If you are an engineer trying to make a new design, prototype tooling is going to play a major role. There are different ways that prototype parts are made. All of them are going to influence the quality of your final product. How your tools are made is dependent on your ultimate goal. For example, if your prototype going to undergo extreme testing? Does it need to look nice for an important presentation? Are there regulations that need to be followed? There are different prototyping options available and understanding the differences between them will help you choose the right one for your product.
Stereolithography and Selective Laser Sintering
Often shortened to SLA/SLS, these are additive manufacturing technologies that are ideal for tools that need to be made quickly. A UV laser is used to create a solid part using a computer-aided design (CAD) pattern. Individual layers of resin are cured using this laser, forming it into a prototype tool. While this technology works quickly, the resin is expensive and there are some major size limitations. On the other hand, a dye can be added to the resin to make it look pretty.
This is a low-volume production method that takes advantage of polyurethane plastic materials that build prototypes. This production method is ideal for marketing samples because the plastic tools look like finished products. The materials used to make these prototypes are limited which means they might not deliver the same volume of products; however, this is a cost-effective method of prototyping. For this reason, it remains popular.
Finally, soft tooling is a common prototyping method in the injection molding industry. This technique can be used to produce a high volume of parts quickly at a reasonable price. Typically, this process uses aluminum cores and cavities to design its prototypes. This is a great option for early prototype builds as long as the tolerances are loose and the parts are simple. On the other hand, there is not a lot of room for dimensional changes once the prototypes have been sampled.
Choose the Right Prototyping Method
These are a few of the most common ways in which prototype tools are designed. It is important for engineers to think about the goals of their prototypes. Then, these goals can be weighed against the advantages and disadvantages of these various design methods. This will help companies choose the right tooling option.