The emergence of rapid tooling services was a boost to manufacturing processes in many ways. Unlike the traditional manufacturing method, it boasts of speed, less cost, lower lead times, etc. As a result, rapid tooling services are now applicable in major industries favoring the method in rapid production parts.
Rapid tooling services come in many forms, categorized into two main groups: direct and indirect. This article will answer the question “what is rapid tooling?” and expatiate on its types and advantages. It will also include why you should incorporate it into your manufacturing process or use it in making any product. It is no lie that rapid tooling services are gaining momentum in manufacturing. Therefore, you should learn about it. Read on!!!
What is Rapid Tooling?
Rapid tooling (RT), also known as prototype tooling, involves using rapid prototyping processes, such as 3D Printing, to speed up manufacturing processes. This is very important for prototyping or limited volume production. The Rapid Tooling approach consists of transforming CAD models into physical tools or molds using rapid production methods. Therefore, this drastically reduces development cycles for products.
The 3D printed or machined molds might not be well suited for large volume production. However, they allow manufacturers to test and evaluate a tool’s design and quality before ramping up into full-scale production.
Types of Rapid Tooling Services in Manufacturing
Answering the question “what is prototype tooling” comes with understanding the two categories of rapid tooling services used in the rapid production of parts. There are two categories: direct and indirect. Below is an explanation of both categories.
Direct Rapid Tooling
In direct rapid production tooling, manufacturers use rapid prototyping processes to manufacture the actual core and cavity mold inserts. This approach is particularly useful for creating geometrically complex tools. It consists of three important steps highlighted below.
- Create a tool or mold model using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software.
- Creating the actual mold or tool. This process can be addictive (3D printing) or subtractive (CNC Machining).
- The actual mold or tool is then available for making prototypes.
- Direct rapid tooling ensures a faster production and shortened lead time.
- It has fewer steps and needs few resources.
- It is possible to produce multiple prototypes using the single created mold or tool.
- Direct rapid tooling is very flexible. Therefore, you can make multiple molds or tools even though your design changes.
- The created mold might not be durable when you compare it with indirect rapid tooling methods.
- Without a master pattern, there is an increase in the tendency of getting an error.
- On the advent of tool breakage or new material experimentation, you need to start the entire process over
- It is not ideal for highly complex designs or materials.
Indirect Rapid Tooling
Indirect rapid production tooling involves using rapid prototyping processes to create a master pattern. Due to the durability of the master pattern, the manufacturer can then use it to produce a tool using soft tooling or a sacrificial model. Soft tooling is primarily for plastic production, while sacrificial models are for metal investment casting. It consists of three important steps highlighted below:
- Create a tool or mold model using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software.
- Creating the master mold or tool.
- Use the master mold or tools to make others.
- The master pattern is very durable.
- Unless of change in design, you only need a master pattern.
- Indirect rapid tooling is applicable in making hard (complex designs) or soft tools (simple designs)
- All molds and tools are based on one master pattern.
- You can experiment with different materials.
- It is not as fast as direct rapid tooling.
- Indirect rapid tooling is not ideal for manufacturers with constantly changing designs.
- It has a higher cost due to the need for quality materials for the quality master pattern.
How 3D Printing and CNC Machining Is Enabling Rapid Tooling
One of the key processes important in rendering rapid tooling services is 3D printing (additive manufacturing). There are many 3D printing methods, such as fused deposition modeling (FDM), stereolithography (SLA), selective laser sintering (SLS), and binder jetting. They are all applicable in rapid production parts and patterns for soft tooling or direct tools and molds.
In various industries, 3D printing is increasingly being used to produce jigs, fixtures, and tools to speed up the production process and reduce costs significantly. The technology, which builds parts layer by layer using a range of polymer or metal materials, can cost-effectively produce one-off pieces on demand. Additive manufacturing also creates unique opportunities for complex geometries, which are impossible to achieve using traditional manufacturing processes.
By leveraging 3D printing for Rapid Tooling applications, manufacturers can benefit from functional mold prototypes. 3D printed tools can also be used to fulfill small series production runs or customized, one-off parts. For instance, in the jewelry industry, 3D printed wax models can be cast with precious metals to create intricate and finely detailed pieces. In addition, 3D printed tools are increasingly being used in the automotive sector to streamline production and cut costs for prototyping.
