The need for efficiency and agility in the ever-changing manufacturing landscape has led to the development of innovative processes. One of which is the concept of “rapid tooling.” Rapid tooling is essential in shortening the product development cycle, allowing manufacturers to quickly take their designs from idea to reality.

Rapid tooling is also known as prototype mold, prototype tooling, and soft tooling. It allows you to obtain parts easily. It stands out for its short molding cycle, low molding cost, simple process, and ease of promotion. Furthermore, rapid tooling can meet specific functional requirements while providing good overall economic benefits.

Read on to learn about the fundamentals of rapid tooling, ranging from its definition to its various applications and benefits.

What Is Rapid Tooling?

Various cutting tools
Various cutting tools

The rapid tooling process involves swiftly creating molds and tooling for manufacturing purposes. This is a vital aspect of the rapid manufacturing approach, facilitating quicker and more efficient production of functional parts and prototypes. Rapid tooling is an essential link between rapid prototyping and traditional tooling methods. It offers a cost-effective and time-saving solution.

The main goal of rapid tooling is to accelerate the tooling production process. Thereby allowing manufacturers to transition rapidly from the design phase to actual manufacturing. Through advanced technologies like additive manufacturing and CNC machining, rapid tooling makes it possible to produce molds and tools with improved precision and reduced lead time. Below, we will compare rapid tooling to other manufacturing processes in terms of cost, lead time, speed, material, and applications.

Rapid Tooling vs Rapid Prototyping

Rapid tooling and rapid prototyping play essential functions in the dynamic manufacturing landscape. Each contributes uniquely to the product development journey. Rapid Tooling is concerned with quickly creating production tools to ensure efficient mass production, whereas Rapid Prototyping excels at rapidly creating physical models for design validation.

Here is a table showing the contrast between rapid tooling and rapid prototyping.

Rapid Tooling Rapid Prototyping
CostInitial setup costs might be higher because mold costs are required.
However, it is cost-effective for low to medium production volumes.
Generally lower initial costs cause there are no mold fees required.
It is ideal for early-stage design validation because no mold fees are required.
Lead timeShort lead times, especially for production tools.
It is suitable for rapid product development cycles.
Quick turnaround for creating prototypes.
It has a limited impact on overall product development time.
MaterialMolds are usually made of metal, and the workpieces produced can be plastics and metals parts.Supports a variety of materials, including plastics and metals.

It often uses materials that simulate final product properties.
AccuracyGenerally high accuracy, especially for production-grade tools.
It is suitable for applications with low-volume precise requirements.
Accurate for prototyping purposes.
It may have limitations in achieving the same level of precision as Rapid Tooling in final production.
ComplexityCapable of handling complex geometries.
Well-suited for intricate tool designs.
Ideal for visualizing and testing basic to moderately complex designs.
It may face challenges with extremely complex geometries.
ApplicationWell-suited for industries requiring economical small volume production.
It is ideal for small to medium production runs.
Primarily used for design validation and rapid iteration.
It is also common in industries where rapid iteration is essential.

Rapid Tooling vs Conventional Tooling

In the world of manufacturing, the decision between CNC rapid tooling and conventional tooling is important. This is because it can have a significant impact on production efficiency and costs. Rapid production tooling excels in strength and speed, catering to industries with changing demands, whereas Conventional Tooling is the stalwart, providing stability and precision for long-term, high-volume production.

Here is a table showing the contrast between rapid tooling and conventional tooling:

Rapid Tooling Conventional Tooling
CostGenerally more cost-effective for shorter production runs.Higher initial costs, potentially economical for large-scale productions.
Lead timeSignificantly shorter lead times. It is ideal for quick response to market demands.Longer lead times, especially for complex tooling.It is reliable for large-scale, long-term production.
MaterialVersatile in material options, adaptable to different manufacturing needs. Mold is mainly made of metal materials.Supports a wide range of materials, often with more options than Rapid Tooling.It is suitable for diverse production requirements. Mold is mainly made of steel metal.
AccuracyGenerally high accuracy, suitable for production-grade tools.Offers high precision and accuracy, particularly for long-term, stable production.
ComplexityCapable of handling complex geometries, suitable for intricate tool designs.Well-suited for extremely complex geometries and detailed tooling requirements.
ApplicationWell-suited for industries requiring flexibility, rapid adaptation, and small to medium production. It is used for prototype only when the product development project is 90% sure to be successful.Act as sample for test before high and low volume production.

