What are the Advantages of Rapid Tooling?
If you’re trying to get a new product to market, you’ve probably heard that rapid tooling is one of the best ways to prototype and test your design. It’s true—there are a number of advantages of rapid tooling, particularly for small businesses or entrepreneurs looking to get their ideas on the market fast.
However, before you hire a contract manufacturer that specializes in rapid tooling, it’s important to know exactly how this process can benefit your business. When is rapid tooling useful? Are there other tooling methods that will get you better results? In this guide, you’ll learn which advantages rapid tooling has over conventional tooling systems and whether it’s the right choice for your project.
How Does Rapid Tooling Differ from Other Tooling Processes?
Rapid tooling is the process of making a part, prototype, or mold in a very short timeframe. This definition is broad, so this process often looks very different from one project to the next. For example, you can send a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) model to a 3D printer and have a prototype ready within just a few hours. Or you can create a custom mold, which you can then use to manufacture multiple injection-molded parts from different test materials in quick succession. While a conventional tooling process generally takes weeks or months to complete, a rapid tooling process may take days or even hours.
The rapid tooling process also differs from conventional tooling in that it generally involves fewer steps. For example, if you decide to construct a prototype using conventional tooling methods, you may have to use multiple manufacturing processes and techniques. Rather than relying on automated technology like 3D printers or CNC machinery to do the bulk of the work, you may have human workers and engineers designing and developing prototypes manually. These extra steps extend the time you spend in the design and prototyping stage and increase total product development costs.
This is why many businesses take advantage of rapid tooling instead of relying on conventional tooling methods. However, to decide whether rapid tooling is the best choice for your project, you should take a closer look at its benefits and weigh them against any potential disadvantages.
The Advantages of Rapid Tooling for Businesses
There are many direct and indirect advantages of rapid tooling for businesses and entrepreneurs. That is what makes this process so compelling—when you save time and money on prototyping or mold manufacturing, you could also experience benefits related to ROI and even the overall quality of your product.
Here are five of the most notable advantages of rapid tooling for businesses:
#1: Faster Time to Market
The faster you can get through the prototyping and molding process, the sooner you can finalize your design and get it into your customers’ hands. You don’t have to wait days for a woodworker to shape a physical prototype or waste time recreating a computerized model from a rough physical prototype. Creating a computerized model of the design or mold early in the process and letting automated machinery handle the rest is the quickest way to test your design and move on to the manufacturing stage.
#2: Reduced Product Development Costs
It generally costs less to hire a contract manufacturer to provide rapid tooling services than it does to hire a staff of engineers to shape prototypes or molds manually. The rapid tooling process also saves your business money over time. The longer you spend in the prototyping or molding stage, the greater your product development costs will be. Shaving just a few days off the prototyping process could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
#3: Superior Design Testing
Rapid tooling allows you to make multiple prototypes or molds in very little time. This gives you more freedom to make design adjustments and test out new ideas. By comparison, if a prototype takes days or weeks to complete, you may be less inclined to change the design, even if it would improve the final product. Sinking significant costs or energy into one prototype discourages innovation. Alternatively, if you can make prototypes in just a few hours, you can experiment more and land on a design that you feel confident in and that your customers will value.
#4: Types of Materials
One advantage of rapid tooling that more businesses are leveraging is the use of injection-molded parts. You can use rapid tooling to quickly create a custom mold with virtually any physical dimensions (although the more complex the mold is, the more difficult it will be to manufacture). You can then create as many parts from this mold as you need. This is particularly useful for testing different types of materials and their properties. If you’re unsure exactly which material will perform best, you can use a mold to make multiple prototypes from each material and perform thorough quality control tests on them.
#5: Increased ROI
Rapid tooling reduces product development time so you can start making a return on your investment fast. Lower prototyping and production costs also increase your overall ROI because once you begin selling your product, you can quickly recoup any upfront expenses you incurred. This is particularly beneficial for businesses that have limited production budgets and business owners who strive to keep their operations as lean as possible.
Another underrated advantage of rapid tooling is that it’s becoming much more accessible than it once was. The most experienced product developers often have many rapid tooling resources available to their clients, including 3D printers, CNC machines, metal sintering tools, and other automated or robotic systems. It’s no longer an option reserved exclusively for large corporations with near-limitless resources. Even if you’re a solo entrepreneur with little experience making prototypes or molds, when you work with a skilled contract manufacturer, you’ll have access to some of the most efficient and advanced tools and machinery for the task.
Finding the Best Rapid Tooling Process
Although there are many advantages of rapid tooling, it’s not a perfect solution for every project. The main disadvantage of rapid tooling is that the prototypes or molded parts it produces may not be as precise as those created using conventional tooling methods (depending on the methodology used). However, this is becoming less of a concern in the modern product development industry. Tools like 3D printers and CNC machines are becoming much more advanced and are capable of producing complex parts with a high degree of accuracy and precision. In other words, you don’t necessarily have to spend months perfecting your design and prototype if you want to create a high-quality product.
With this in mind, the main deciding factor is whether you can find a rapid tooling expert you can trust. An experienced contract manufacturer will work closely with you on the design and offer you advice on whether rapid tooling is appropriate for your project. They may ask you questions like:
- What is your ideal timeline for getting your product to market?
- Do you need to test multiple materials?
- How complex is your design and does it require a high degree of precision?
- What is your total product development budget?
- Do you want to create a mold that you can later use for large-scale manufacturing?
Your answers to these questions will help engineers determine whether rapid tooling is the best option for your project. Even if conventional tooling turns out to be the better choice for you, then the contract manufacturer will create a detailed plan for getting through the conventional tooling process as quickly as possible without going over budget. Using their expertise and resources, you’ll move from the prototyping stage to the manufacturing stage with relative ease.
PRL’s engineers have dozens of manufacturing options available to help you solve any challenge facing your product: CNC machining, custom tooling, 3D printing, thermoplastic molding, reverse engineering, and more. No matter what stage your product is currently at, we can create it and optimize it for manufacturing.