Modular Fixture Plates Perfect For Small Production Runs

If you’ve ever done any small production runs of anything that needs a bit of assembly, you know that jigs and fixtures are a huge time saver. However, these usually need to be mounted, which means you end up drilling holes in your workbench or making one-off mounting plates. [Jim Smith] is no stranger to this problem, and created the Pact Plate, an affordable modular fixture plate and is running a Kickstarter campaign to get it produced.

Each plate 150 mm × 150 mm in size with a 25 × 25 mm grid of holes with M4 threaded inserts. This allows quickly and easily mounted to and removed from the plate without the need to drill additional holes. Plates can be bolted together to form larger plates. The demo video shows him using a variety of 3D printed jigs, toggle clamps, PCB and part holders (available for download) and even a robot to quickly set up small assembly stations. This could also save a lot of time during the prototyping and development phases to hold parts in place.

[Jim]’s prototypes are all 3D printed, but want’s to get tooling made to produce the plates using injection moulding. He doesn’t say what material he intends to use, but it’s likely some type of fibre reinforced plastic. He claims the rigidity is close to that of die-cast aluminium. One addition we would like to see is some plugs for the unused hole to prevent small components from falling into them.

While fixture plates are nothing new, they are usually way more expensive than the $20 Pact Plate. There are always risks with crowd funding campaigns but it looks like [Jim] has all his bases covered pretty well. The prototyping work is done so only tooling needs to be made and samples tested, which should be fairly straight forward for a design like this.

We’ve featured some of [Jim]’s projects before, including a 3D printed kayak and the massive 3D printer he used to print it.

47 thoughts on “Modular Fixture Plates Perfect For Small Production Runs

  1. While I wish [Jim] the best of luck with his venture, imho it’s still an expensive solution to a problem I’m not really having.

    My version of what he describes as a “flimsy piece of plywood” is still my go to for fast fixturing. Glue and screw 2 pieces of 18 mm MDF or plywood together and it’s sufficiently stiff and flat for most fast fixturing purposes. Add a trespa (phenolic HPL plate) top surface if it needs to be low dust, cleanable or oil resistant. If you need anything better you probably need a more expensive solution or custom solution anyway.

    I get the idea, and I’m sure it’ll work for some people. I just don’t know whether there are enough people to make this product viable. I guess the kickstarter will show.

    1. I second this, I mean how much does a chunk of melamine cost, and if one needs something stronger, is plastic with friction fit brass threads that much better?

      I guess this is something if you do a lot of time fixturing stuff then taking it back apart, but for me its easier to make a jig and when done just set it on the shelf, that way when I need to make more of something i just plop the thing down instead of remaking it from scratch (and remembering every exact nuance and detail in regards to tolerances)

        1. You don’t need to. You can just buy a bag of inserts, or rivet nuts for a cheaper alternative.

          In fact, you don’t have to drill the holes either. Just buy perforated hardboard or pegboard. If the holes are too small, just drill open the ones you need.

        2. If you are fixturing a particular setup, you drill only the holes you need (predrill and screw the part down directly with woodscrews). You don’t need all 1152 threaded holes for a setup. If you change the jig you can just move things to wherever needed, drill and screw it down again. It also means you are not confined to a particular grid, which can be either great or annoying for whatever you are doing.

          1. “Quality assurance, dimensional Accuracy and flatness of every single Pact Plate will be our priority.”

            And yet the specifications do not include basic tolerances for the dimensions, let alone the flatness.

            More reassurance needed as to the quality!

          2. >The system was designed and engineered to last and will withstand a large load of up to 280 lbs. It is 18 gauge 304 stainless steel.

            The edges seems to be folded over, so it might not be as easily bent. Smaller version would be more stiff.

    2. Thanks for the feedback! The idea is that it is modular and reusable, a standard on which someone can mount things, just like one would use 80/20 extrusion to frame something. Materials like plywood would need to be custom fabricated, drilled and tapped for the specific individual project. The idea here is you already have a standard rigid grid to work with.

      1. The solution already exists on the market. Small pegboards don’t cost a whole lot, and you can glue one to a plywood square back, then either use wood screws to fasten things to it, or drill out the holes you need to use and glue in a rivet nut.

      1. First off, I did pledge but I have a couple of questions.

        Are you using a dimensionally stable polymer (PEEK, PPS, PSU, PPSU, PEI, or PET)?

        How about chemical compatibility of the polymer? If I clean it with IPA, do I risk swelling or stress cracking? Degreasers? Cutting fluids?

        Why call it an alloy? I routinely order custom compounded polymers and no one I’ve ever talked to has ever referred to a polymer blend as an alloy.

        1. Thank you so much, we really appreciate your support!

          It is a very dimensionally stable and tough high performance plastic. It is actually very chemically compatible with a wide variety of things (automotive industry requirements, etc), I’ll have to double check on IPA for you. The term Alloy can just mean a compound of things. Thank you again!

          1. The term alloy is used to describe a mixture of atoms in which the primary constituent is a metal.

            Ie, a polymer compound isn’t an alloy.

            Even if completely embedded in metal, since the metal and the polymer has no interaction other then being physically locked together by proximity, while alloys are defined by a metallic bonding character. This makes a metal polymer blend closer to a composite, but a composite also has a different definition in where the parts needs to be distinctly layered.