For large volume production, on testing and verifying a 3D printed prototype mold, manufacturers can employ more conventional tooling practices, such as CNC Machining, to produce industrial-grade tooling. In these cases, additive manufacturing allows the tool design to be tested and optimized before investing in an industrial tool.
Advantages of Rapid Tooling in Manufacturing
There are many direct and indirect advantages of rapid production tooling for businesses and entrepreneurs. That is what makes this process so compelling. With rapid tooling services, you can enjoy advantages such as:
Rapid tooling has a huge cost advantage for manufacturers compared to conventional tools, with savings of up to 95%. These dramatically lower costs enable manufacturers to prototype tools and molds and tweak and refine designs with more flexibility. The cost also makes tooling more accessible in many cases for manufacturers with tighter budgets.
· Faster Time-To-Market
One of the important advantages of rapid tooling is production speed. Conventional tooling processes can take months to deliver. However, rapid tooling can shorten lead times to weeks or even days.
These rapid turnaround times early in the product development process is important in supply chains. It helps to speed up the overall time-to-market for businesses and enables more flexible production.
· Product Optimization
Product optimization is one of the advantages of rapid tooling, and it makes it possible to tweak and improve a mold’s design. This is until a product has the desired properties and functions. Consequently, you can identify and address any design faults before production. Therefore, you save additional time and costs down the line.
Rapid tooling also enables manufacturers to test and evaluate functional prototypes before moving into production. In other words, prototypes made via Rapid Tooling are not simply concept models. You can evaluate them in the same ways as the final products.
Moreover, molds made using a Rapid Tooling approach can ultimately fulfill production series made up of thousands of parts.
· Increased ROI
Rapid tooling also results in a reduction in product development time. Therefore, you can get your ROI fast. The process also leads to a lower production cost, increasing the overall ROI as you begin to sell your product. This plan is ideal if your business has a limited production budget and you would like to keep your operations as lean as possible.
Unlike before, one of the important advantages of rapid tooling is accessibility. Therefore, it is no surprise that most product developers, such as Rapiddirect, offer clients different rapid tooling services. Consequently, their clients have access to 3D printers, CNC machines, metal sintering tools, etc.
It does not matter whether you are a large corporation or a solo entrepreneur. You can get access to the most advanced tools and mind when you contract a skilled manufacturer
· Superior Design Testing
Rapid tooling allows you to make multiple prototypes or molds in very little time. This gives you more freedom to make design adjustments and test out new ideas. By comparison, if a prototype takes days or weeks to complete, you may be less inclined to change the design. Even if it would improve the final product. Sinking significant costs or energy into one prototype discourages innovation. Alternatively, if you can make prototypes in just a few hours, you can experiment more and land on a design that you feel confident in and that your customers will value.
· Types Of Materials
Another advantage is that rapid tooling allows the creation of molds with any physical dimensions. However, note that the more complex the mold, the more tasking it is for the manufacturer. On creating the mold, you can use it to test different material types.
Finding the Best Rapid Tooling Services
Answering the question “what is prototype tooling” is one thing. Finding the best rapid tooling service is another. It is not surprising that rapid tooling has many advantages. However, that does not mean it is the perfect method for every project. Most manufacturers have to deal with the inaccuracy of molded parts when compared with conventional manufacturing methods.
Does this now make rapid tooling non-ideal? No!!! With the phenomenal development in product manufacturing, the comparison is no longer worth it. There is an advancement in machines such as 3D printers, CNC machines, etc. therefore, they are more capable of accurately producing complex parts with accuracy.
When you have this in mind, the only factor determining the best rapid tooling process is getting a rapid tooling expert. The rapid tooling expert will work with you and advise you on the best rapid tooling for your project. In addition, you might have to answer the questions listed below:
- What is the lead time you want for your product?
- Will you need multiple material testing?
- Is your design complex, and how complex is it?
- Does your design warrant a high degree of precision?
- What is your budget?
Rapid tooling services are becoming important in manufacturing due to the flexibility, lower production costs, and lead time. There are different ways of approaching rapid tooling in manufacturing, which can play an important role in getting the best action. This article answered the question, “what is rapid tooling?” It also showed the advantages of rapid tooling services and how to choose the right option. In terms of the right option, Rapiddirect offers clients advance rapid tooling methods and technology. Our team of engineers can advise you on the right method to use.