 15 years, the transition to 3D printing was practically seamless.

Jeff Toner noted that, while the interaction between James Tool and its customers has not changed substantially, it is quite helpful to have an actual part generated through the 3D printing process before engineering and quoting begin. He sees this new capability as a positive extension of the existing customer service process.

Manufacturing revolution

This is a 3D-printed control panel cover. Courtesy: James ToolPeering into the crystal ball for a moment, Jeff Toner also noted that he sees additive manufacturing as a “game changer” for the machining world. “The day is not far off when subtractive machining will be obsolete and parts will be printed rather than machined using conventional methods.” He plans for his company to become a leader in the additive and other advanced technology arenas. “The future of 3D manufacturing is really limitless, as anybody can now order a desktop 3D printer for their business or home office and have a 3D prototype part in less than a few hours. I expect this technology will revolutionize manufacturing and create a new breed of entrepreneurs.”

Quantifying the impact of this new technology at James Tool, Jeff Toner concluded that 3D printing has already reduced engineering and quoting time substantially for workholding fixtures and CNC production jobs.

- Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering,


Key concepts

  • Additive manufacturing or 3D printing builds parts layer by layer rather than remove material as does traditional machining.
  • 3D printing has reduced engineering and quoting time.
  • “The day is not far off when subtractive machining will be obsolete.”

Consider this

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