February 8, 2023 February 8, 2023 / 15 minutes of reading
Rapid tooling, also known as prototype tooling, prototype mold, and soft tooling, enables you to quickly and cheaply get parts. It is distinguished by a short molding cycle, low molding cost, simple process, and easy promotion. Additionally, rapid tooling can fulfill specific functional demands while providing good comprehensive economic benefits.
Rapid tooling technique is often used to test the design and functionality of a part before it goes into mass production. Please continue reading to explore the basics of rapid tooling, from its definition to its various applications and benefits.
Table of Contents
What is Rapid Tooling?
Rapid tooling is a manufacturing process of mold or tools that helps use specialized techniques and equipment to quickly create prototypes and production-grade parts. It is often used to create molds, dies, and other tools used to produce plastic or metal parts. Rapid tooling can create prototypes and production parts for various industries, including automotive, aerospace, medical, and consumer products.
One of the primary advantages of rapid tooling is that it reduces production time and cost. Because rapid tools are quick and easy to replicate, finished tools require less stock. However, the disadvantages are that it is less precise and reduces the product’s lifespan. Rapid tooling is an excellent method for developing small-batch orders in process design, marketing, and product evaluation.
What Material Can be Used for Rapid Tooling?
Rapid tooling is temporary molds used in producing prototypes, low-volume parts, or casting resins. Some common materials used for rapid tooling include silicone rubber, urethane, plaster, and metals.
Silicone Rubber: Silicone rubber includes RTV (Room Temperature Vulcanizing) and Platinum-cured silicones. They offer high flexibility and a good surface finish, making them suitable for complex geometries and undercuts.
Urethane: Urethane includes ding liquid urethane and poured urethane molds. They offer a good balance between durability and flexibility and can be used for low-volume production runs.
Plaster: Plaster includes gypsum plaster, which can be used to create low-cost, simple molds.
Metals: Metals include aluminum and steel, used in casting and die-casting techniques.
The choice of material depends on various factors, such as the size and complexity of the part, the desired surface finish and accuracy, and the production volume.
Two Types of Rapid Tooling
Rapid tooling enables you to get project parts cheaply and fast. As cheap tooling demands grow, people are looking for more methods to make rapid tools and molds. According to different mold-making methods, rapid tooling can be divided into direct and indirect.
Direct Rapid Tooling
Direct rapid tooling creates actual core and cavity mold inserts. The process’s strength is its capacity to manufacture tools with previously unattainable geometries. An example is the conformal cooling technique. In this technique, the internal cooling channels follow the contour of mold cavities, enhancing the uniformity of heat loss from a mold and reducing cooling durations by roughly 66%.
In short-run production, this form of rapid tooling allows you to construct a mold or tool extremely rapidly and begin making products from it nearly immediately. It is particularly advantageous for short-run manufacturing since the tool does not need to be very sturdy or lasting. This mold may produce up to 5,000 parts, depending on the materials used and the complexity of the design.
Steps of Direct Rapid Tooling
Direct tooling entails the following steps:
Step 1: Use Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software to create a model of the tool or mold.
Step 2: Send the file to a machine or printer to make the actual mold or tool used to manufacture prototypes. This can be a subtractive process, in which a CNC machine cuts raw material to make the desired shape, or an additive process, in which a 3D printer constructs the desired shape from scratch.
Step 3: The manufactured tool or mold can be used directly to produce prototypes.
Pros of Direct Rapid Tooling:
Faster manufacturing and shorter lead times (you can make tools or molds in just a few days or weeks).
Sometimes requires fewer resources.
It involves fewer steps.
People can use one mold or tool to make more than one prototype.
Extremely flexible, you can quickly make many molds or tools as your design changes.
Cons of Direct Rapid Tooling:
Most of the time, prototypes made using this method are not as strong and durable as those made using the indirect rapid tooling method.
Without a master pattern, it may be necessary to construct many tools or molds in different materials, which might result in mistakes or disparities in the tool or mold dimensions.
