Those who think they know powder metal parts tooling often cite its high cost. Yet powder metal tooling is actually very competitive when you compare it to other metal forming technologies.
As with most things metal manufacturing -- and especially powdered metal -- paying just a bit more can net far better results.
Here’s how powder metal tooling prices compare to competing methods, why they are what they are, and four ways you can help keep costs down.
The Truth About Tooling for Powdered Metal Parts
Conventional powder metallurgy tooling actually costs less on average compared with:
Metal injection molding (MIM)
Lamination tooling, i.e. for motors, can run as high as $100,000. That’s a lot of amortization up front for a single project.
So, with the exception of machining and some stampings, few processes can compete with powder metal parts in terms of tooling costs.
What Goes Into Your Powder Metal Tooling Cost?
Here’s what you need to know when preparing to deal with powder metal tooling:
Big Factor #1: Materials
In reality, there are several grades of materials and coatings that can be considered for tooling. A parts producer will consider:
The geometry for the part
The powder metal that will be compacted by the tool
The density required
The volume of the order
The number of tool components required to best produce the part.
Starting with the cheapest steel possible is often not the most cost-effective way to produce a tool.
The cost of the tooling material is only part of the total tooling cost. The cost to machine the tooling can often be significant. Higher-quality raw materials produce tools that are frequently less expensive to maintain in the long run.
Therefore, sometimes it's worth your money to buy high-quality. Consider the long-term gain of paying a little more now for a good material vs. having cheap tools break down numerous times during production..
In most cases, you’re on the hook for the first set of tools, and after that the component maker pays for tool replacement. But if the manufacturer knows ahead of time it’s stuck with flimsy tooling, it’ll increase your cost per component.
RELATED: 8 Basic Dos and Don’ts of Powder Metal Tooling
Watch out for that. In fact, here are ...
4 Ways You Can Help Your Vendor Reduce Tooling Cost
There are ways you can protect yourself against unsightly tooling bills. Remember, it’s not just about getting the tool made, it’s also the maintenance of it over its lifetime.
1. Know Your Vendor and Trust It
Find a vendor that can be a trusty partner, and stick with it long-term. When Horizon is able to get tools for less, it's usually because we have a good relationship with our own vendor. We encourage you to find the same if you’re handling tooling procurement.
Some powder metal parts makers have in-house tooling design staff, while others outsource the work -- even to China. Either is fine as long as it gets the job done at a fair cost. Even if your parts vendor doesn’t design tooling in-house, they may have a tooling expert on hand who can spot design inefficiencies.
2. Component Design
A simple tweak in your part’s geometry or wall thickness can help you make tooling cheaper. For example, when we know a tool is going break after making 3,000 parts instead of a more reasonable 100,000 parts because its walls are too thin, we’ll advise you to reconsider your design.
If you send a model version of your part to a vendor, they can examine the design and suggest tweaks to make it more manufacturable.
3. Component Material
Material choice often depends on intended end use of your product. But some materials might not be worth the shortened tool life.
Certain stainless steels, iron-phosphorus, and soft magnetic materials are hard to mold. Some irons are harder to compress than others. Just like with the design, your parts producer should consider tooling materials that provide the best performance and value.
4. Component Tolerances
Sometimes engineers request tight tolerances, requiring the part maker to use more tools and wear them out more quickly.
If you loosen your “+/-” specifications up a bit, it could improve tool life and lower part costs.
Long-Term Tooling Wins
Think long-term with tooling -- just like you should be with your entire engineering process! If you have any further questions about tooling for powder metallurgy -- or anything powder metal-related -- contact us by clicking the button below.