Composites Tooling Stacks Up Against Metal Tools

As the composites manufacturing industry evolves, composites are more frequently used to make larger structures with complex geometries and increased tolerance requirements. The complexity of tooling needed to make these parts is also increasing with the demand for high-rate tools, along with keeping costs low and delivering shorter lead times.

While composites tooling can be made from many types of materials, benefits are emerging for the use of composite prepregs over traditional metal tooling in composites manufacturing processing. Composite materials themselves continue to be a material of choice for tooling because of the coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) match between the tools and parts, which enables more precise composite parts.

For high-temperature tooling needs in aerospace, automotive, marine, military, and other high-performance markets and applications, prepreg tools can meet demanding manufacturing requirements, reaching ultra-high cycle temperatures up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Manufacturers that use high-temperature tooling also require dimensional accuracy, thermal stability, durability, comparable CTE to part materials, cost-effectiveness, lightweight, ease of manufacturing, and design flexibility. All these attributes give low CTE composite tooling solutions advantages over metal tooling solutions.

Advantages of prepreg tooling systems

Composites prepreg tooling can meet many demands of high-rate composites production, with certified prepregs especially viable for use in the aerospace market. Composite tools can be lightweight with low CTE, high complexity, fast manufacturing speeds, and no limitations on size. These benefits counter the disadvantages of metal tooling, which can be heavy with high CTE and slow manufacturing speeds.

Further, composite tools offer good surface finish and surface durability, up to 300+ cycles with simple routine maintenance, easy-to-modify design flexibility, and ease of repair as needed. With manufacturers’ desire to minimize the cost of tooling, composite prepreg tooling is a lower long-term cost solution for rate tooling, with lower cost following the initial investment.

To achieve long-term durability and maximize the life and performance of a tooling investment, it is important to use quality mold release products and understand the purpose of the tool, as well as its strengths and limitations. When choosing a tooling solution, manufacturers should also consider the result, including cure temperature, dimensional stability and CTE, and the durability needed for the desired cycle rate.

Composites One has over 30 years of market experience in completed tooling projects, with world-class technical support for customers. We can help composites manufacturers select the tooling materials, design, and processes for the highest possible tool and part dimensional accuracy, with the lowest cost production of rate tools.

Learn more by watching our webinar on high-quality composites tooling.