Rapid Tooling vs Conventional Tooling: Three Key Differences and Why They Matter

Tooling is a vital step on the path to manufacturing. It involves creating the tools that create the product, like molds, dies, cutting equipment, jigs, and other custom parts. However, there’s a range of options in managing this process. What the creator chooses is going to depend on three basic factors: speed, cost, and minimally acceptable quality. Those are the three primary differences between rapid tooling vs conventional tooling.   

Key Considerations in Choosing a Tooling Method

Before choosing a tooling method, the creator should review some basic criteria about their concept, which will help to guide them in their decision. Ideally, they should consider:

  • Design stage: While any product design has room for improvement, how far along the creator is in reaching near perfection will help them understand if they’re ready to start actual production, or if more prototyping is needed to work out kinks. 
  • Product complexity: The more moving parts and complex components a product has, the longer it will take to perfect the prototype and a process for manufacturing it. 
  • Intended market: Products designed for the mass market are going to have drastically different tooling needs than those designed for a small, specialized group, or limited runs of items. 
  • Potential competition: An idea is rarely 100% unique. It is far more common that more than a few people have the same basic concept in mind to solve a common problem. In many cases, the successful launch of a design depends on not who creates a better product, but who gets the product to market first. 
  • Budget and funding: An inventor may want to create a working prototype using their funding before reaching out to investors or venture capital groups. In this case, it’s usually better to conserve funds in the beginning by using lower-cost tooling methods. 

Those factors will give creators a good idea of their needs when it comes to rapid tooling vs conventional tooling. This information helps them narrow down what’s most important, whether it’s creating a product quickly, cost-effectively, or with a focus on the highest quality standards. 

Rapid Tooling vs Conventional Tooling: Three Differences 

Understanding the differences between rapid tooling vs conventional tooling

Conventional tooling can mean a lot of different things, but it basically boils down to using many different manufacturing processes to create a product. Human workers will manage much of the process, as opposed to robotic or automated technology.  Rapid tooling often accompanies rapid prototyping. It’s useful for establishing product models, as well as troubleshooting existing issues with them. It is not typically used for large-scale manufacturing, though occasionally comes in handy for smaller runs. 

When considering rapid tooling, it’s also important to note there are two basic types; direct and indirect. Indirect tooling methods are sometimes called “pattern-based,” as a master schematic is necessary to build the item. Direct rapid tooling, on the other hand, does not use a pattern and instead leverages additive processes for the direct creation of necessary parts. Choosing between rapid tooling vs conventional tooling is about looking at their key differences, which are; 

#1: Speed

Rapid tooling is significantly faster than the conventional process. This is particularly useful in instances where small-run manufacturing is extremely time-sensitive. The creation of a prototype and troubleshooting of that prototype are also ideal candidates for rapid prototyping due to the need to work expeditiously and create multiple iterations of the same concept. 

#2: Cost

Rapid tooling is much more cost-effective because it’s a simplified process that takes less time and requires less human labor. Also, as much of it is managed by machine and computer programs, the risk of human error, which can lead to wasted resources and labor, is reduced. 

#3: Quality

Rapid tooling often results in parts that are less durable and have shorter lifespans than those created via conventional tooling. These types of tools will likely also impact the longevity of the products they create. That’s not always a bad thing, as some products aren’t meant to last for the long term, so spending money to ensure their durability is wasteful. 

Working with a Partner to Establish Tooling Needs 

In some cases, a creator won’t have to choose one or the other when it comes to deciding between rapid tooling vs conventional tooling. They may use rapid tooling while in the product development stage, and then switch to conventional methods when they’re ready to manufacture the product. While it’s easy to get a basic idea of what’s best by considering the needs of the individual product, it’s wise to consult with an expert who is familiar with both designing products and manufacturing them. Ideally, the creator will work with design engineers who have completed similar products in the past to gain the benefit of their experience.

Pacific Research Laboratories can help you choose between rapid tooling vs conventional tooling, to include establishing a method that combines rapid tooling’s speed and cost-effectiveness with conventional tooling’s quality results. Visit our contact page or call (206) 408-7603 to learn more.