Frequently Asked Questions

Is Aluminium Tooling a friend or a foe?

Aluminium ToolingThere are many applications that require production material parts, early in the development cycle. This could be for mechanical properties, chemical resistance, temperature capability to name but a few. 

The issue then becomes one of how to ‘control’ the lead time associated with the mould tooling and try to short cut both the time and cost associated with conventional production tooling.

At Plunkett Associates we try to understand exactly what the driver behind the requirement is, so that we can tailor the solution rather than apply a one size fits all strategy.

Aluminium can offer significant advantages in this environment when specified correctly but is far from a panacea and recognising its drawbacks is very important.

Time

This is usually considered as one of the biggest reasons to manufacture an aluminium mould tool. Practitioners talk about how fast it can be machined, but the real issues go further.

Most material suppliers will ship your order in 2 – 5 working days, meaning that if you do not have the material in stock, there is an immediate delay. Then there is the standard preparatory work that goes on, once the material has arrived, to get it into a state that can be used. Now on a small part this will dwarf any machining time difference between aluminium and steel; the real time saving comes from stock holding material in a condition that is ready to take the specific mould form.

As the physical part size grows, so material lead times can extend, but so do machining times, and on larger parts it is certainly true that aluminium offers a time advantage. Also being a softer material, it is possible to machine a lot more geometry than would be possible in steel, thus offering less process steps to the toolmaker to achieve the final form.Aluminium Tool

Surface finishes can be delivered faster as well, be that a gloss finish or a texture.

So, what does this mean? Tooling in a press, ready to mould, in under a week but that has to be qualified – depending on size and geometry!

Geometry

This can dictate the choice of tooling material. 

Aluminium is a definite friend when faced with larger or simpler parts. However, it does not have the strength of steel, so features that require thin blades in the tool, lots of features with high aspect ratios or complex shut offs, can lead to problems – or the need to insert specific features.

When making development tools, where we know the geometry will change and the numbers are low, we can reap the benefits of aluminium. Using standard parts and loose inserts we can tackle a wide variety of geometries and iterate a design through multiple variants to tune the optimum configuration, all prior to the release of production tooling.

Life

The life of an aluminium tool is dependent upon the grade of aluminium used, the material being moulded, the care and attention used when moulding and of course the part complexity as already alluded to.

The aluminium we generally use for tooling is 7000 series, this offers better hardness and stability than other grades. 

The moulded material will have a bearing as you can imagine a glass loaded nylon (GFN) will wear an aluminium tool far faster than a material like polypropylene (PP). This is not to say that GFN cannot be moulded, just that it will impact tool life, especially in areas like the gate.Aluminium tool

A recent tool has produced over 100,000 shots in PP with no evidence of wear but a similar tool in GFN, and we would turn to steel.

Texture has to be considered in this equation as well, depending on tool/part design an aluminium tool can require re-texturing whereas this is unheard of (in our circles) for a steel tool.

Moulding

Yes, aluminium is softer than steel and hence it needs a bit more care when moulding. The most likely causes of damage come from a stuck part being removed too ‘vigorously’, a part failing to clear or a shutoff being bruised when moulding.

Both these can be addressed and are seen more often when an aluminium tool is put into a predominantly steel tool shop.

When should I consider using an aluminium tool?

The obvious situations are in development, or as a bridge to production. (Hence the term bridge tooling)

However, aluminium will take you a lot further. Many new projects struggle to predict early sales and hence applicable investment. Aluminium bridge tooling will allow a market to be quantified before spending larger sums on production tooling and having the confidence to specify multi cavity tooling.

Then there are the projects that will never run into 100,000’s of parts, where aluminium can offer savings throughout the project life.Aluminium

We even had one client who purchased an aluminium tool on their R and D budget that was so successful they were able to ‘sell’ it to production. That must have raised some interesting accounting questions!

In our book, aluminium tooling is a definite friend that we would not want to be without.

Optimising tooling solutions

We have already established a track record of optimising tooling solutions to meet specific requirements with regards to quantities, geometries and speed.

We believe the added support we offer our clients with their tooling and moulding requirements is second to none. Our specialist design support and the variety and flexibility of tooling and moulding options we are able to offer is key to successful parts and a project delivered on time and in budget.

