The Digital Manufacturing Blog

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What’s the Difference Between Soft and Hard Tooling?

Different molding processes require different types of tooling. It is important to utilize the correct process so that you receive properly functioning parts. The two most commonly used molding processes are urethane molding, and injection molding. A major difference between the two processes is the type of tooling used to produce parts.

The difference is that urethane molding produces parts from silicone (soft tooling), whereas injection molding produce parts from steel or aluminum (hard tooling). Below is a quick overview showing you the difference between the tooling methods. Understanding the difference will help you keep your project on time, within budget, and give you properly functioning parts.

Soft Tooling

-Silicone molds and the urethane process are used when a lower volume of parts is needed (1-100). This is because the tooling and piece price is more economical for lower quantities. On average, silicone tools usually cost in the hundreds to thousands of dollars, pending on the part geometry.

-Silicone molds can be used for prototype, bridge and production of low volumes from one part to hundreds of parts. Most silicone molds are good for about 25 shots per cavity.

-Silicone molds are typically injected with material that is manually gravity fed through a tube. Pending on the type of material, it can take anywhere between 1-24 hours to cure. Once the parts within the mold cure, the molds are manually opened, and any necessary finishing is done by hand.


Hard Tooling

-Steel/aluminum tools are used for the injection molding process for prototype or bridge, but these tools are mostly used for high volume production (100’s-100,000’s).

-Steel/aluminum tools typically range in price from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. And pending on the material and part geometry, the tool life can range from thousands to millions of parts.

-Steel/aluminum tools are injected with material from an injection mold machine. The machine injects mold into the mold with less man-power when compared to silicone molds. The curing of material will take between a few seconds to a few minutes, thus yielding more parts much quicker than silicone tools.


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