If the tool or mold breaks or you wish to try new material, you must restart the entire process.
It might not work for complicated designs or materials that need a durable mold or tool to make intricate details.
This could increase the cost of developing a new product, especially if you have to make more molds or tools for each new design iteration.
Indirect Rapid Tooling
Indirect rapid tooling utilizes master patterns generated by additive manufacturing to create a mold or die. Several technologies are available, the most prevalent of which is “soft tooling’ techniques. Soft tooling techniques use silicone molds for plastic parts and as sacrificial models for investment casting of metal parts.
Indirect rapid tooling is intended for testing and experimenting. For instance, indirect rapid tooling is an excellent solution when you already have a detailed design and want to test different materials. This is because it allows you to easily build several test tools and molds from the same master pattern.
Steps of Indirect Rapid Tooling
Indirect tooling is the second form of rapid tooling. Indirect tooling entails the following steps:
Step 1: Use CAD software to create a model of the master tool or mold.
Step 2: Send the file to a machine or printer to make a master mold or tool called a pattern. This master pattern is often rather durable.
Step 3: Create more molds or tools according to the master pattern. You can fabricate new molds or tools from different materials with distinct properties. The master pattern can be utilized for either hard tooling (tools constructed of tough or sturdy materials) or soft tooling (less robust tools). A single master pattern can make various tools or molds in big or small quantities, which can then be used to create more prototypes.
Pros of Indirect Rapid Tooling:
The master pattern is extremely robust and durable and is seldom broken throughout the prototyping process.
You will probably only require one master pattern (unless your design changes).
Because all different tools and molds are based on the same master pattern, there is less variation between them.
It is ideal for experimenting with various materials since you may create tools or molds that work best with a certain material or prototyping process.
Can produce either hard or soft tools dependent on the customer’s demands. Soft tools may be utilized for simple designs or cost-effective prototype testing, whereas hard tools are suited for sophisticated designs.
Cons of Indirect Rapid Tooling:
Producing time is somewhat longer as compared to direct rapid tooling.
It involves an intermediary step, which could lead to higher costs.
It may be necessary to use higher-quality materials to create a robust and durable master pattern.
This is not always a suitable solution if you anticipate your design will alter dramatically during the prototyping stage.
This is not necessarily essential for simple designs that do not require high dimensional precision or accuracy.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Rapid Tooling
For many entrepreneurs, rapid tooling is one of the best ways to develop new products from scratch. Below we’ll walk you through the advantages and disadvantages of rapid tooling to help you decide whether this method is suitable for your product and prototyping process.
Advantages of Rapid Tooling
Using rapid tooling can help you quickly create custom molds with any dimension. The molds make parts with different material grades and test their properties and quality, helping you choose the right material before bringing a new product to market.
Faster Time to Market
The product development cycle in conventional machining methods may encompass numerous production processes and technologies. This can add time to each step and make it take longer to get from the design to the real product.
Rapid tools need fewer steps than conventional tools methods. The sooner you finish the prototype and prototyping, the sooner you can finish your designs and give them to your clients.
Reduce the Costs
The longer the product development cycle takes, the higher the cost. Rapid tooling’s speed benefits can save firms money over time.
Less Resource Consumption
Rapid tooling involves extremely low resources for prototyping or production. For example, you may create numerous prototypes with a single tool or mold.
Process Parameter Test
Rapid tooling may also be used in the production phase to test process parameters. For instance, different injection rates and mold temperatures during injection molding can alter the part quality. In this case, rapid tooling can give engineers and designers more measurement control over the final part.
Test Design and Functionality Thoroughly
Rapid tooling allows you to create several prototypes or molds quickly. It also allows you to experiment with new ideas and tweak old ones. This will avert many problems that may develop in future phases of high-volume production.
Disadvantages of Rapid Tooling
Produce Undurable Prototype
Prototypes manufactured with rapid tooling are usually not durable or robust. And the molds made using this process are prone to breaking, as the materials used are usually not of high quality. If you change molds frequently, this will lead to higher production costs.
