Tooling Design for Manufacturing: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Tooling Design for Manufacturing: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

According to Allied Market Research, the global tooling market is expected to peak at $368.5 billion by 2026, a substantial growth from $200 billion in 2018. 

That being said, tooling is crucial in manufacturing as it’s often described as the intricate process of acquiring, building, or utilizing the right equipment for manufacturing. 

Its criticality to manufacturing is exemplified by the fact that tooling failures can have catastrophic consequences, disrupt operations, or even lead to defective products. Relatedly, this means that tooling design is a significant cog in the wheel that is manufacturing.

Throughout this article, we will cover different fundamental principles of tooling design, including the diverse types of tools, common tooling design errors, essential facets of the tooling design process, and variables to consider during manufacturing tool design.

What is tooling in manufacturing?

In the simplest form, tooling is described as the process of planning, designing, and engineering tools that are required to manufacture parts or components. 

There are various types of tooling, of which the most well-known are: dies for cold forming, sheet metal, and forging; fabrication of presses & molds, capers & gears; work handling tools like jolts and cogs; cutting tools for milling, cylinders, transformers, automotive parts, plastic constituents, and grinding machines; and welding and inspection fixtures.

Manufacturing factories often choose to invest in ‘new tooling’ in order to develop a new design or maybe to repurpose an existing design. 

Principally, this process entails fabricating and designing the precise tools necessary to mold items or modules in order to implement the new intended designs during the manufacturing of a product. 

Essentially, this implies that tooling mainly revolves around acquiring or constructing manufacturing components required for the bulk production of parts used in larger industrial machines like heavy engineering machinery and automobiles.

What is tooling design?

As previously noted, every manufacturing industry requires tooling to engage in the production process of parts needed to assemble machines or final products.

As such, tooling design, a highly specialized field of manufacturing, is arguably the backbone of the manufacturing industry. 

Tooling design constitutes the analysis, planning, design, construction, as well as implementation of tools, techniques, and procedures necessary to increase manufacturing productivity. 

To this effect, tool designer engineers require a high knowledge of traditional engineering practices of planning, tool design guidelines, CAD and drawing tools (like CATIA), and cost analysis. In addition to competencies in tool-making procedures, machine tool design, and manufacturing procedures

Objectives of tooling design

In essence, tooling design directly impacts the production quality of the end-user industry (automotive engines, turbines, propellers, or consumer electronics). Generally speaking, the objectives of efficient tool design engineering are:

  • To increase productivity while maintaining the end-product quality by designing tools that consistently yield good and reliable parts.
  •  To manufacture products within the acceptable engineering limits at the lowest possible cost.  (the general expense of production is typically affected by the expense of tooling.)
  •  To design tools that are not sophisticated to operate and utilize.
  • To reduce the overall cost of tooling.

Tool design process

Each tool necessitates a specific measure of planning and design consideration before it is constructed. The more sophisticated the tool/apparatus, the more intricate the design specification will be for the plan. 

An exceptionally complex tool, for instance, may incorporate a great deal of detail and should be planned utilizing CAD (computer-aided design) software. A sufficient amount of time should be spent combing through the plan for quicker, more precise construction.

So, the most effective way to deal with tool design will be to apply a set of design guidelines/rules which will outline definitive design objectives planned by competent designers. 

Essentially, the design team should be multi-disciplinary and ought to consist of mechanical and product engineers, manufacturing managers, cost accountants, and marketing departments. 

Basically, every representative of the value chain needs to contribute constructively to the design process to ensure the entire product is designed to meet the correct requirements– from engineering, functionality, product branding considerations to budget.

By and large, the design process can be summarised into primary five steps:

  1. Statement and analysis of the problem.
  2. Detailed Analysis of the tooling requirements.
  3. Development of initial concepts and ideas. As well as consideration of possible design alternatives.
  4. Economics of Design
  5. Inception of design ideas.

Types of tools used

Tooling design involves a wide variety of special tools. These tools can be majorly categorized and segmented into the following:

Cutting Tools

Generally, machining procedures require cutting tools that have the ability to go through extreme constraints (like friction) while handling substantial temperature gradients. These requisites are imperative, especially in high-speed machining over long durations. A few examples of cutting tools are: milling cutters, reamers, shapers, fly cutters, Planers, etc.


Essentially, dies are specialized tools utilized to cut, stamp or shape materials into predetermined shapes such as metal, plastic, wood, or fabric. In practice, dies can be customized according to the unique requirements or necessity and work in conjunction with a press.

Dies can be used in the production process or die casting process to create highly complex shapes, for example, small fasteners or large automotive components and machine parts. 

Furthermore, once a die is created, it can only be utilized to produce objects in that size and shape. This means that custom die casting could be more cost-effective for high-volume manufacturing implementations to develop products faster and more efficiently. 

