Composite parts are formed in moulds, also known as tools. Tools can be made from virtually any material. The material type, shape and complexity depend upon the part and length of production run.  For parts that will be produced in low quantities and can be cured at ambient or low temperature, or for prototype parts, where tight control of dimensional accuracy isn’t of prime importance, materials such as fiberglass, high-density foams, machinable epoxy boards or even clay or wood/plaster models often are suitable.

The moulds that high-performance composite parts are formed can be made from carbon fibre, monolithic graphite, castable graphite, ceramics, or metals, usually steel, aluminium, and alloys of the same. In all cases, each material offers unique capabilities and drawbacks.

Sometimes called hard tooling, metal tools, although relatively heavy and expensive, are able to withstand many thousand of production cycles. The most durable, but also the costliest, are made of high-performance steel and nickel alloys, such as Invar. Because few composite manufacturers have the equipment necessary to machine and polish metal tools, particularly invar, they often require the services of a toolmaking specialist.

Composite tools, often called soft tooling, are more easily constructed than metal tools and, because they are made from materials similar to those the composite manufacturer will use the part, they can be made in-house. But as the “soft” designation suggests, they are more venerable to wear, and they typically find service in lower volume production. However, several tools can be made with composite materials for less than the cost of a single hard tool. This makes somewhat larger volumes affordable, like those made on hard tooling, parts made on composite tools can be cured in an autoclave or oven, or by integral heating, in which heating elements are placed inside the tool.

Here at Prima tooling, we provide quality, precision rotary cutting tools for wood, metal, composites, and foam. We were formed in 1979 and have built over 40 years of experience in manufacturing PCD, Carbide CNC tooling and HSS tooling. If you are looking for our services, don’t hesitate to get in contact with our team.