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When does an aluminium prototype tool become a production tool?

09 March 2016

How many parts can a prototype tool produce? Can a prototype tool support production? Read RP Technologies’ guide to find out more.

RP Technologies’ often get asked the question “how many parts can a prototype tool produce?” and “can it support production from a prototype tool?”

The most important factor depends on how many parts you need to produce. Ten, 100, 1000, 10000 parts? Component quantity determines how the tool is designed and built.  (Small low volume parts might be built into bolster tool whereas complex high volume parts may have steel inserts and automated processes built in to the tooling.)

The second question asked is what material do you require? This a key aspect in the process as a tool producing simple parts in ABS will extend the tool life, but highly complex parts processed using PEEK, PPS or PPA will expect a lower lifespan. That said it's not uncommon for the company to supply well into the 10's of thousands of parts without issue with these types of materials from its tooling.

How does it determine the difference between a prototype and production tool?

Every tool is different and projects can change at the drop of a hat so here are a few examples of prototype and production tooling:

If you have a low volume, highly complex component where the tool requires moving cores & lose inserts removing and refitting to the tool by hand, the cost of the component is going to be much higher than if the tool had a level of automation built into it enabling it to cycle more efficiently. This would be classed as a prototype tool.

However, if a customer has a requirement for 50 to 100 mouldings per year for five years then investing in a fully automated tool would not be a viable option, so the company would deem this as production tool, as it matches the customer’s process and requirements.

The same applies vice versa; if RP Technologies’ produce a tool that it classes as a prototype but it unexpectedly produces 100,000 parts due to extended product testing, new product introduction or it’s used as bridge tooling for example, then it would have to measure components, produce quality documentation & support production with process controls to ensure the part quality. This would be classed as a production tool.

Nothing however is set in stone, the company has automotive and medical customers that request high volumes from its aluminium tooling yet they still deem this process as prototype as it suits their process and volumes are low in comparison to their full production volumes.

With all this taken into account, RP Technologies’ don't think there is a black and white answer to the quandary. Its flexible, no limits approach means it’ll happily discuss any prototype or production tooling project with an open mind.

They’re keen to hear your thoughts on where you draw the line between prototype and production tooling, and discuss how high quality aluminium tooling and mouldings would fit in to your processes. 

Please get in touch via or 0121 550 5868.

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