Silicone Tooling vs Hard Tooling
There are two main types of tooling which are employed in the injection moulding process: silicone tooling and hard tooling. It is important when embarking on a new project that you pick the right tooling method for the job. This will largely depend on what types of parts you want to produce, but there are also other factors to consider, such as financial constraints, speed of delivery and volume.
As with all injection moulding, the quality of the tool build will ultimately determine whether the finished components are of a high standard, durable, visually appealing, and fully functioning.
It is, therefore, extremely important to choose the right tooling process in order to achieve the intended outcomes for the final components.
To do this, we will need to explore silicone tooling and hard tooling in more detail. We will then compare these methods and review the advantages and disadvantages associated with both.
Silicone Tooling – What is it?
Silicone tooling is ideal for producing low volume rubber mouldings and urethane castings
Silicone tooling is less expensive than hard tooling and is usually used in cases where the production run is less than 100 parts. Most moulds can be relied upon for approximately 25 shots per cavity.
Silicone tooling is ideal for designers, engineers and manufacturers who are in the prototyping phase and are trialling a concept before moving to larger scale production. It is also used for consumer-based market testing, before final design iterations are made and the product is signed off for manufacture.
Hard Tooling – What is it?
Hard Tooling is made from metal, in our case aluminium, and it is known for its reliability over time. With hard tooling, manufacturers can work to very tight tolerances, making it the logical choice for projects where the final components are complex in their design.
Aluminium Tooling has a greater degree of flexibility than silicone tooling, in that it will support prototyping, as silicone tooling will, but it will also lend itself to pre-production and production volumes.
Silicone tooling – the Advantages and Disadvantages
A cost-effective route into production for new entrants, or for those with limited production needs
Capable of facilitating short runs of products
Ideal for prototyping before committing to larger volume production
Often used for trialling and market research with consumers
Short lead times and fast order turnarounds
A variety of materials are available
Lacks the resistance and durability of hard tooling, hence the term ‘silicone tooling.’
Silicone tools can only produce a very limited number of parts
Limited material choice
Once tooling has been completed, modifications to the tool are very difficult to implement
Unsustainable method with costs spiralling over time. Once the tool has worn out it will need to be replaced, which will involve more expense and potential problems with achieving part consistency
Hard Tooling – the Advantages and Disadvantages
Ideal for producing higher volumes of parts over time (potentially well into the 100,000s)
Made from hard metals and so can withstand multiple production cycles
Modifications can be carried out to the tool more easily
Can achieve much stricter tolerances than silicone tooling
A single hard tooling mould can have several cavities, which will allow for multiple quantities of a part to be created at the same time
Hard tooling can withstand higher temperatures during production than silicone tooling
Although silicone tooling lends itself to many materials, options are even greater with hard tooling
Ideal for projects where manufacturers must adhere to testing requirements and function standards
Parts with rudimentary designs can be used immediately
More time consuming to produce hard tooling
Costs are higher with this method of tooling
The tooling itself requires specialist precision machining and finishing capabilities
Silicone tooling is more suited to short runs for prototyping, market testing or very low volume production. It is a cost-effective option which offers favourable lead times and fast turnarounds. It is less suitable for production cycles and the tooling is less durable and long-lasting.
Hard tooling is ideal for higher volume production runs and the tooling is more resistant. Modifications can be made to the tool relatively easily, and hard tooling can achieve much stricter tolerances. However, it also involves greater upfront investment in time and money.
As with all manufacturing processes, the product designers and engineers will have to determine what the final component is to be used for before deciding which tooling route to take. These considerations will be based on the functionality, form, appearance, and volume of the part required. Cost and time considerations may also be factors.
The product owners will also have to determine what stage they are at in the product development phase and decide accordingly on the best option.