Another way to increase the cost of a product is to keep changing the design, which also means changing molds. This method is less suited if your product or prototype’s attention to detail is crucial.
Making a master mold takes longer than making a mold directly. Furthermore, rapid tooling entails many steps, which might lead to higher production costs. Avoid this method if your design is likely to alter throughout the prototyping process.
Easily Cause Error
Using this method to make multiple stencils often leads to mistakes. Most of the time, this error is caused by variances in mold dimensions. This is especially true if different materials are used.
Not Suitable for Simple Designs
Rapid tooling is optimal for complex designs that require a great deal of detail. If your design is simple, this method is probably not for you.
Shorter Mold Life Cycle
Because of the stress exerted on them by the injection process, fast molds do not endure very long. The materials used to make the molds, such as aluminum and steel, are not high quality. In this case, this may need the creation of a new mold frequently to replace a worn mold.
Higher Injection Cost and Labor Cost
Prototyping with rapid tools is an iterative process, which increases extra injection molding costs, especially if you want to improve your design. Higher injection costs result in increased labor expenses, which may raise production costs.
Things to Keep in Mind When Using Rapid Tooling
You must also consider the following limitations if using rapid tooling to create your prototype.
1. The Mold Should be Strong and Durable.
The mold must be strong and durable enough to withstand injection molding. Because the molding machines clamped hot materials into the mold at pounds per inch, the molds must endure the injections.
2. The Mold Should be Smooth.
In addition to being strong and durable, the mold must be smooth so that the plastic can be injected cleanly. Some processes in rapid tooling add materials layer by layer, so the result is not smooth. In this situation, the prototype needs additional finishing for prototyping.
Rapid Tooling vs Conventional Tooling: What are the Differences?
Conventional tooling is a traditional method of making molds, dies, and other tooling components through a series of steps, including design, machining, and assembly. These tools are used to form and shape materials, such as plastic, metal, and composites, into finished products. Conventional tooling can be time-consuming and expensive, with lead times of several weeks or months. The end product produced through conventional tooling is often of high quality, but the process itself has limitations in terms of speed, cost, material options, and complex geometries.
Conventional tooling and rapid tooling are different in several ways:
Speed: As the name suggests, rapid tooling is much faster than traditional tooling. It can make prototypes and tools for mass production in just a few hours or days, whereas making tools the old way can take weeks or even months.
Cost: Rapid tooling is often cheaper than traditional tooling because it skips many of the steps of traditional tooling and makes it possible to make high-quality parts for a fraction of the price.
Complexity: Conventional tools can only make parts with a certain shape and level of complexity. Rapid tooling, on the other hand, can handle complicated shapes and fine details, which makes it a more flexible choice.
Material: Rapid tooling can use a wider range of materials, including composites and metals, while traditional tooling is often limited to traditional materials like steel and aluminum.
Accuracy: Rapid tooling can make tools that are very accurate and stable in size, which makes it a great choice for tools used in production. Even though traditional tools can still make high-quality parts, they may be less flexible in this way.
Rapid Tooling vs Rapid Prototyping: What are the Differences?
Rapid tooling and rapid prototyping are related but distinct concepts.
Rapid Tooling: Rapid tooling is creating a tool or mold that allows manufacturers to quickly make parts of a product that will work as a tool. There are also two methods for prototyping – direct and indirect rapid tooling. However, injection molding is the most often utilized technique.
Rapid Prototyping: Rapid prototyping is a technology or approach for assisting in the rapid manufacturing of a physical part for end-use or usage as a prototype. Furthermore, additive manufacturing (3D printing) and subtractive manufacturing (CNC machining) are prevalent technologies used in rapid prototyping.
Many people may confuse rapid tooling with rapid prototyping, Rapid tooling and rapid prototyping are different in several ways:
Purpose: Rapid tooling is the process of making a tool for mass production. Rapid prototyping is the process of making a first version of a product to test and validate its design.
