Prototype Tooling Fabrication: Common Options at Sungplastic
Depending on your design requirements, you have a number of options to think about for your prototype tooling. Your decision should support the particular objectives you have for the prototype. Will the prototype need to pass tests, have a presentable appearance, or adhere to high tolerance standards, for example?
Let’s explore the most common alternatives to prototype tooling, including SLA/SLS, urethane casting, soft tooling, and hard tooling. Continue reading to learn the advantages and disadvantages of each approach in order to choose the one that is best for your component.
If you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to contact Sungplastic, as we are able to answer these questions.
Stereolithography (SLA) and selective laser sintering (SLS) represent cutting-edge additive manufacturing techniques that are particularly well-suited for rapid prototype tooling. In the case of SLA, an ultraviolet laser meticulously constructs a solid object from a computer-aided design (CAD) blueprint by curing individual layers of a light-sensitive photopolymer resin. While SLA offers commendable speed, it does have constraints in terms of the maximum object size that can be produced, and the photopolymer resins used can be relatively costly. Nevertheless, one of the advantages of SLA lies in its ease of post-processing, as SLA parts can be readily enhanced with paint or dyes to enhance their appearance for trade shows or presentations.
SLS technology shares similarities with SLA but diverges in its utilization of a carbon-dioxide laser, which fuses thin layers of powdered materials, such as metal, plastic, glass, or ceramic, to create a solid end product. SLS boasts a significant advantage over SLA by offering the capacity to prototype with a wider range of materials, potentially mimicking the properties of materials used in actual production processes.
Both SLA and SLS are well-suited for fitting and preliminary concept validation. However, it’s important to note that, despite the expansion of available materials in recent years, these methods are not typically employed for production-ready parts. They also have functional limitations, especially when compared to more advanced engineered resins. While SLA and SLS are oriented towards producing very small quantities, they excel in providing rapid turnaround times.
Urethane cast/mold is a low-volume production approach that harnesses polyurethane plastic materials to fabricate prototypes. These prototypes are exceptionally well-suited for marketing samples since they can be meticulously finished to closely resemble traditionally tooled plastic parts. However, the material options available for urethane casting are somewhat limited and may not entirely match the characteristics of the preferred production-grade plastics. Urethane cast/mold serves as a cost-effective option for prototype tooling when there’s a need for a larger quantity of parts during the fitting or concept-validation stage. It’s important to bear in mind that the overall scope of this process is somewhat restricted, and it is gradually becoming less prevalent within the industry.
Soft Tooling vs Hard Tooling
Soft tooling stands as a widely adopted approach within the injection molding industry, offering cost-effective tooling solutions, the potential for producing a substantial quantity of parts, and the option to use the intended production material. Soft tooling predominantly employs aluminum cores and cavities in its construction.
While there exist various iterations and possibilities for soft tooling, these tools and prototype components can typically be swiftly produced within a few weeks. This approach becomes a viable choice for early-stage prototype development when the parts in question exhibit simplicity, lenient tolerance requirements, and where functional fitment is not a critical demand. It’s essential to recognize, however, that soft tools possess limited flexibility for design modifications or dimensional alterations once the tooling is finalized and prototypes are produced. Moreover, the scope for process development is restricted.
In cases involving engineered components characterized by stringent tolerances, rigorous testing prerequisites, and an intention for practical application, hard tooling undoubtedly emerges as the superior choice. Although the upfront cost associated with hard tooling is notably higher, and the lead time is longer, this approach is poised to yield significant time and cost savings in the long run.
Hard tooling guarantees the capability to employ production-intent resins and accommodates design modifications and dimensional adjustments even after initial prototyping and prototype tooling. It also offers the opportunity for comprehensive process development and validation at an early stage in the project’s timeline. This not only results in the production of superior parts for testing and development but also expedites the production approval process, typically a crucial aspect when timing is of the essence. Furthermore, hard tooling opens the door to the supply of several hundred thousand parts, effectively bridging the transition from the prototype phase to full-scale production.
Applications of Prototype Tooling
Prototype tooling has various applications in the product development and manufacturing process. Here are some common applications of prototype tooling:
Prototype tooling allows engineers and designers to validate the form, fit, and function of a product’s components. By producing prototypes with tooling that closely resembles the final manufacturing process, they can identify design flaws and make necessary adjustments before moving to mass production.
Prototypes produced with the help of tooling can undergo rigorous functional testing to ensure that the product operates as intended. This is particularly important for products with mechanical or moving parts.
When it is crucial to use production-grade materials, prototype tooling enables the testing of different materials for their mechanical properties, durability, and suitability for the intended application.
Tooling can produce prototypes with the same level of precision and tight tolerances required for the final product. This helps in verifying that the design meets the necessary specifications.
Market Testing and Presentation
In some cases, prototypes created with tooling are used for market research and presentation purposes. These prototypes can be finished to a high standard, making them suitable for showcasing to potential investors, customers, or stakeholders.
Assembly and Interoperability Testing
For products with multiple components or parts, prototype tooling is essential for testing the assembly process and ensuring that all parts work together seamlessly.
Prototype tooling can also be used in the development of the production tooling itself. By first creating prototype molds or dies, manufacturers can refine their tooling design, optimize production processes, and reduce the risk of errors when transitioning to mass production.
Building prototypes with tooling helps in assessing the production cost and feasibility of a product. It can reveal cost-saving opportunities and potential challenges in the manufacturing process.
Customization and Personalization
For products that require customization or personalization, such as medical devices or consumer electronics, prototype tooling allows manufacturers to produce prototypes with unique variations to test and refine the customization process.
Prototype Tooling at Sungplastic
Before choosing the best strategy for prototype tooling, it is essential to have a firm understanding of your needs. Prioritizing cost and expediency during the development process may not always result in long-term savings, particularly if your project involves a component with precise tolerances that plays a key role in the performance of your system. To make an informed choice when evaluating your prototype tooling options, you must take into account a wider range of elements than just cost and lead time.
We have strong capacities to provide rapid prototype tooling manufacturing at a competitive cost catering to your unique requirement and specific applications like accuracy and tolerances, with advanced technical equipment and skilled workers.
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