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Everything You Need To Know About Rapid Tooling

by Nice Rapid | Feb 19,2020 | Rapid Tooling

Rapid tooling is a relatively new technique in manufacturing. It started with the demand for customized parts in small volumes. This constant need for such parts paved the way for developing technological processes that are flexible and shorter production for tooling.

The Conventional Tooling Method

Before rapid tooling entered the picture, the manufacturing process rests solely on conventional tooling. This technique is almost similar to the low volume production of parts and products. The methods used depend on the technical requirements, and mostly, the blank is either cast, forged, or joined together. For an increase in durability, it is either heat-treated or machined and undergoes proper finishing techniques to be loyal to the design.

The manufacturing process involved will also depend on the complexity and number of parts needed. Because the process using conventional tooling takes longer, its turnaround time cannot cope up with the demand for the test batch or the prototype of the product.

What is Rapid Tooling?

Rapid tooling combines conventional tooling practices and rapid prototyping techniques to quickly produce mold. It means that it does not only shortens that turnaround time; it can also reduce the cost of plastic injection molding. With such an efficient and faster process, it can shorten the time to wait for a part of a product to go into full production. It also does not compromise the expectation and quality of the product.

Indirect vs. Direct Tooling

The innovations in the fabrication industry have resulted in an immense transformation, and all this is made possible by rapid tooling. It has led to many applications in such a short time, pushing the industry into greater heights.

With rapid tooling, the rapid prototyping techniques and the conventional tools provided the ability to create molds faster.  It uses the rapid prototyping process to fabricate the tools, and because the demand for faster tooling is high, there are many RT methods introduced.

There are two types of rapid tooling techniques based on manufacturing methods. They are indirect and direct rapid tooling.

In direct tooling, the rapid tooling method used is for the straight fabrication of molds and does not need any specific pattern. The most common techniques used here are direct AIM, laminated tooling, DMLS, a quick cast method, LENS, and many others.

Indirect tooling processes are commonly used in prototyping and not in direct production. There are two types of indirect tooling: hard tooling and soft tooling. The choice between the two depends on the materials used. Some examples of the techniques used in this tooling process include 3D tooling, spray metal tooling and silicone rubber tooling.

The Rapid Tooling Methods

There are many uses for rapid tooling techniques, and these demands gave rise to many technologies. A lot of them are descendants of rapid prototyping technologies with few modifications because the requirements like durability and precision are much higher in tooling compared to prototyping.

Here are some of these technologies that you are quite familiar with.

 - CNC Machining

If there is one thing about CNC machining, it is convenience. Amongst the rapid tooling techniques, it is the most conventional. The rise of the CNC systems has made machining processes easier and faster. There is no special tooling needed as the system offers precision to cut the material based on design.

It can accommodate parts of products that have tight tolerances (even up to a few microns) using the 5-axis CNC machine. This machining service makes it possible to produce low volume parts without investing in expensive machines.

- 3D Printing

If CNC machining is a subtracting process, 3D printing is an additive process. It is entirely new and is becoming a favorite for low-volume manufacturing. So far, there are two methods of tooling used in 3D printing, direct metal deposition and bed fusion. In these two processes, the metal powder forms the final product by sintering.

3D printing has an advantage over rother rapid tooling process, and that is flexibility. It also requires no additional fixture and does not need a blank. Another good thing about this method is it can accommodate cooling channels and sharp corners that are impossible if not hard to make if you use other processing techniques. Its only downside is the finishing. It is not very good and needs post-processing.

- Soft Silicone Tooling

Using conventional injection molding takes a long time and is expensive when you only need a few pieces of products or plastic prototypes. The solution, soft tooling. This method requires a master model which is manufactured by 3D printing or CNC machining or manually. The master model is then suspended over a tank where liquified silicone is poured over. When it gets hard, the model is removed, and you have an injection mold of silicone that’s good for fifteen uses.

- EDM Tooling

This manufacturing technique works best when the tooling needs to be robust material like titanium alloy. Instead of spending plenty of time cutting through it chip by chip, the EDM machine is used. It employs electrical charges between the tool and the blank. In the process, small titanium particles evaporate, the discharge creates a cavity in the material faster.

Using these techniques of rapid tooling to produce small quantities and prototypes is necessary for product development. Rapid tooling plays a vital role in the product design process, evaluation, and marketing of a product.

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