The shift towards more options, trim levels, and accessories in the automotive industry necessitates the need for more components, and thereby more tooling. For both large and boutique carmakers, taking your dream car idea from concept to production starts with the decision to use production tooling or prototype tooling in the manufacturing process.


In this blog post, we’ll explore four differences between production tooling and prototype tooling in the automotive industry. Choosing the right process is critical to receiving accurate and operational components.


4 Differences of Production Tooling and Prototype Tooling In Manufacturing

Hard tooling, another term for production tooling, is generally made from hard steel or aluminum. Soft tooling, or prototype tooling, is a process where a tool is made from softer aluminum and steel. Other types of rapid prototype tooling (some consider soft tooling) can be made from fiberglass, plastic (3D Printing), silicone, or other composite materials.


Here are a few benefits you’ll want to consider when deciding between production and prototype tooling.


Production (Hard) Tooling


1.      Production Quantity – Hard tooling can produce hundreds of thousands to millions of parts. However, when it comes to prototype tooling, you can expect far less before it starts degrading. Due to the life span of the tool, soft tooling is often used for concepts and small run productions only.

2.      Accuracy – Overlooking this aspect can result in an underperforming or failing product, and thereby unhappy customers. Production tooling is more precise and better for tight-tolerance parts. It is much harder to rework a hard tool vs. a soft tool for accuracy and tolerance.


Prototype (Soft) Tooling


1.      Cost – Soft tooling requires a lower investment to produce than hard tooling, making it a logical choice during the initial stages of a new idea. If modifications are necessary, it will be more cost-effective to tweak your existing tool or redesign a whole new tool with prototype tooling.


2.      Lead Time – If you’re short on time, prototype tooling may be your best bet. Due to the process of creating a hard tool, the lead time tends to be longer. Again, if and when changes come into play you’ll be back into production sooner with soft tooling.


At RCO Engineering, Inc., we are well known as automotive tooling experts with over 45 years in business. Our team of highly skilled engineers, designers, and craftsmen are also very familiar with completing successful programs for parts such as doors, instrument panels, consoles, garnish trim, bumpers, grills, complete seats, fascia, headlights, and under-hood components.


The first step to producing the components for any vehicle is tooling. We offer everything from engineering and design to prototyping, manufacturing, and testing. Contact us to get a quote on your next project.