Rapid Tooling vs Die Casting Molding

Die cast mold
Die cast mold

Starting the manufacturing journey requires an important choice between rapid tooling and die-casting molding. They both embody distinct approaches to production. Rapid tooling, emphasizing speed and flexibility, contrasts with die-casting molding, known for its efficiency in crafting intricate parts at scale.

Here is a table showing the contrast between rapid tooling and die-casting molding:

Rapid Tooling Die Casting Molding
CostGenerally more cost-effective for shorter production runs.May have higher initial tooling costs but can offer cost efficiency for high-volume production.
Lead timeSignificantly shorter lead times, ideal for quick response to market demands.Initial tooling may take longer, but once set up, production lead times are relatively short, making it efficient for large-scale production.
MaterialVersatile in metal and plastic material options, adaptable to different manufacturing needs.It is suitable for various metal alloy materials, especially metals like aluminum, zinc, and magnesium.
AccuracyGenerally high accuracy, suitable for production-grade tools.It offers high precision and accuracy, making it a suitable for complex and detailed parts.
ComplexityIt is capable of handling complex geometries, suitable for intricate tool designs.Ideal for intricate and complex part designs, offering high-detail reproduction.
ApplicationWell-suited for industries requiring flexibility, rapid adaptation, and small to medium production.Commonly used for high-volume production of complex parts in industries like automotive, aerospace, and electronics.

Rapid Tooling vs Injection Molding

Injection molding process
Injection molding process

Each method has distinct advantages. Rapid tooling, known for its speed and adaptability, contrasts with injection molding, a method known for its efficiency in producing large volumes of intricately shaped plastic parts.

Here is a table showing the contrast between rapid tooling and injection molding:

Rapid Tooling Injection Molding
CostSignificantly less cost due to cheaper mold.May have higher initial tooling costs but can offer cost efficiency for high-volume production.
Lead timeSignificantly shorter lead times, ideal for quick response to market demands.Initial tooling may take longer, but once set up, production lead times can be efficient, especially for large quantities.
MaterialVersatile in material options, adaptable to different manufacturing needs.Supports a wide range of materials, particularly plastics, and can accommodate various additives for specific properties.
AccuracyGenerally high accuracy, suitable for production-grade tools.Gives high precision and accuracy, making it suitable for complex and detailed parts.
ComplexityCapable of handling complex geometries, suitable for intricate tool designs.Suitable for complex part designs, providing high detail reproduction.
ApplicationWell-suited for industries requiring flexibility, rapid adaptation, and small to medium production.Commonly used for large-scale production of plastic parts across various industries, including automotive, consumer goods, and medical devices.

2 Ways to Make Rapid Tooling

CNC lathe processing
CNC lathe processing

There are two common ways to make molds using rapid tooling. They are direct and indirect rapid tooling. This section will explain the two methods and how they can they used in making molds.

Direct Rapid Tooling

The direct method of rapid tooling involves the creation of both the cavity mold inserts and the actual core. One significant advantage of this approach lies in its capacity to generate tools with geometries that would be challenging to achieve through other means. An example is the conformal cooling technique, where heat dissipation from the mold is uniform, reducing cooling times by approximately 66%. This is achieved by aligning the internal cooling channels with the contours present in the mold cavities.

Pros of Direct Rapid Tooling?

  • Reduced lead times and quicker manufacturing (tools or molds can be made in days or weeks).
  • Occasionally needs fewer resources.
  • Only few steps are involved.

Cons of Direct Rapid Tooling?

