Low Cost Tooling for Plastic Injection Mold Parts

 In Manufacturing, Manufacturing Processes, Prototyping

Those who are making their first foray into product development are often shocked at how expensive it is to develop and manufacture even a simple product. Plastic injection molding is one of the most common manufacturing methods used for mass production of physical products. While the engineering and product development of these products can easily cost $5k – $10k, these development costs can often be just a small fraction of the manufacturing costs. High grade steel is typically used as the material of choice for production-quality plastic injection mold tooling. It is expensive and difficult (read “time intensive/$$$”) to machine. The image below illustrates what a common set of tooling (referred to as the “core” and “cavity” halves) looks like:

Hard Steel Tooling for Plastic Injection Mold

As you can see, the innards of the tools are filled with a variety of features necessary to create the required geometry of the part being molded, and creating this geometry is labor and time intensive, costing anywhere from the low $10ks to more than $100k. The savvy product developer will be reluctant to spend this much capital on tooling for a product design that may not have been fully tested and validated yet. Often times rapid prototyping can be exploited to produce general evaluation parts, but these parts are not as strong as their production-grade parts would be, nor do they have a clean, finished, production-quality appearance. So how do you bridge the gap between cheap, crude “RP” parts and finished, expensive production parts? There is, in fact, a third hybrid approach many people don’t realize exists. It’s called soft tooling (see image below).

Soft Tooling for Plastic Injection Mold

Soft tooling gives you the strength and appearance of production parts without the high tooling costs. Since soft tooling is typically made out of silicone or urethane, the raw material cost is dramatically reduced and the core and cavity geometry is much simpler to make. A set of soft tools can run between $500 to a few thousand dollars depending on the complexity of the part. Your part prices will be higher than the injection molded counterparts since soft tooling typically employs manual labor to pour the plastic resin, but if all you’re looking to do is make half a dozen parts for evaluation or presentation purposes, this will save you A LOT of money.

Pipeline Design & Engineering works with several companies who can provide soft tooling molds that produce production-quality parts. Contact us today to evaluate your project and see how soft tooling can save your project money.

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