The Different Types of Prototype Tooling – All You Need to Know

Injection molding is a highly meticulous manufacturing process. It involves the injection of molten plastic into precisely designed molds. Inside these molds, the plastic cools down and hardens to create the desired part/product. The final pieces are ejected from the mold as near-final products and sent for ancillary finishing processes. Without precisely designed molds, creating high-quality plastic parts and products would be impossible.

This process of designing the mold (along with its various components) is known as tooling. It’s an extremely technical process. To produce high quantities of high-grade parts with tight dimensions, tooling engineers need to select the right tooling processes so that components don’t wear out prematurely. There are three different types of tooling – 

  • Production tooling
  • Bridge tooling
  • Prototype tooling

Each of these is suited for different stages of manufacturing projects. Failing to select the right tooling technique for your project could drastically impact your bottom line. 

Production Tooling

Production tooling is the high-volume stage of tooling designed to test products and parts for their efficiency and long-term reliability. This tooling technique is ideal for products that have been previously tested and are ready for mass production. It’s also the most expensive form of tooling. 

Bridge Tooling 

This type of tooling helps manufacturers create bridges between the prototyping and production stages of manufacturing processes. When there’s a need to ramp up production and meet large orders, manufacturers use the relatively fast and cost-effective technique of bridge tooling.

Prototype Tooling 

Production and bridge tooling can be very expensive for small-scale manufacturers. Prototype tooling offers such manufacturers the perfect way to minimize upfront costs while developing, launching, and testing products for fit, form, and function. For low-volume test runs where manufacturers are experimenting with multiple designs, this resource-efficient tooling technique is ideal. 

No large investments are required. Manufacturers can identify important tooling and production issues using this method and correct them before initiating production tooling processes. A top prototype tooling expert will help manufacturers by – 

  • Assessing the prototyping process
  • Determining how the process can be scaled up during production
  • Suggest and make adjustments needed to ensure the products’ long-term success

Bear in mind – prototype tooling is essentially an educational process. These processes don’t deliver parts/products that satisfy quality requirements – they only deliver parts and products that resemble the final products. 

Different Types of Prototype Tooling – Rapid Tooling 

Rapid tooling allows product designers to make multiple prototypes in relatively short time periods. Unlike conventional tooling methods, rapid tooling processes are super-fast and offer plenty of room for manufacturers to experiment with unique product designs. Businesses developing new products from scratch can benefit a lot from this prototyping process. There two types of rapid tooling processes – direct and indirect.

Direct and Indirect Rapid Tooling

Direct rapid tooling is by far one of the fastest and the simplest ways of creating tools or molds. Tooling professionals create models of tools or molds using CAD software tools (Computer-Aided Design). The design files are 3D-printed, and the tools/mold produced can be instantly used to create prototypes. 

For short-run productions, direct rapid tooling is the ideal process as the molds/tools created from these processes aren’t robust or durable (they’re not required to be either). That’s why direct rapid tooling is used more in manufacturing processes than prototyping processes. Some advantages of this tooling process include –

  • Faster production.
  • Shorter lead times.
  • A relatively non-complex process. 
  • Requires fewer resources than indirect tooling and conventional forms of prototyping. 
  • Manufacturers can produce several prototypes from single molds/tools. 
  • Flexible – make multiple molds/tools quickly as per changing design requirements. 

Indirect rapid tooling is a slightly more time-consuming process. Tooling experts create durable and reliable “master” molds or patterns. After models of the master tools or molds are created using CAD software tools, more molds/tools made from different types of materials are created based on the “master” mold or pattern. 

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The new molds/tools can have different properties. That’s why a single “master mold” can aid in the manufacture of various types of tools/molds in both large and small quantities. These tools and molds can be further used to produce more prototypes.

  • Master patterns are extremely durable and damage-resistant.
  • It can be used to make hard/soft tools. 
  • There won’t be many variations between the tools and molds created using this process, as they’ll all be based on the same “master” pattern.

Which type of prototype tooling is best suited for your manufacturing objectives? Contact the leading experts of prototype tooling and manufacturing to find out more.