  • Prototypes created this way are typically less robust and long-lasting than those made via indirect rapid tooling.
  • The entire process must be repeated if the CNC rapid prototyping tool or mold breaks or you want to try a different material.
  • It might not be suitable for materials or designs that require intricate details to be made using a durable mold or tool.

Indirect Rapid Tooling

Indirect rapid tooling uses additive manufacturing master patterns to make a mold or die. Although many technologies are available, “soft tooling” techniques are the most widely used. Soft tooling method uses silicone molds for plastic parts and sacrificial models for metal investment casting.

Testing and experimentation are the goals of indirect rapid tooling. For example, indirect rapid tooling is a great solution when you wish to test various materials and already have a detailed design. This is so that molds and multiple test tools can be made from the same master pattern with ease.

Pros of Indirect Rapid Tooling

  • Throughout the prototyping process, the master pattern is solid, resilient, and rarely broken.
  • Unless your design changes, you probably only need one master pattern.
  • They have less variation since every rapid tool and mold is derived from the same master pattern.

Cons of Indirect Rapid Tooling?

  • The production time is longer than that of direct rapid tooling.
  • It requires a middleman, which could increase expenses.
  • For the creation of a strong and long-lasting master pattern, better materials might be required.

Here is a table showing the different steps you can use direct and indirect rapid tooling to make molds:

Steps Indirect Rapid ToolingDirect Rapid Tooling
Step 1Model the tool or mold using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software.

Model the master tool or mold using CAD software.
Step 2Send the file to a printer or machine to create the real mold or tool used to create prototypes.
This can be done additively, using a 3D printer to create the desired shape from scratch, or subtractively, using a CNC machine to cut raw material into the desired shape.
Use a printer or machine to send the file to create a master mold or tool known as a pattern. This master pattern is frequently pretty robust.
Step 3Prototypes can be made directly from the manufactured tool or mold.
Make additional tools or molds using the master pattern. It is possible to create new molds or tools using various materials that have unique characteristics.
The master pattern can be used for soft tooling (less robust tools) or hard tooling (tools made of durable materials).
Many tools or molds can be made from a single master pattern in large or small quantities, which can then be utilized to make more prototypes.

What Material Can Be Used for Rapid Tooling?

The materials used for rapid tooling can be classified as soft tooling materials and hard tooling materials.

Soft Tooling

Soft tooling is a versatile manufacturing approach that relies on flexible and resilient materials to create molds to produce various parts. Soft tools, as opposed to their rigid counterparts in hard tooling, are made from materials such as urethane and silicone rubber. They offer unique characteristics that make them particularly well-suited for specific applications.

  • Urethane

Urethane is a versatile material used in soft tooling. It is known for its unique combination of flexibility and durability. Because of its exceptional flexibility, it is an excellent choice for applications requiring easy demolding, particularly when dealing with intricate and complex part geometries. Urethane is well-known for its ability to maintain durability despite its flexibility, ensuring soft tooling longevity.

  • Silicone Rubber

Another essential material in soft tooling is silicone rubber, known for its exceptional flexibility and heat resistance. Silicone rubber’s exceptional flexibility makes it an excellent choice for demolding complex shapes and parts with intricate undercuts. This property, combined with its ability to withstand high temperatures, makes silicone rubber ideal for molding applications requiring elevated curing or processing temperatures.

Hard Tooling

  • Aluminum

Aluminum is a lightweight metal known for its good thermal conductivity. It is particularly suitable for applications with moderate production volumes. Its lightweight nature contributes to ease of handling, while its thermal conductivity aids in efficient cooling during the molding process.

  • Steel

Steel, renowned for its high strength and durability, is preferred for projects with high production volumes. Its robust properties make it ideal for creating molds that must withstand extensive and prolonged use demands.

  • Stainless Steel

Stainless steel brings corrosion resistance to the table, making it an excellent choice for applications where exposure to moisture or corrosive environments is a concern. It combines durability with rust resistance, enhancing its longevity and suitability for various molding projects.