If you have a requirement for prototype tooling or moulding and you would like to take advantage of our added value services, please contact us now for a personalised quote. 

  • “Plunkett Associates have excellent breadth of experience, work with high quality partners and have a flexibility that we have found enables challenges to be met successfully, cost effectively and in a timely manner.”
    Nick Skaer, CEO, Orthox Ltd
  • Plunkett associates always find a solution. Whatever we need to prototype, they have a great grasp on the technologies available, costs and lead-times so we get the right solution tailored to the project needs. Have always delivered and never let us down.
    Naim Audio
  • “I can’t recommend Tim and his team highly enough. We ended up with a design which can be produced and assembled quickly, efficiently and reliably, in volumes that make sense”
    Simon Leggett, Director, Olivewood Technology
  • "Tim's experience, expertise and supplier base have been fundamental to us getting this project off the ground."
    Sam Pearce, Jelly Products Ltd
  • “We were really surprised at how quickly they turned round such a high quality prototype and the parts certainly proved their worth. They were of high enough quality to provide a fantastic visual representation and to undergo rigorous testing."
    Stuart Wilson, Design Director, TRT Lighting
  • “Accuracy, finish and delivery all first class.”
    Andrew Peters, JMDA Ltd
  • “We use Plunkett Associates because we want someone we can trust, that knows what they’re talking about, has all the contacts, will provide reliable advice and feedback and will get the right result for us.”
    Jim Copestick. Design Manager, Thorlux Lighting
  • “We always know exactly what we’re getting and we know we won’t be let down on quality, price or lead times.”
    Mark Williams, Research and Development Director, Johnson Safety Products
  • “Plunkett Associates truly offer a complete turnkey solution with Speed, Effectiveness and Precision.”
    David Harden, Director, Enica Ltd
  • “Kirintec were thrilled with Plunketts. They made a complex process simple and we were just amazed at the lead times achieved. Plus, every single deadline was met without any drama.”
    Penny While, Marketing Director, Kirintec
  • “Thanks to Plunkett Associates flexible, bespoke and cost effective service I was able to produce the objects that I had originally had in mind.”
    Simon Ryder, Artist
  • To create such a consistent quality finish in chrome was an amazing achievement and the prototypes really gave our stand the wow factor.
    James Clark, Group Commercial Director, The Airdri Group
  • Interestingly, people who look at it in its own right with little knowledge of what it does, just like it! It’s tactile and it looks good…
    Tim Collings, Operations Director, Troika Systems Ltd
  • "With their simple to understand language, willingness to go the extra mile and approachability, Plunkett Associates were a great partner for our company. We couldn’t be happier with the results of our project. (A working prototype that they got right first time, by the way). Thank you!"
    Carolina Ballon-Forrester, Director, Kittyrama Ltd
  • Plunkett Associates worked on the design and production of titanium frames for an artificial heart valve where precision and consistency was paramount. Communications were efficient and productive with concepts readily incorporated into the final design, and suggestions for improvements all highly appropriate. The quality of the end product was ideal and I have no doubt that I will use the advice and expertise of Plunkett Associates again.
    David Wheatley, Wheatley Research Ltd
  • “Thanks for the present that arrived this morning, as promised. Parts look first class, as always.”
    Jon Todd, Design Manager, PHS Group
  • “Plunkett Associates have a fantastic supply chain, work with all sorts of production processes and will always do their utmost to solve a problem.”
    Naim Audio
  • “ Plunketts developed a solution that met our precision requirements at a cost significantly lower than alternative manufacturing approaches we had investigated”
    Nick Skaer, CEO, Orthox Ltd
  • “Doing business with you has been an absolute pleasure. You have made my goals a reality. You have been patient, helpful and above all, responsive. Best service that I have experienced in ages. I consider Plunkett Associates to be an integral part of my business plan moving forward.”
    Jet Cooper, Sculptor

