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What is Prototype Tooling? A Detail Explanation

In the realm of product development and design, prototype tooling plays a pivotal role in bridging the gap between conceptualization and finalization. It is a crucial step in the design-to-manufacturing process, enabling designers, engineers, and manufacturers to visualize, test, and iterate on a product’s design before committing to full-scale production.

what is prototype tooling

This article aims to provide a detailed explanation of the prototype tooling, its applications, and benefits. Please continue reading to understand what prototype tooling are.

Introduction to Prototype Tooling

Prototype tooling, also known as prototype molds, rapid tooling, or soft tooling, is typically made from aluminum or low-carbon steel. Essentially, it serves as a learning tool for manufacturers and is also an injection molding tool used to produce plastic parts. It allows for the production of parts through low-volume injection molding, thereby reducing manufacturing time and costs without the need to invest heavily in or prepare hard steel tooling for final high-volume production.

This type of prototype tooling is particularly suitable for manufacturers to validate and test new product developments in the early stages. Prototype tooling typically accounts for 20-40% of the total production tooling cost. Although this is not an insignificant investment, it can save money in the long run. Other prototype creation options include CNC machining, vacuum casting, or 3D printing, which may be faster or cheaper.

Are you looking for a way to speed up your product development process or to test and validate your product design before mass production? If so, you need to take advantage of BOYI prototype tooling. We have experienced technicians and the necessary machining equipment to help you design and produce any prototype parts you need.

Material of Prototype Tooling

When selecting materials for creating rapid tooling, considerations should be given to durability, production time, and cost-effectiveness.

  • Aluminum alloys: Aluminum alloys offer good durability and thermal conductivity. They are more durable than silicone rubber molds but may have slightly higher production costs.
  • Soft steel: Soft steel is an ideal choice for long-term, high-frequency production. While they may be heavier than other types of molds, durability is a significant advantage.
  • Silicone rubber: Silicone rubber is particularly useful for prototyping or low-volume production. However, due to its softer material, it has relatively poor durability and is not suitable for long-term or high-frequency use.
  • Low-carbon steel: Low-carbon steel offers good mechanical properties and wear resistance. Although it is heavier than aluminum alloys, it typically has higher durability.

Benefits of Prototype Tooling

In the early stages of product development, prototype tooling offers several advantages over directly investing in production tooling:

Accelerating Development Speed and Delivery Time

Prototype tooling is designed for rapid manufacturing. Unlike production tooling, which can take months to deliver, the delivery cycle for prototype molds and their processes can be reduced to just a few days or a week. This significantly shortens the time from design to market, allowing products to enter the market faster and seize business opportunities.

Facilitating Design Iteration and Rapid Feedback

Due to the rapid delivery nature of prototype tooling, engineers can test multiple design concepts in a short period or quickly iterate and modify a single design based on feedback during testing. This flexibility helps obtain valuable feedback and make corresponding improvements in the early development stages before finalizing the design.

Reducing Costs

Prototype tooling is usually made from softer metals such as aluminum or soft steel rather than expensive hardened steel. These softer metals are easier to process (i.e., quicker to cut), making the tooling cost relatively low. Additionally, side cores and other components can be manually inserted into the mold and manually removed after molding, further reducing costs and increasing flexibility.

prototype tooling

Meeting Customization Needs

Prototype tooling provides manufacturers with the possibility of creating customized products. By testing different design options, manufacturers can develop unique products that meet specific customer needs and preferences. This customization enhances the product’s market competitiveness and increases customer loyalty to the brand.

Easily Handling Design Adjustments

Design changes are almost inevitable during product development. Prototype tooling can easily accommodate these changes. Made from soft metals, single-cavity prototype molds can be quickly and cost-effectively modified, even for non-metal safety changes. Simple steps like cutting, inserting new sheet metal, and re-cutting geometries can achieve design adjustments.

Reducing Design Risk

Prototype tooling allows manufacturers to evaluate and improve designs by actually testing equivalent parts before investing in production tools. This design verification process helps identify and fix potential issues in the early stages, reducing design risk. Especially for products like in vitro diagnostic (IVD) devices that require rigorous testing and validation, prototype tooling provides a testing environment equivalent to production parts, ensuring the product meets regulatory requirements and functions as expected.

Application of Prototype Tooling

Due to the significant advantages of prototype tooling, it has been widely applied across multiple industries, particularly in fields requiring the rapid, efficient, and cost-effective production of metal and non-metal molds, cast shapes, and cores.

Aerospace Industry

The aerospace industry often involves small-batch production, with expensive and complex parts made from high-end materials. These characteristics make prototype tooling an ideal choice for this industry, as it can quickly respond to design changes, reduce manufacturing costs, and meet the stringent requirements for precision and reliability.

