Prototype Mold Fabrication

Prototype mold fabrication is a critical step of product development after 3D printed prototypes are used for testing and iteration. Prototype molding allows engineers to mold higher quantities of parts using the same injection molded materials that will be used in manufacturing. This allows for more accurate product testing that determines whether the product is ready for transfer to manufacturing.

Machine Fabricating a Prototype Mold for a Client

What is Prototype Mold Fabrication?

Protoshop Team Member Working With Arburg Allrounder Injection Molding Machine

Typically, early mechanical and functional testing is completed using 3D printed parts in small quantities of 1-10 ea. 3D printing is well suited for early testing because it can be quickly fabricated and iterated. However, 3D printing drawbacks include poor feature accuracy compared to injection molded parts, and the materials used for 3D printing do not accurately replicate injection molded materials. Therefore, 3D printed parts cannot be used to fully develop a product from start to transfer to manufacturing. It takes a lot of experience developing injection molded products to determine when 3D printed parts are no longer valuable, and it becomes necessary to switch to prototype molded parts.

Some issues can occur if the switch to prototype molded parts is made either too soon or too late. If the switch is made too soon, then too many iterations would need to be made in the prototype mold, increasing cost, extending development time, and potentially impairing the prototype mold life as excessive mold changes are completed. If the switch to prototype molded parts is made too late, then testing observations and iterations using 3D printed parts have exceeded their capability to yield useful test results. This can be misleading as the engineer pursues design changes in a direction that would otherwise not have occurred if prototype molded parts were properly used. The result has the potential to significantly increase costs and extend development time if the engineer is substantially off track from a successful final design.

The typical rule of thumb is for the engineer to prove approximately 80% of product function in 3D printed parts and then switch to testing using prototype molded parts. Prototype molds have the added benefit that a large number of parts using the injection molded plastics to be used in manufacturing may be produced to support critical late development activities such as clinical trials, user studies, marketing samples, design verification, and bridge tooling, etc. It’s important that the engineer estimates the number of prototype molded parts needed to complete development and support these activities. The number of parts that can be yielded from a prototype mold highly depends on its fabrication method. Some prototype molds are useful for less than 50 parts which is why it’s important for the engineer to know how many prototype molded parts they will need before selecting a prototype mold fabrication method. Protoshop’s prototype molds are fabricated to be much more robust than typical prototype molds, with a life expectancy of over 100,000 ea. Since it’s rare for a development project to require more than 20,000 ea, it’s reassuring for the engineer to know that Protoshop’s prototype molds can far exceed their needs.

Key Features

How do we do it?

Cube Design Icon - Provide our customers with critical part design assistance that most mold makers do not offer.

Provide our customers with critical part design assistance that most mold makers do not offer. We provide our customers with design recommendations that significantly reduce mold fabrication time as well as improve part quality and function. These improvements improve overall product design and reduce costs in manufacturing.

CNC Machine Icon - We invest in high quality CNC mills that are typically used to fabricate production molds.

We invest in high quality CNC mills that are typically used to fabricate production molds.  It’s overkill for prototype molds but necessary for achieving our goal of replicating production mold quality.  The higher quality CNC mills also allow us to machine molds faster without sacrificing accuracy due to their improved spindle rigidity and cooling.

Material Cylinder Icons - Our prototype molds are fabricated using a combination of tool steel and a proprietary softer metal.

Our prototype molds are fabricated using a combination of tool steel and a proprietary softer metal. The tool steel provides the strength and rigidity needed to achieve robust mold operation. The softer metal is easily machinable allowing part geometry to be machined quickly and accurately.

Temperature Icon - Our prototype molds include both heating and cooling which ensures an improved molding process for a wide variety of materials.

Our prototype molds include both heating and cooling which ensures an improved molding process for a wide variety of materials.

Why You Should Use Our Mold Fabrication Services

Protoshop provides robust, high-quality prototype molds without sacrificing speed or incurring additional costs. Ideally, prototype molded parts replicate production quality parts as closely as possible. While it can be challenging to achieve this ideal, given that prototype molds are fabricated for a fraction of the time and cost of a production mold, it is a goal that Protoshop meets due to our superior mold fabrication method. We typically complete molds in 3-5 days for a cost that is usually less than other prototype molding service providers for a comparable mold.

Personal Services

Protoshop provides personal services, including plastic part design and material selection assistance. We recognize that not every engineer that needs to develop a product is an expert in plastic part design. Most prototype molding service providers will provide feedback about design issues but no input as to how to resolve those issues. Protoshop offers our clients a thorough review of their part model followed by a Zoom meeting to discuss any issues we’ve found along with options for how the issues may be resolved. Protoshop prototype molds start with better part designs which leads to more successfully molded parts and reduced development time to market.

Rapid Iteration of Your Prototype Molds

Protoshop was created by engineers and mold makers experienced in product development. We know how critical it is for molds to be quickly iterated. Most prototype molding service providers are not set up to quickly iterate their molds, and we’ve been frustrated to find that in many cases, it’s easier to build a new mold rather than change an existing mold which is a waste of time and money. Protoshop customers may request a mold iteration quote by uploading a new CAD model with the mold iterations to be completed. We’ll quickly provide a quote and typically complete the mold iteration within 1-2 days, a quick turnaround that no other prototype molding service provider can provide.

Customer Experience and Communication

Finally, Protoshop provides a superior customer experience through our advanced website. We firmly believe in clear communication with our clients and thorough documentation consistent with ISO 13485. Status notifications indicating when each step in the process will be completed keep customers informed of progress. A complete history of every prototype mold is available on our website, including quotes, inspection records, packing slips, molding lots, and mold iterations. Clients can request rapid mold iterations and molded parts directly from the website. We’ve made a substantial investment into our website to provide a customer experience, unlike any other prototype molding service provider.

Protoshop’s Experience in Prototype Molding

Over the experience of thousands of molds, Protoshop has developed a proprietary method of prototype molding to replicate production mold quality with unrivaled speed closely. Since we fabricate prototype molds so quickly, we can also provide them at a lower cost to our customers.

We also know the importance of having the flexibility to change part geometry during product development. Therefore our molds were specifically designed to allow for rapid iterations. Our prototype molds allow your product to complete development and get to market faster.

Protoshop has no part geometry limitations. If the part is moldable, we can do it. If you’re frustrated by molders refusing to accept complex geometry, then let us take on the challenge.

Contact Protoshop Today

Protoshop is ready to help make your project a success! After registering, upload your CAD model and schedule a Zoom meeting with one of our experienced engineers. We’ll work with you to refine your CAD model to ensure your prototype molded parts meet product requirements. You’ll have parts in hand, ready to test in a few days.