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what is rapid tooling and how it works

Rapid Tooling in Injection Moulding: Overview, Benefits & Applications

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Testing and validation of parts is an essential part of the product development process. Although other prototyping options such as 3D printing, CNC or vacuum casting would generally allow faster and cheaper prototypes, the main advantage of rapid tooling lies in the process and materials. For this reason, Rapid Injection Moulding is still one of the most common form of rapid tooling today. In this article, we take look an in-depth look into the process, how it works, when to use it and how it compares to other rapid prototyping methods.


What is rapid tooling in injection moulding?

Conceptually, rapid tooling (RT) is any type of injection mould manufactured in a shorter timeframe and a lower cost than a full production mould tool without compromising on the quality of the part. This process allows for the fabrication of detailed and complex geometries with precise tolerances in production-grade materials.


How rapid tooling works. Mould making for rapid injection molding


By eliminating the need to remake a full-scale production tool, the speed and lower costs of rapid tooling offers greater flexibility and provide designers and engineers with an opportunity for innovation. This makes the process suitable for not just lower volume production but also market testing and rapid prototyping applications.


How rapid tooling works

How are rapid tools made and how does it differ from conventional tool making? There are many different approaches depending on the part and requirements but essentially the general idea is to reduce as far as possible both the time taken and the costs involved in manufacturing the tool. Some of the most common techniques include:


  • Picking Tool Types: opting for aluminium or soft steel alternatives help expedite machining process. They are also cheaper than hard steel materials.
  • Using Standard Mold Bases: utilizing standardized mold bases and focusing on producing inserts help streamline the tool-making process.
  • Eliminating Extra Processes: omitting supplementary steps such as Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM) to enhance efficiency.
  • Post-Machining Features: Incorporating features or threads after initial machining rather than including them in the initial tooling, facilitating quicker production.
  • Abandoning Side Actions: while doing so may increase cycle time, it can still prove beneficial in cases where quantities are low.


what is rapid tooling in plastic injection molding


Reasons to use rapid tooling

1. Prototyping in the production intent material

In certain instances, prototyping in the production intent material is a ‘must have.’ This may be because the standard prototyping options cannot achieve the temperature or other environmental requirements or you want a much clearer picture of how the parts will act in real-world applications. Prototyping in the production intent material will allow you to test and confirm you’ve made the correct material choices.


2. You only require lower volumes

Unlike full-scale production tooling, rapid tooling is designed to cater to “smaller projects.” This allows for the fabrication of production-grade parts with precise tolerances but in lower volumes. This is especially beneficial for aerospace component or specialist vehicle manufacturing that deal with smaller quantities of parts but require the use of high performance materials.


3. You need to get your product to market quickly

Rapid tooling shortens the time between the initial idea and evaluation. This fast turnaround can help companies obtain a competitive edge to bring new products into the market. In other words, you can get parts to market in a fraction of the time of traditional methods. This is especially important if you’re working with a tight timeline.



Limitations of rapid tooling in injection moulding

While rapid tooling in injection moulding offers many benefits, like any other process, it isn’t without its limitations. So, how does RT compare to conventional tooling methods and other rapid manufacturing technologies like 3D printing and CNC machining? These are some of its main disadvantages:


  • Shorter mould life cycles: aluminium and softer steel tools do not last as long as steel moulds due to the stress placed on them by the high pressure injection process.
  • Not suitable for early-stage prototypes: if you’re at the outset of prototyping and anticipate the need for multiple modifications or significant changes, avoid rapid tooling. This is because the process is costly and less tolerant to design changes.
  • Costly process: while RT processes can be cost effective, it often can be expensive, especially for low-volume production runs. The initial investment in tooling may not be justified if the production quantity is not sufficiently high.


How to get started with rapid tooling

Are you trying to source a rapid tool manufacturer for your project? Essentially you need to be very clear on what exactly you are after. Obviously, the increased speed and lower costs of rapid tooling compared to conventional production tooling are also going to impact somewhat on the final parts, but as long as you know what you are looking for and make your requirements clear to the manufacturer you should be able to avoid surprises.

Speak to a rapid tooling expert from our team to get started with your project. HLH Rapid has 20 over years of experience in plastic injection moulding and RT manufacturing. Contact us at or learn more about our services here.

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