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What is Rapid Tooling and How is it Classified?

Today, we have made much progress with direct fabrication. But there are still limited and slow processes with fastest additive systems. They are incapable of creating parts in a wide range of materials quick enough to match. Rapid tooling is a tooling which is made with additive processes in which the term is derived from rapid prototyping. Rapid prototyping starts extending some technologies to build parts out of metal and more durable items. Rapid prototyping can be used to create tools such as injection molds.


Many additive technologies like laser powder forming and laser sintering are used to build tools in metal and other material. Rapid tooling is quite right to these applications. Indirect process happens when additive fabrication methods are used to build a pattern or model where the tools are also used to do the secondary process.

Rapid Tooling


Two types of rapid tooling: Direct and Indirect

Rapid tooling has a great positive impact on prototyping process. With rapid tooling, designer can create several prototypes in a fraction of the time it will cost to create them by using traditional tooling methods.  For many companies, manufacturers and business, rapid tooling is one of the best methods to develop a new part from concept. To make the most of rapid tooling process, we will need to understand which types of rapid tooling we are going to use. The two main types of rapid tooling are direct and indirect. Both of each has its advantages and disadvantages. Some product designer will get the most advantages from a direct rapid tooling process and some will consider to use indirect rapid tooling method instead. Today. We will talk about the two main type of rapid tooling to help us choose which one is the best fit our product development and prototyping process.


Rapid tooling is a term which refers to any process which allows us to make a tool or mold in a short time. Rapid tooling is faster and streamlined compared to traditional tooling. There are two different type of rapid tooling we can choose from. To use rapid tooling process more effectively, it is very important to understand which type to focus on before making decision.


Four main steps of Direct Tooling

1, Create a model of the mold or tool by CAD software.

2, Send the document or a file to a machine or a printer to create the real mold or tool which will be used to produce prototype. This can be a subtractive process where a CNC machine cut raw materials raw material to create the shape or an additive manufacturing process where a 3D printer creates the shape and parts.

3, The produced tool and mold can be used directly to create prototypes, especially for a very low volume production.


Three main steps of Indirect Tooling

1, Create a model of master mold or tool by CAD software.

2, Send the document or a file to the printer or machine to build a master tool or mold which is also known as a pattern. This master pattern is very durable.

3, Create more mold or tools according to the master pattern. The new molds or tools could be created from different material with different properties. We could use the master pattern for hard tooling which are made from durable or robust material or soft tooling which are less robust. A master pattern can create many different tools or mold in low or high volume which can create more prototypes.


In short, direct tooling is a quick and easy way to create molds or tools and indirect tooling can be more time-consuming which need more steps or resources. It does not mean direct tooling is the most suitable way for prototyping. Actually, product designers prefer to use indirect tooling in prototyping stage as both indirect and indirect rapid tooling have many advantages and disadvantages, we should wight our options carefully.


When to use Direct Rapid Tooling?

Direct rapid tooling is more commonly used in manufacturing than in prototyping. In low volume production, direct rapid tooling allows us to create a mold or tooling quickly and produce parts immediately. Direct rapid tooling is beneficial for low volume production as the tools don’t have to be robust or durable. We can produce more than 5,000 units from direct rapid tooling depending on the chosen materials and the complexity level of the design. When we use direct rapid tooling in prototyping, there are some limitations. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of direct rapid tooling.


Advantages of Direct Rapid Tooling

1, Direct rapid tooling offers fast production and short lead time. Molds or tools could be made in just a few days or weeks.

2, Direct rapid tooling involves less steps and requires fewer resources.

3, Direct rapid tooling can produce several prototypes from a mold or tool.

4, Direct rapid tooling is flexible which allow us to create multiple tools or molds quickly when our design changes.


Disadvantages of Direct Rapid Tooling

1, Direct rapid tooling molds are not as robust or durable as prototypes made by indirect rapid tooling methods.

2, We have to create multiple tools or molds in different materials without a master pattern, which could create mistakes in the tool or mold dimensions.

3, If the tool or mold are broken, or we want to make with new material, you have to begin the whole process again.

4, Development cost for direct rapid tooling is high. Especially when we create multiple molds or tools for each new design.


If we have an idea for a design or just want to test the feasibility as quickly as possible, direct rapid tooling is an ideal option. It is also a great option if we don’t need to produce prototypes with a high level details or if we are in the early design process. It does not make sense to build master pattern for a design which change any time. Direct rapid tooling is a flexible process which offer us the freedom to perform with different dimensions.


When to use Indirect Rapid Tooling?

Indirect rapid tooling is more commonly used in prototyping stages compared to other types of rapid tooling. Prototyping stage means experimentation and testing. When we have a detailed design and we want to test different material, for example, indirect rapid tooling is a good option as it is easy to create multiple test tools and molds from the same master pattern. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of indirect rapid tooling.


Advantages of indirect rapid tooling

1, The master pattern is durable and rarely gets damaged in the prototyping process. We will likely have to invest in one master pattern unless we change design.

2, We can use indirect rapid tooling for both hard or soft tools according to your needs. Hard tools are great for complex designs and soft tools can be used for simple design or cost-effective prototype testing.

3, There are less variation in different tools and molds, because they are all based on the same master pattern.

4, Indirect rapid tooling is good for testing different materials, as we can create tools or molds which are best suited to a particular material or prototype.


Disadvantages of indirect rapid tooling

1, Compared to direct rapid tooling, indirect rapid tooling is slightly more time consuming.

2, Cost for indirect rapid tooling is higher

3, Indirect rapid tooling is a good option if our design will change significantly during the prototyping stage.

4, Indirect rapid tooling needs higher quality materials to create a robust master pattern.

5, Indirect rapid tooling is not always necessary for simple designs which does not need a high level of dimensional precision or accuracy


In short, indirect rapid tooling is a great option for designers who are ready to test prototypes and choose materials or finishes for their finished parts.


Choose the best Type of Rapid Tooling for your projects

Which type of rapid tooling should we choose for our projects. It will depend on our product and where we are in the design process. For example, if we are in the early stage in the process and we just have a basic concept of a design, it is too early to choose the type of rapid tooling to use. Even if we create a design which are want to test, the complexity of the design can dictate if we use indirect or direct rapid tooling to create our prototypes. This help to point us in the right direction but we need to discuss prototyping requirements with an experienced prototypes manufacturer like TEAM Rapid before we begin this process.


At TEAM Rapid, we will not only help customers to prepared custom design for rapid tooling process which include creating a 3D model of it by CAD software. We also offer tooling recommendations according to a number of factor unique to customers’ project which include budget, timeline, design complexity, materials, tolerances, no matter customers soft or hard tooling and more. Contact us today if you need rapid tooling services.

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