Re: Size of Prototype Tooling Market / uRapid feedback

From: Nick Osborn (
Date: Fri Jun 25 1999 - 15:11:59 EEST


I asked a very similar question last year, on 27/10/98, i.e.

"Dear List
Does anyone know of any independent information on the size of the current
and potential markets for prototype tooling?
I am thinking primarily re. the injection moulding of polymeric materials,
although any info. on the die and investment casting industry would also
be most welcome."

A selection of the private responses I received is included at the end of this message.

Basically, there seems to be a general consensus that customers want parts not only "as real as possible" and "as fast as possible" but also "as many as possible". Oh yes, don't forget "as cheap as possible" in to the bargain.

"As real as possible" - by this I mean with as many of the production features included as is practicable - feed point, injection pressure, cycle time, etc.

"As fast as possible" - as seen above, traditional moulders have been woken up by the RP movement and are turning round production tools in 5 weeks or less. This would infer that RT must be truly rapid to have the necessary advantage.

"As many as possible" - although almost everybody asks for production volumes from prototype tools in the first instance, when you pin them down they can often make good use of 5,000 or less (sometimes 1 only is enough).

"As cheap as possible" - customers seem to expect to pay far less for prototype tooling than production tooling, even though it can be argued that prototype tooling is of FAR higher value - all of a sudden you know about a problem on Day 5 instead of Day 105, etc. - just how do you go about assigning a VALUE to that chunk of "hindsight before the fact" - I have yet to meet an accountant / financial director willing to even estimate it - it's too new, too good to be true, too risky a thing to quantify, as it is in effect an admission of how much money is being wasted via current practices.

I guess knowing "what percentage of all tooling does prototype tooling represent" is fine if you know the size of the "all tooling" market in the first place. Any ideas on this figure?

Following feedback from the uRapid show that we exhibited at recently, it would appear that mainland Europe is generally switched on and actively looking for the right RT technology - do you (or anyone else who attended) have any comments re. the show from a US perspective? I would be interested to hear your opinion of how it compared to US events of a similar type.

If we as a community can ever reach a consensus on the size of the tooling / prototype tooling market then I believe that will be a very important figure, but not as important as how fast RT can progress to become (truly) Rapid Production Tooling.

Best regards


PS Here's those responses:

Response 1:

"As hyped as the prototype tooling market, and as much as we talk about the
capability of prototype tooling, I fear that we in RP are missing some of
the important measurements in injection molding, and are compromising our

None of the prototype tooling processes have the tolerances and ability to
handle the wide materials range necessary for broad application in injection
molding. Specifically, if you look at tooling for injection molding for a
HDPE part, it will vary from the tooling for a glass filled PC part, due the
different flow rates, shrinkage factors, etc. Additionally, most of the RP
techniques that are used for tooling do not take into account the tolerances
that injection molders are demanding, IE +/- .002 in tools for electronic
assemblies. We in RP have been guilty of telling them "this is a prototype
tool" folks, so tolerances of +/- .020 should be great. Molders are not
willing to spend the dollars and time investing in prototype tooling when
they are getting PRODUCTION tooling in P20 with tolerances of +/- .002 in
less than 5 weeks from domestic suppliers at costs less than prototype
tools. (USA) (Just got done quoting a package for a major computer
supplier.) Then, many of the RT people are not willing to allow the
prototype tool to go outside of their facility, forcing the cusotmer to have
the prototyper mold the parts. (Want to look at piece part costs at a
domestic molders versus a prototyper? What a difference, usually on the
scale of 100 times higher at a prototyper. And, more and more injection
molder are willing to do the prototype molding work, which was not the case
as few as three years ago.)

Additionally, we are missing many of the applications that need to be molded
in structural foam, which there has been very little and so far,
unsuccessful work.

I could go into details on the shortcoming of the specific processes, but in
general, most of my customers are not willing to take the look now, since RP
has burned the bridge.

Therefore, any projection on the market for rapid tooling is suspect. Why?
Because rapid prototypers are projecting when we do not understand the
plastics customer needs and requirements; the same customers that will be
using the technology."

Response 2:

"The Market of prototype tooling is just like RP:

the more people know of the capabilities the more they use it.

But also the number of different parts to be moulded is increasing. Take
the cars: up to 12 airbags are build in they covers, housings and
connectors are injection moulded and have to be tested under real
conditions. Especially the cover that has to break in the right way when
the air bag explodes. There you really need prototypes of the same
process and material. But process also includes process parameters like
temperatures, pressure and cooling time to reach the production material

The car manufacturers also have less time for the developement of the
new cars. So if there is any delay with the design of critical parts
they use prototype tooling."

Response 3:

"Last I heard the number was $30 Billion worldwide. There is a leading moldmakers
association in the US. I'm certain someone on the list can supply a phone
number. In fact the president of Infinite Machines which owns ExpressTool was a
former president of this association."

Nick Osborn
Managing Director
140 - 144 Station Road, March,
Cambs. PE15 8NH, UK


Tel: +44 (0) 1354 650 789
Fax: +44 (0) 1354 650 799

>>> "Terry T. Wohlers" <> 24/06/99 18:15:43 >>>

Anyone care to take an educated guess as to the size of the prototype
tooling market? Put another way, what percentage of all tooling does
prototype tooling represent?


Terry Wohlers
Wohlers Associates, Inc.
OakRidge Business Park
1511 River Oak Drive
Fort Collins, Colorado 80525 USA
Fax 970-225-2027

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