            So the correct term you are looking for is “mixture”. Since a mixture is a material made up of two or more different substances which are physically combined (or mixed). The bonding method and structure of the mixture isn’t of importance, the only important thing is that it stuck together in any way shape or form. Alloys and composites also fall within this term, but are in themselves more specific.

  2. > The prototyping work is done so only tooling needs to be made and samples tested, which should be fairly straight forward for a design like this.

    There are certainly others around here that know more about this than I do, but my impression is that getting the tooling right for something like this is likely to be way more difficult and time consuming than the prototyping.

    1. Thanks for the feedback! Yes it is! We have the production design ready and have already been working with our vendors for many months getting the mold design, gating system and design, FEA analysis, jigs/fixtures, quality assurance system, etc all in order so that we can hit the ground running with highest quality product and get it right the first time. This is not our first rodeo with injection molding!

  3. So this is a small plastic optical breadboard. Looks like a useful cost savings vs aluminum. Going to offer plastic forks and pedestals for easy placement at any location? (fyi, ThorLabs.com’s optomech section has a good cross-section of available parts)

  4. While others have brought this up, i’d like to take a more direct approach to this matter:

    Who is your target market?

    I say this because so far every fixture plate that i have seen in use is either in some sort of machine tool (lathe, cnc, router, etc) or is being used by welders or fabricators. The welders and fabricators wouldnt use this for obvious reasons (hot metal on plastic makes for fun times) and in machine tools you have coolant, heat and other chemicals to potentially worry about.

    Any hobbiest working on one off small batch manufacturing is more likely to build a jig from scraps and then disassemble when done throwing the scraps back in the scrap pile.

    Small batch repetitive assembly could potentially be a market but those companies usually design the parts such that the number of jigs required is minimal

    It cant be board assembly as you state above that the plastic being used has no ESD rating.

    So who is your target audience and why do you think that they would purchase your product over the existing options?

  5. Thanks for the question! This is for people who want to focus on getting their project/jig/system competed quickly and efficiently using a standard modular tool like Pact Plate, rather than having to custom fabricate a mounting surface. Sort of like using bolt together extrusion to build a system frame rather than welding a custom one.

    1. Im going to take a wild guess and assume that this reply was meant for my comment?

      Here is the thing i was trying to get at, as a hobbyist/DIY person, if i am making a one off project then it will be much cheaper and quicker for me to custom fabricate something. Even for small batch stuff that i am only going to make a small handful of a few times, it would save me more time to just throw something together from scraps than to measure, design, 3dprint/machine then fasten down. Then you have to consider wear and tear/abrasion, how quickly will these wear down?

      I can see this being useful to educational institutions, mainly for the optics related stuff but the physics labs could use them in some experiments. I could also see this being useful to small R&D businesses as well. But i just dont see it being regularly used from the hobbyist/maker community, especially anyone on the wood/Metal working side of things. The thing is that even with Pact Plate you will often be custom designing and fabricating a mounting solution (take a look at all of the jigs you had to make for your demo), the difference is that you now have a uniform mounting holes to fix it to.

      Im not saying that your idea has no merit, i just think that properly identifying your target market would help you figure out where and how to sell it.

      1. Hello Mike, yes it was meant to be a reply to your comment, not sure how it got moved out.

        Thank you for your thoughtful feedback! We have put in a lot of time, research and corporate focus grouping to properly identify mutliple key target markets for Pact Plate.

      1. Yes, this is the right way to go, but they would have to make a second injection mold, which is why they will likely not do it. You could taper the bowtie and make it thinner than the plate.

  6. I am a tool & die machinist who uses similar systems to this on EDMs and mills, though our systems are a bit more specialized, and far more precise and repeatable on positioning than this would ever be.

    The common term for this in machining is a matrix plate.
    They are usually made of MIC-6 tooling aluminum, which is a metrologically stable alloy (read- thermally dimensionally stable, doesn’t distort much at different temps), that can be precision ground dead flat, whereas most grades of aluminum are never ground.

    The holes are often made with precision shrink fit inserts with threads in them, all ground concentric when they were made.

    I could see uses for something like this if it is scalable and reasonably accurate for woodworking routers, but really only if they also had the ability to be vacuumed flat on a vacuum table.

    I have trouble figuring out who the market for this is myself,
    but I can look at that and see exactly how they are making it, subgates, die, assembly and all. Neat

  7. Any suggestions on levers/clamps? Seems like there are a lot of clamps that don’t align to these dimensions, so it would be great to include some basic parts. For example, https://www.aliexpress.com/item/32839522582.html . I have one of these. The thin metal bars are used to provide adjustability so I can place items at an arbitrary location. I think it is a https://www.mcmaster.com/1403n31 straight-edge stop with a threaded hole.

    When I look at the packages, I wish there was a “Getting Started” kit, since that is more important to me than getting more panels. Having the screws, a clamp or two, and possibly your most useful tools would be nice. Then again, I haven’t bought kickstarter anything before, so I may not be your target market.

  8. Hey Jim, this seems very useful. Have spent so much time with plywood and just bit right jugs and bases that this should save a lot of time.

    When would this be available? Will the final product also be black?

    Hope you achieve your funding goal.

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