Prototyping & Tooling
Epoxy, urethane, and SLA resins—modeling, working, and HDU tooling boards—for your applications
Whether you’re an engineer, mechanical designer, model maker, or tool or prototype developer we can help you select the materials you need for your application challenges. To help bring your initial designs and concepts to life, we have a full range of prototyping and tooling materials to support your product and part development. Our extensive product line includes:
Trends in Prototyping
The prototyping stage has become more and more critical in recent years as the pace of new product development has accelerated and product lifecycles have contracted. Since most product design work is now done with some type of computer software, the first model of a new product is often a series of computer files. Converting these files into three-dimensional physical models can be accomplished through an additive or subtractive process.
Three Dimensional Physical Models
Additive manufacturing involves converting three dimensional computer models into physical objects by building parts layer by layer until the complete part geometry is achieved. Stereolithography (SLA) is one of the most technologically advanced additive manufacturing processes. SLA machinery consists of a UV laser that is directed toward the surface of a vat of liquid photopolymer. The laser solidifies the surface of the liquid. The part then moves down further into the vat so that the next layer can be created on top of the previously created layer. Once the part is complete, it is removed from the vat. Stereolithography offers the advantages of outstanding part resolution and surface finish. SLA also allows for the creation of transparent parts if a transparent grade of resin is used.
FDM (fused deposition modeling) involves unwinding a thin filament of plastic from a spool and then feeding it through a heated printer head where it is melted and then forced through a nozzle during 3D printing. The nozzle moves in the X, Y, and Z axes as it precisely extrudes thin layers of hot plastic onto a build platform. Each layer of plastic is built on the previous layer until the finished part is created. The FDM 3D printing process can be used to create objects from a wide variety of thermoplastic materials including ABS, PLA, ASA, PETG, HIPS, and TPU. Plastic parts manufactured using the FDM process are generally more durable than parts created using stereolithography. However, FDM 3D printed parts generally have inferior surface finish and lack the resolution and fine detail that can be achieved with stereolithography.
The subtractive approach begins with a large block or buck of machinable material. A CNC milling center, working from the computer model, cuts away at this material until the 3D model remains. Urethane tooling board is widely used for this purpose. Individual boards are laminated together with appropriate adhesive to create the buck. Urethane tooling boards come in a variety of densities. Higher density boards offer better strength and durability while lower density boards offer lower cost. Urethane tooling board is cheaper than aluminum and more dimensionally stable than wood products such as MDF, pine or mahogany. Once a one-off prototype has been made with either approach, replicas of this prototype can be made quickly and inexpensively using silicone moldmaking materials and liquid urethane or epoxy casting resins.
CNC-Machined Molds and Plugs for the Composites Industry
Urethane tooling boards are also increasingly finding use in CNC-machined molds and plugs in the rapidly growing composites industry. CNC equipment permits the production of highly accurate molds. Molds made from urethane tooling boards remain dimensionally accurate in storage for years because they do not shrink with time and are unaffected by moisture. In recent years, the trend has been toward lower density foam in order to improve economics. Densities ranging from 20 PCF to 2 PCF are popular. Reducing density even slightly (for example from 10 PCF to 8 PCF) can provide significant cost savings. There has also been a shift from polyurethane foam to polyisocyanurate foam. Polyisocyanurate foam (also called ISO foam), is noticeably less expensive than polyurethane foam, at the same density. Another interesting trend is the use of machinable epoxy-based tooling pastes. Tooling pastes allow use of very low density foam for the interior volume of a plug or mold. The foam core is covered with the tooling paste. After curing, an epoxy shell is CNC machined to yield a very fully-dense, very durable, high-temperature tooling surface which will hold vacuum and stand up to numerous pulls.
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