Output: Rapid prototyping usually makes one or a small number of working prototypes, while rapid tooling makes a tool or mold that can be used to make a lot of the final product.
Materials: Plastics, resins, or composites that look a lot like the final product are often used in rapid prototyping. Rapid tooling, on the other hand, can use a wider range of materials, including metals.
Lead time: Both rapid tooling and rapid prototyping are faster than traditional methods, but rapid prototyping usually has a shorter lead time because it doesn’t require making a tool.
Cost: Rapid tooling is usually more expensive than rapid prototyping because it involves more complicated processes and the creation of a tool that will be used for mass production.
In conclusion, both rapid tooling and rapid prototyping are important steps in the process of making a new product, but they do different things and have different results. Rapid prototyping is used to confirm and test a product design, while rapid tooling is used to make a tool for mass production.
Soft Tooling vs Hard Tooling: What are the Differences?
Soft tooling and hard tooling are also frequently mentioned in rapid tooling.
Soft Tooling: Soft tooling generally uses silicone molds and the urethane casting process. Like rapid tooling, soft tooling is primarily utilized in prototyping, bridge tooling, and low-volume manufacturing. The patterns for urethane casting are frequently made by 3D printing.
Hard Tooling: In injection molding, hard tooling is a synonym for metal tooling. Rapid tooling processes can make hard tooling mostly from aluminum. Hard tooling is more durable and capable of handling huge production volumes. However, it costs more than soft or rapid tooling techniques, making it better suited to mass production.
Below are the Differences between Soft tooling and hard tooling:
Durability: Hard tooling is made of durable materials such as steel or aluminum, and is designed to withstand high levels of stress and repeated use. Soft tooling, on the other hand, is made of more flexible materials such as foam, rubber, or other suitable compounds, and is intended for short-term use.
Cost: Hard tooling is typically more expensive than soft tooling, as it requires the use of expensive materials and complex machining processes. Soft tooling is often a more cost-effective alternative, as it can be produced quickly and inexpensively, making it ideal for prototyping and low-volume production runs.
The Applications of Rapid Tooling
Rapid tooling is generally faster and more streamlined than traditional tooling, making this method widely applicable. Here are some of the applications of rapid tooling:
Creation of mold – both metallic and non-metallic molds may be created using rapid tooling.
Creation of casting shapes and cores – SLS application is the most recent technology created in the field of sand casting shapes and cores.
Other applications of rapid tooling include the fabrication of electrodes for EDM, marking stamps, hybrid patterns for casting, and splintering tools.
Rapid tooling is a widespread technique favored by manufacturers. The technique allows manufacturers to quickly test and validate product designs, reduce the time and cost required for traditional tooling methods, and speed up product development. This results in faster time-to-market, improved product design and quality, and increased customer satisfaction. Rapid tooling also enables manufacturers to iterate and make changes to the product design more quickly and effectively.
LEADRP provides first-class injection molding and rapid tooling services that can meet customers’ needs and ensure the production of high-quality prototypes. If you have any questions about rapid tooling services, do not hesitate to contact us.
Rapid tooling (RT) and rapid prototyping (RP) are any methods or technologies that allow for the rapid production of a tool or product. The term rapid tooling refers to RT-driven tooling. A prototype is a 3-D model that may be used for preliminary testing and evaluating a mold, dies, or product.
What are the benefits of rapid tooling?
Rapid tooling enables you to create several prototypes or molds quickly. This gives you more leeway to make design changes and experiment with new ideas. When a prototype takes days or weeks to complete, you may be less inclined to change the design, even if it improves the final product.
How is rapid tooling different from conventional tooling?
Rapid tooling is more cost-effective than conventional tooling because less human labor and time are required. Given that computer programs and machines perform it, it is not susceptible to human errors. It results in additional labor cost savings and less waste. Durability and longevity are the downsides of using rapid tooling.