  • Titanium

Titanium, known for its strength-to-weight ratio and corrosion resistance, is an advanced choice for hard tooling. It is particularly suitable for projects where a balance between strength and weight is critical

  • Plaster

Plaster, while less common than metals, offers a cost-effective alternative in certain hard tooling scenarios. Plaster is a cost-effective material but is generally less durable compared to metals. Its affordability makes it an attractive choice for projects with budget constraints, especially when tool longevity is not critical.

Plaster is well-suited for low-volume production and prototyping. Its ease of use and mold-making capabilities make it a practical option for projects with more minor production requirements.

Applications of Rapid Tooling

High speed drill
High-speed drill

Here are the various applications of rapid tooling:

CNC Machining

Rapid tooling in CNC machining involves the swift creation of tooling, such as molds or dies, to be used in the machining process. It allows for the quick production of prototypes and custom parts. Rapidly fabricating the necessary tools ensures a shorter lead time, enabling manufacturers to iterate designs rapidly.

CNC machines then use these tools to precisely cut and shape materials, allowing for the efficient production of intricate components. The adaptability of Rapid tooling in CNC machining proves beneficial for low-volume production runs where speed and customization are essential.

Die Casting

In die casting, Rapid tooling plays a pivotal role in creating molds used to produce complex and detailed parts. Rapidly fabricating these molds allows for accelerated production cycles, reducing the time required for tooling setup.

This speed is particularly crucial in the automotive and consumer electronics industries, where quick turnaround times are imperative. The rapid tooling process ensures that the molds are ready swiftly, facilitating the efficient casting of components with precision and detail.

Sheet Metal Fabrication

Rapid tooling involves the prompt creation of tools, such as dies or punches, to shape and form metal sheets. This process is crucial for prototyping and custom enclosures. Rapid Tooling in sheet metal fabrication enables the fast production of protective casings for electronic devices and machinery.

Additionally, in the automotive industry, rapid tooling facilitates the swift creation of tools for forming vehicle panels and body components. The speed of tooling setup is essential in meeting production demands and achieving timely project milestones.

Considerations to Make Prototyping Molds

CNC milling machine rough cutting
CNC milling machine rough cutting

When venturing into prototyping molds, several vital considerations come into play to ensure effective and efficient mold design and production. These considerations include:

  • Material Selection

The choice of material for the mold is crucial. It should align with the specific requirements of the rapid prototype and the manufacturing process. Factors such as material properties, durability, and ease of machining must be considered.

  • Mold Design Precision

Accurate size and smooth surface of the mold are paramount. The mold’s structure should be meticulously designed to meet the prototype’s specifications. Additionally, the design must facilitate high production efficiency and easy automation.

  • Production Efficiency and Cost

A balance between production efficiency and cost is essential. The mold design should optimize manufacturing processes, ensuring long life, low cost, and adherence to economic considerations.

  • Adaptability to Manufacturing Needs

The mold structure and parameters should align with the manufacturing process requirements. Rigidity, guidance, unloading mechanisms, and positioning methods must be carefully considered to enhance adaptability.

  • Wear Parts and Replacement

Wear parts in the mold should be designed for easy replacement. This consideration is crucial for maintaining the mold’s longevity and minimizing downtime during production.


Rapid tooling is a common method that manufacturers like to use. This technique allows manufacturers to speed up product development, save time and money compared to traditional tooling methods, and quickly test and validate product designs. Time to market is shortened, product quality and design are enhanced, and customer satisfaction rises. Rapid tooling allows manufacturers to iterate and alter the product design more quickly and efficiently.

At Zintilon, we offer our clients more than just assistance with custom design preparation for the rapid tooling process, which includes CAD software-generated 3D models. In addition, we provide tooling recommendations based on various specific project-specific factors, such as the customer’s soft or hard tooling preferences, budget, schedule, design complexity, materials, and tolerances. Contact us right now if you need quick tooling services!

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