Fixture plates can be an important part of your manufacturing operation, no matter how large or small it may be. Fixture plates, which are often known as tooling plates, are available in a modular configuration. Read on to learn more about fixture plates.
What is a Fixture Plate?
Fixture plates are used to hold parts during the manufacturing process. They are usually built using aluminum. Aluminum fixture plates are simple, low-cost items, so they are often custom-made for a specific job and quickly discarded afterward. Steel and cast iron fixture plates, however, are often used for long periods of time. Fixture plates are often made using CNC machining technology, which allows many plates to be made in a short period of time.
Fixture plates hold parts during manufacturing with many threaded holes in the plates. These holes are usually protected by screws that are inserted into the holes. These screws can be removed when the holes need to be used.
As fixture plates are designed to help keep your manufacturing process organized and efficient, they are often engraved with letters and numbers. These letters and numbers can help you keep track of all the parts you use in your manufacturing process. They can be especially helpful if your fixture plate must hold several different types of parts at once.
Benefits of Using a Fixture Plate
You may be wondering why using a fixture plate is necessary if you can simply use T-slots to hold your parts. However, fixture plates offer many benefits over using T-slots. The most important benefit is that fixture plates hold parts firmly in place, while T-slots do not. This means that your CNC machine knows exactly where the part is when you are using a fixture plate. Not only can using a fixture plate increase manufacturing accuracy, it can also decrease the time you have to spend making something. If you use a T-slot, you have to install the fixture, measure exactly where it is, and then put a work offset into your g-code. This can take several minutes per fixture. Multiply that by 20 or 30 fixtures, and you could be talking an hour or more. You can save this time by using a threaded fixture plate. If you do use a threaded fixture plate, you only need to measure once. After measuring the first time, you don’t need to measure again if you use the same holes.
Another benefit of using a fixture plate for machine fixturing is that you know the parts will be oriented in the exact same way. You no doubt have noticed that fixtures can be cocked at a slight angle when using T-slots, even if you have the fixtures clamped down tight. Using a fixture plate for machine fixturing ensures that this won’t happen. This can save you time and money, as you may otherwise have to throw away some poorly machined fixtures and start over.
While machining accuracy and quicker manufacturing times are the most well-known benefits seen from using fixture plates, there are several other benefits that you can see from integrating a fixture plate into your machining process. Firstly, the holes in the plate allow metal chips and coolant to escape the surface more easily. This shortens clean-up times. Fixture plates even protect your machine’s table from damage. Fixture plates also make machining large parts much easier, as you can manufacture large parts section by section. It is not possible to machine large parts this way if you are using T-Slots.
Fixture Plate Materials
Fixture plates are most commonly made of aluminum, but many vendors also sell steel plates. A few even sell cast iron plates. Each material is best for different applications, so you should consider what kind of jobs you’ll be using your fixture plate for before you order one.
Most fixture plates on the market today are made out of aluminum. Aluminum has a few advantages over steel. First, it is much cheaper. Second, it is much lighter.
However, aluminum is relatively weak. Also, it does not dampen vibration as much as a steel plate. Finally, it expands and shrinks more in response to temperature changes than steel does.
Many of the high-end fixture plates on the market today are made out of steel. Steel is much more expensive than aluminum, but many professionals feel that the extra cost is worth it. This is because steel is less likely to get warped or damaged than aluminum. This leads to enhanced manufacturing precision. Steel also dampens vibration much better than aluminum. Finally, the threading in the holes of a steel plate is much more durable than aluminum threading. Aluminum threading can wear out or become damaged relatively easily.
Cast iron is sometimes used for fixture plates, though it is not commonly seen. It is even tougher and more durable than steel. It also dampens vibration even better than steel. The main drawback of cast iron is that it is extremely heavy.
How to Install a Fixture Plate
Installing a fixture plate is a relatively simple process. It shouldn’t take more than 15-20 minutes. However, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The main challenge when installing a fixture plate is moving the heavy plate safely and precisely. This is less of a concern if you are using a relatively light aluminum plate, but steel and cast iron plates can be difficult to move around. Don’t hesitate to get assistance if you feel that it might be necessary. The last thing you want is to injure yourself when you are attempting to install your fixture plate. Follow the steps below to ensure that you install your fixture plate correctly.
The first thing that you want to do is to clean your machine’s table thoroughly. Ensure that all of the chips and debris on your table has been removed. You should also stone away any nicks. Once you’ve cleaned your table, you should spray it down with a rust preventative. Not only will this keep rust away, but it will also lubricate the table so it is easier to slide on the fixture plate.
Next, slide the fixture plate on your table upside-down. Install the keys in two of the dowel holes. Slide the fixture plate so that the T-slots on the right side are exposed. Screw a nut into each of the three holes. Do the same thing with the T-slots on the left, but only screw nuts into the top and bottom holes.
Flip the plate right side up so that the keys are as close to this middle T-slot as possible. Slide the plate until it is flush on the right side and in the back. The keys should drop into place. Use a drift to reach through the holes in the fixture plate and align the T-slot nuts. Finger tighten the cap screws as much as you can. Use a hex key to finish tightening the five cap screws.
What Are Modular Fixture Plates?
Most fixture plates are standardized. However, standardized plates are unable to take on specialized machine tooling jobs. This is where modular fixture plates, like those manufactured by Rayco, can be useful. The plates used in a modular system are highly specialized. This allows them to be used for working on prototypes or other short-run jobs. Circular fixture plates are one example of a specialized plate that can be used in a modular system.
Of course, the fixture plates themselves are only one part of the modular system. The functionality of these plates can be extended with clamps, magnetic devices, and stands. The modular design means that it is easy to screw-in or unscrew any combination of these devices. If you are using a modular fixture plate system to work on a prototype and you need to tweak the prototype, you simply need to change the accessories to make the necessary alterations.
As modular fixture plates are used for high-precision machine tooling, it is vital that the plate be customizable. Leading fixture companies like Rayco are able to make customized fixture plates for specific jobs. The pros at Rayco have a great deal of experience with creating customized modular fixture plates, so all you need to do is give them the details of your machine and of the project you are working on. They will help you come up with a customized plate that will make working on this project much easier and more efficient. Their modular plates are even sturdy enough to be used in a high-volume production run after you have perfected your prototype.
Use Rayco Fixture for All of Your Fixture Plate Needs
Rayco Fixture is the leading manufacturer of fixture plates. We offer several different models to fit any needs you may have. Order your fixture plate from Rayco Fixture today.