When it comes to the prototyping process, rapid tooling is highly impactful. In comparison to conventional methods, rapid tooling helps product designers to create multiple prototypes within a short timeframe. There are two broad categories of rapid tooling - direct and indirect approach. While the indirect approach involves RP master patterns to produce a mold, the latter approach is when the RP machine builds the actual core and inserts. Both of these categories have its own advantages and disadvantages.
What is rapid tooling?
Rapid tooling is also known as prototype tooling and soft tooling. Just as the name suggests, it's the process of making a tool or a mold in a short amount of time using technology. Using additive manufacturing techniques, this process speeds up product manufacturing. Two key advantages of rapid tooling are cost-effectiveness and speed of course. Now, let's take a closer look at the two types of rapid tooling approaches.
Direct vs. Indirect approaches
Direct and indirect approaches are the two main types of rapid tooling processes used for prototyping. For the effective use of rapid tooling, you must know which type of process to be adopted. We have curated this quick guide to help you differentiate between the two approaches.
In direct tooling, the approaches are pretty straightforward. Whether you are looking to create a model of the tool or mold, it is imperative to start by identifying your business requirement. You could create those using CAD (Computer-aided design) software. The next step is to deploy the files to a machine or printer using either subtractive or additive processes to produce prototypes. The subrative process uses a CNC machine to form the shape, whereas the additive process uses the 3D printer to create the shape from nothing. Finally, in a direct approach, the tool or mold can be used to make a small number of prototypes within a short span of time. This approach is extremely flexible, which gives you an option to make multiple molds or tools based on the design changes.
As for indirect tooling, the process starts exactly like the direct tooling method. CAD software is used to create a model of the master tool or mold. The file is sent to the machine or printer to create a master pattern. The key advantage of using this method is that the master mold produced from this approach is usually durable. Based on the master pattern created, you continue to make multiples of the same design from different types of materials. A single master pattern can be used to produce both hard and soft tooling, in small or large quantities.
Direct tooling is undoubtedly a faster and simpler process in comparison to indirect tooling as it requires a few more steps. But, most product designers prefer the latter, especially for prototyping.
Choosing the best option for your process involves considering the key factors like budget, timeline, design complexity, materials and more.