If you are trying to get your product faster than your fierce competitors, you will most certainly need rapid prototyping to make the final parts ready and available for testing. In recent years, there are numerous innovations in the manufacturing industry, and between them are the multiple rapid prototyping methods that can help the design crew during the product development stage. These prototyping techniques are referred to as rapid prototyping.
Rapid tooling is the outcome of the unison of rapid prototyping techniques with conventional tooling practices to manufacture a mould for injection moulding fast and effectively. This technique is used to prepare parts of a fully functional model from CAD data at a lower cost and in less time. Rapid tooling can use a rapid prototyping model as a pattern or the rapid prototyping services to fabricate a tool for a limited quantity of prototypes.
Rapid tooling comes as a resort when there’s a need to produce the tooling quicker and in a cost-effective manner when only a small manufacturing quantity is concerned. As there’s a need for intermediate tooling to create a small batch of prototypes or functional tests to use them as marketing samples, or for evaluation purposes, rapid tooling has become very important and is revolutionizing the manufacturing industry.
This article will dig deeper into the rapid tooling world, and provide insight about its process, rapid tooling techniques, and benefits. Read on.
Overview Of The Conventional Tooling Methods
The production process of conventional tooling is somewhat similar to the production of low-volume commercial parts. Depending on the technical specifications, a blank is either forged, cast, or bought. Afterwards, the blank gets machined, is heat-treated to increase the durability, and is finished using precision manufacturing techniques.
It takes months to get it done depending on the number of parts and complexity of the tooling. Because of that, it’s sometimes better to use less time and produce the tooling with worse properties that are enough to make a prototype or a test-batch of the product.
The Rapid Tooling Process
Rapid tooling is the process of creating a prototype in a relatively short time. Everything began in the 1990s when engineers who used plastic injection moulding tried to find ways to design moulds in days instead of months.
The rapid tooling procedure includes creating a mould using aluminium or soft steel, hand-load inserts, and a stocked mould base. Although conventional tooling is often prohibitively expensive for smaller projects, rapid tooling is considered a cost-effective low-volume alternative in situations where more significant volumes of the part won’t be needed in the future.
This process is frequently used in industrial settings for prototyping solutions or for diagnosing design issues, providing an accessible introduction to mould making. Rapid moulds are typically created by CNC machining, 3D printing, and soft silicone tooling.
Rapid Tooling Techniques
CNC machining represents the most conventional rapid tooling technique. Recent developments in the CNC industry have made the machining process much more flexible, and lead-time much shorter.
With the utilization of CNC machining, any surface can be manufactured with a very tight tolerance using the 5-axis tools. This method is one of the best in terms of available material range and precision. However, CNC made parts have some limitations when it comes to cavities because it’s hard to manufacture deep groves and sharp edges.
Additive manufacturing and 3D printing are also considered to be among the most famous rapid tooling techniques available. As there are numerous additive manufacturing processes available, bed fusion and direct metal deposition are the two most commonly used. They both use a metal powder that is sintered together layer by layer to create the desired part.
One of the main advantages of 3D printing, when used as a rapid tooling technique, is its unprecedented flexibility. With the help of 3D printing, you can create sharp corners and cooling channels that are nearly impossible to produce using other techniques. The only downside of the process is that you will have to spend some time on post-processing because the surface quality is not the best.
Soft Silicone Tooling
Soft tooling is another excellent option for rapid tooling. Soft silicone tooling is a process that requires a master-model that has to be either by some of the two manufacturing technologies listed above or manually. Later, the master part is suspended over a tank, and liquified silicone is poured all over it. When the silicone hardens, it’s cut in half, and then the master model is ejected. The result is an injection mould made out of silicone and can withstand up to fifteen uses.
Rapid Tooling Benefits
With the injection moulding manufacturing process, the high cost of tooling is usually amortized through mass-production. In a nutshell, because the price of the mould is often the most significant investment and the subsequent injection moulding is a low-cost technique, the more parts are produced using one mould – the lower the cost-per-part. However, for prototyping or low-volume production, traditional injection moulding techniques cannot be financially justified.
Rapid tooling offers a huge cost-efficiency to manufacturers compared to other conventional tools, with savings up to an astonishing 95%. These lower costs enable manufacturers to prototype tools and moulds and tweak and refine designs with more flexibility.
In addition to being cost-beneficial, rapid tooling can shorten lead times to week, or even days. These insane turnaround times early in the development process of a product helps speed up the overall time-to-market for businesses and enable more flexible production.
Whereas the cost and length of traditional tooling processes can limit the iterations of a given part, rapid tooling makes it possible to improve and tweak the mould’s design until it has the desired functions and properties. Therefore, any design faults can be identified and addressed well before production, saving additional time and costs down the line.
Rapid tooling enables manufacturers to test and evaluate their prototypes before moving into production. Prototypes made with rapid tooling aren’t only concept models, but they can also be assessed in the same manner as the final product.
There are tons of reasons why you should seriously consider rapid tooling for your next project. Rapid tooling is a low cost, quick, and effective way to develop your new product design and market your products faster in today’s ultra-competitive market.