Exciting innovations take years, or even decades, to make it into commercial production. Some never manage to get off the ground. I am pleased that the evidence points to a better fate for Rapid Tooling technology. It has spent more than 10 years in the nest, but Senior Editor Mikell Knights’ cover story shows that “RT” is ready to spread its wings and fly.
My feeling about RT is that it makes too much sense not to work. The basic idea of additive manufacturing, whereby you put just the amount of material you need exactly where you want it, makes conventional subtractive mold-making techniques look terribly wasteful. Consider all the time and trouble and technology it takes to produce a solid block of high-grade steel. Then think of all the time and trouble and technology it takes to cut away and discard half of that block when you machine a core or cavity. There has to be a better way. In fact, Mikell’s article describes several ways.
Rapid tooling is already fulfilling its promise to make production tools in days rather than weeks. I hope someday it will also drastically cut the cost of molds. Right now, RT is expensive technology; but history suggests that further improvements, economies of scale, and competition will drive down the cost.
In researching his article, Mikell found one factor that may have contributed to rapid tooling’s long gestation. RT vendors may have hurt themselves by their eagerness to badmouth each other’s inventions. You don’t see that with all new technologies. Often, you encounter a mutual effort among competitors to promote acceptance of the concept they all hope to exploit. But RT vendors’ mutual criticism may have made potential customers more wary of the whole idea.