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  • “Plunkett Associates have excellent breadth of experience, work with high quality partners and have a flexibility that we have found enables challenges to be met successfully, cost effectively and in a timely manner.”
    Nick Skaer, CEO, Orthox Ltd
    Nick Skaer, CEO, Orthox Ltd
  • Plunkett associates always find a solution. Whatever we need to prototype, they have a great grasp on the technologies available, costs and lead-times so we get the right solution tailored to the project needs. Have always delivered and never let us down.
    Naim Audio
    Naim Audio
  • “I can’t recommend Tim and his team highly enough. We ended up with a design which can be produced and assembled quickly, efficiently and reliably, in volumes that make sense”
    Simon Leggett, Director, Olivewood Technology
    Simon Leggett, Director,  Olivewood Technology
  • "Tim's experience, expertise and supplier base have been fundamental to us getting this project off the ground."
    Sam Pearce, Jelly Products Ltd
    Sam Pearce, Jelly Products Ltd
  • “We were really surprised at how quickly they turned round such a high quality prototype and the parts certainly proved their worth. They were of high enough quality to provide a fantastic visual representation and to undergo rigorous testing."
    Stuart Wilson, Design Director, TRT Lighting
    Stuart Wilson, Design Director, TRT Lighting
  • “Accuracy, finish and delivery all first class.”
    Andrew Peters, JMDA Ltd
    Andrew Peters, JMDA Ltd
  • “We use Plunkett Associates because we want someone we can trust, that knows what they’re talking about, has all the contacts, will provide reliable advice and feedback and will get the right result for us.”
    Jim Copestick. Design Manager, Thorlux Lighting
    Jim Copestick. Design Manager, Thorlux Lighting
  • “We always know exactly what we’re getting and we know we won’t be let down on quality, price or lead times.”
    Mark Williams, Research and Development Director, Johnson Safety Products
    Mark Williams, Research and Development Director, Johnson Safety Products
  • “Plunkett Associates truly offer a complete turnkey solution with Speed, Effectiveness and Precision.”
    David Harden, Director, Enica Ltd
    David Harden, Director, Enica Ltd
  • “Kirintec were thrilled with Plunketts. They made a complex process simple and we were just amazed at the lead times achieved. Plus, every single deadline was met without any drama.”
    Penny While, Marketing Director, Kirintec
    Penny While, Marketing Director, Kirintec
  • “Thanks to Plunkett Associates flexible, bespoke and cost effective service I was able to produce the objects that I had originally had in mind.”
    Simon Ryder, Artist
    Simon Ryder, Artist
  • To create such a consistent quality finish in chrome was an amazing achievement and the prototypes really gave our stand the wow factor.
    James Clark, Group Commercial Director, The Airdri Group
    James Clark, Group Commercial Director, The Airdri Group
  • Interestingly, people who look at it in its own right with little knowledge of what it does, just like it! It’s tactile and it looks good…
    Tim Collings, Operations Director, Troika Systems Ltd
    Tim Collings, Operations Director, Troika Systems Ltd
  • "With their simple to understand language, willingness to go the extra mile and approachability, Plunkett Associates were a great partner for our company. We couldn’t be happier with the results of our project. (A working prototype that they got right first time, by the way). Thank you!"
    Carolina Ballon-Forrester, Director, Kittyrama Ltd
    Carolina Ballon-Forrester, Director, Kittyrama Ltd
  • Plunkett Associates worked on the design and production of titanium frames for an artificial heart valve where precision and consistency was paramount. Communications were efficient and productive with concepts readily incorporated into the final design, and suggestions for improvements all highly appropriate. The quality of the end product was ideal and I have no doubt that I will use the advice and expertise of Plunkett Associates again.
    David Wheatley, Wheatley Research Ltd
    David Wheatley, Wheatley Research Ltd
  • “Thanks for the present that arrived this morning, as promised. Parts look first class, as always.”
    Jon Todd, Design Manager, PHS Group
    Jon Todd, Design Manager, PHS Group
  • “Plunkett Associates have a fantastic supply chain, work with all sorts of production processes and will always do their utmost to solve a problem.”
    Naim Audio
    Naim Audio
  • “ Plunketts developed a solution that met our precision requirements at a cost significantly lower than alternative manufacturing approaches we had investigated”
    Nick Skaer, CEO, Orthox Ltd
    Nick Skaer, CEO, Orthox Ltd
  • “Doing business with you has been an absolute pleasure. You have made my goals a reality. You have been patient, helpful and above all, responsive. Best service that I have experienced in ages. I consider Plunkett Associates to be an integral part of my business plan moving forward.”
    Jet Cooper, Sculptor
    Jet Cooper, Sculptor