Dies are categorized into six major types: 

  • Simple Dies, 
  • Combination Dies, 
  • Compound Dies, 
  • Progressive Dies, 
  • Transfer Dies, and 
  • Multiple Dies.

Injection Molds

Injection molding is an assembling process where components are produced by injecting molten material into a mold. Essentially, injection molding can be executed by leveraging various materials, including metals, glass, thermosetting and thermoplastic polymers.

Traditionally, this process entails a tool or mold, typically developed from hardened steel or aluminum. In practice, the mold is precision machined to form the desired part’s features. 

The thermoplastic material is then fed into a heated barrel, blended, and constrained into the metal mold cavity, where it cools and solidifies. Injection molds are primarily categorized based on their features, for example, runner system, plate amount, and part capacity.

Work-holding Tools

Work-holding tools are devices utilized to hold the work-pieces in place for cutting tool application. These tools include clamps, vices, spindles, tiebacks, chucks, fixtures.

Why is tooling important?

Tooling is crucial to all stages of the manufacturing process, and with good reason. Efficient and good tooling ensures minimal errors, thus giving manufacturers assurance of quality, productivity, and material profitability.

The outcome of poor tooling can be consequential, to say the least. For instance, if tooling is poor, then the final product can be ineffective or non-performant. Final components typically need to be within specific tolerances, and as such, poor-quality tooling can lead to faults, breakage, or quick degradation of the product.

Poor tooling can also affect productivity as the speed and accuracy with which a product is manufactured with repeatability at high production volumes critically depends on the tooling’s precision and characteristics. 

So, for the most part, tool designers protect manufacturers in multiple ways. From the capital, production speed to reducing the pains of securing the product by ensuring it is machine-ready before it operates on the press of the product.

How much does tooling cost?

The cost of tooling variably changes from project to project since it relies upon such countless factors. Notwithstanding, there is a common myth that tooling is an expensive and cost-prohibitive process. However, on account of present-day engineering techniques, CNC machining, and precision cold forming, tooling costs are moderately low by and large.

Though, it’s worth noting that tool design affects cost in several ways. To start with, it determines the tool life (how long a tool lasts before requiring a replacement). Secondly, it influences the quality of the product and cost, as any expense of poor quality and reworks can add to the final product’s total price. 

Thirdly, tool design can affect the cycle time of the manufacturing process (this allows manufacturers to produce more or fewer units in a given time). Hence, why it is critical not to undermine the importance of tool design in process planning.

Factors that impact the cost of tooling

Guaranteeing low-cost tooling requires a broad scope of factors to be thought of. For instance, the tolerances needed in the finished part can influence the final configuration and cost of the tooling. 

Furthermore, the tool’s mechanical strength and inflexibility can affect the cost, as this is essential to ensure product accuracy, repeatability, and quality. 

Lastly, cutting tool strength requires careful consideration to withstand machining powers, specifically in high volume creation. Fulfilling all these tooling design requisites can variably impact the cost of tooling.  

That being said, many manufacturers offering tooling services execute these processes manually, which is a time-intensive process– thus prompting a greater cost for clients. A few, then again, exploit advanced engineering software tools.

Tooling design errors and how to minimize them

On the whole, the three most common tooling design errors can be summarized below:

  •  Non-Uniform Walls: In the event that walls are not uniform, the thinner sections cool first. As a result, stresses can occur between the boundaries of the thin and thick walls, thus warping and twisting of the components occurs which causes cracks. Practically, uniform wall thickness is imperative as the change in thickness should be as gradual as possible.
  • Not Leveraging Drafts: For processes like Injection Molding, Mold drafts facilitate part removal from the mold. It is essential to always exploit draft angles appropriately as provisioning as much draft as possible will allow parts to release from the mold seamlessly. 
  • Leaving many Sharp Corners: Sharp corners significantly increase stress fixation/concentration, which, when sufficiently high, can prompt part failure. Sharp corners occur in non-evident spots, for example, strengthening ribs. The radii of sharp corners should be observed intently in light of the fact that stress concentration varies with radius for a given thickness.

Generally, to avoid costly manufacturing errors, manufacturers should work closely with tooling engineers and designs during the pre-production and production process. Tool designers should also cautiously evaluate diagrams and iron out potential plan defects before starting work.

Final words

In conclusion, tooling affects the mechanical nature of the completed product and can significantly impact the manufacturing process. 

This means that tooling design is fundamental and should conform to sound manufacturing principles. 

Essentially, effective tooling design for manufacturing ideally reduces the design’s complexity while satisfying the customer’s requirements for price, specification, material, and scheduling. And as such, the design is deemed manufacturable and subsequently ready for the next step of production.

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