Automotive Industry

The prototyping process in automotive manufacturing is typically lengthy and costly, involving numerous complex components and assembly processes. Prototype tooling can significantly reduce the time and costs associated with prototyping by enabling rapid design iterations, functional and assembly validation of parts, thereby accelerating the product development cycle.

Medical Industry

In the field of medical parts manufacturing, medical devices are subject to strict regulatory requirements to ensure safety, reliability, and compliance with medical standards. Prototype tooling can quickly produce functional prototypes for clinical trials and validation, accelerating the development and market introduction of products. Additionally, prototype tooling ensures the precision and consistency of medical devices, meeting the high-quality demands of the medical industry.

Electronics and Communication Technology

As electronic products become increasingly complex and precise, the demands for mold accuracy and reliability also increase. Prototype tooling can rapidly produce high-precision, high-reliability parts and components, helping electronics manufacturers quickly respond to market demands and enhance product competitiveness.

Consumer Goods Industry

Whether it’s household items, toys, or personal care products, the rapid manufacture and testing of prototype products are crucial for product development. Prototype tooling allows for quick design iterations, functional validation, and user experience testing, helping consumer goods manufacturers swiftly launch new products in a competitive market to meet consumer demands.

In summary, prototype tooling is highly valuable in the manufacturing industry, offering efficiency, speed, and cost-effectiveness. It meets the needs for low-volume manufacturing, rapid iteration, and high-quality requirements.

rapid prototyping tooling

Prototype Tooling vs Production Tooling vs Bridge Tooling

In the manufacturing and product development process, besides prototype tooling, there are also bridge tooling and production tooling. Each type of tooling has its unique advantages and applicable scenarios. Read on to understand how these three types of tooling can meet your production needs.

Prototype Tooling

Prototype tooling is primarily used for rapidly validating the feasibility and functionality of product designs. When designers and engineers are still experimenting with design concepts, prototype tooling helps them quickly iterate and optimize designs through low-volume testing, identify potential issues, and make corrections. The advantages of prototype tooling lie in its speed and flexibility, minimizing upfront investment when initiating new projects.

However, it’s important to note that prototype tooling is experimental and may not necessarily produce products that meet all quality requirements. While they should provide products similar to the final production, their primary purpose is for validation and testing rather than full-scale production.

Bridge Tooling

Bridge tooling, also known as pilot production tooling or interim tooling, serves as a bridge between prototype tooling and production tooling, spanning the gap between prototype design and full-scale production. It’s primarily used for low-volume production and testing to validate product fit, form, and function, preparing for the transition to full-scale production.

Compared to prototype tooling, bridge tooling requires higher precision and durability but is still less stringent than production tooling. This allows bridge tools to be built more quickly and at a relatively lower cost. As such, many manufacturers use bridge tools alongside production tooling to support capacity ramp-up and preliminary market testing while constructing production tooling.

Bridge tooling is particularly suitable for products where the return on investment is not yet clear. By testing the market acceptance and performance of products in small-scale production, manufacturers can evaluate whether it’s worthwhile to further invest in production tooling for large-scale production.

Production Tooling

Production tooling is the final tooling used for large-scale production. They feature high precision, durability, and efficiency to meet long-term, stable production demands. Production tooling typically incurs higher costs, but it brings significant economic benefits in large-scale production.

Among the three types of tooling, production tooling is the most expensive as it requires the most time and money to manufacture and maintain. However, this investment is worthwhile as production tooling ensures product consistency and high quality, enhances production efficiency, and reduces long-term costs.

At BOYI, we specialize in production runs from low to high volume and understand the varying tooling needs at different stages. To ensure project costs and schedules remain manageable, we provide comprehensive support to our clients at every stage of the manufacturing process. Our goal is to ensure your projects are completed efficiently and with high quality, bringing you maximum profit and success.

BOYI – Your Injection Mold Tooling Partner

If you’re looking to test your business ideas, product designs, and their practical performance in the shortest time, at the fastest speed, and with the most economical cost, then BOYI is your ideal choice. At BOYI, we offer outstanding rapid prototyping services, mold manufacturing, injection molding services, and small to medium batch production tailored to each client’s needs. We employ the latest, unparalleled technology combined with the highest quality materials to manufacture parts that meet various requirements.

Contact us now! BOYI will provide you with the best solution tailored to your specific needs and industry characteristics.


By understanding the types of prototype tooling, the tooling process, and its benefits, organizations can leverage this powerful technique to improve their product development efforts and ultimately deliver superior products to their customers.

You can contact BOYI, our leading manufacturing team and your most trusted partner.


What are the materials used in prototype tooling?

Prototype tooling utilizes a variety of materials, each offering unique advantages in terms of cost, durability, and production volume. Silicone rubber, aluminum alloy, and soft steel are commonly used materials for prototype tooling.

What is the difference between prototype tooling and production tooling?

The primary difference between prototype tooling and production tooling lies in their intended use and the stage of the product development process they cater to.

Catalog: Injection Molding Guide

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