Soft Tooling, Hard Tooling & Hybrid Tooling: Which is Right for Your Metal Enclosure Design?

Does your metal enclosure need soft tooling, hard tooling or a hybrid of both? The answer may come down to what you need your enclosure for and your budget, but it's important you know all three options exist to make the most informed decision for your product. In this blog post, we will take a deeper dive into soft tooling, hard tooling and hybrid tools to help you decide which type is right for your project. This post will explain the benefits and considerations to keep in mind for each method to help you make better decisions when designing your next metal enclosure. Let's dive in! Soft Tooling: Quicker turnaround, lower cost Soft tooling is perfect for quickly entering production or decreasing time to market. Laser cutting is a fantastic example of soft tooling because it is not a dedicated tool for desired features. Soft tooling is an excellent option for companies manufacturing FAI units or prototypes since it doesn't require them to absorb a high tooling investment right off the bat. Soft tooling also allows for flexibility when it comes to product/design changes. However, soft tools have their limitations. For example, creating complex formed features such as large embosses, louvers, and offsets is challenging. Furthermore, as production numbers increase, soft tooling operations may need to be evaluated and moved to hard tooling processes for improved throughput, ease of manufacturability and repeatability. It’s important to note that the additional benefits come with additional costs.


Soft Tooling Advantages & Disadvantages

Advantages Disadvantages
Time to market speed Capacity
Low entry-level cost Requires multiple hits
Design flexibility Limited tool life
More generous More process variables.


Hard tooling: Complex design at high volumes Hard tooling is what you typically think of when you picture the tool and die set that carves out intricate parts like those seen on newer cars. Hard tooling is excellent for high-volume metal parts and complex design-formed features. The result of this metal fabrication method is an accurate product component that meets your specifications and requires minimal secondary operations. The downside to hard tooled parts is the long lead times and higher tool costs. There’s also less design flexibility because hard tooling involves creating a stamping die. With a stamping die, the material can be taken away, but once it’s gone, it cannot be added back in.


Hard Tooling Advantages & Disadvantages

Advantages Disadvantages
High volume production High initial cost
Lower DPM rates Minimal design flexibility
Longer tool life Longer time to market
Repeatable process Higher replacement tool cost


Hybrid Tooling – The Best of Both Worlds? Hybrid tooling metal enclosures create an optimal balance between speed of delivery and production quantity by combining soft tooling and hard tooling. One example of hybrid tooling is using laser-cut blanks or turret press punch blanks (soft tooling), then using stage-formed tools (stamping stage tools) to create a more complex part without all the requirements of a hard tool for a complete part. This path still takes less initial investment and setup than if you were going to use only hard tooling, and it allows engineers to be flexible with quantities and demand changes. When considering hybrid tooling, design engineers should keep in mind that the final part must withstand the rigors of the stamping processes. So which tooling method should you choose? In this post, we’ve discussed three types of tooling in metal enclosure fabrication. Soft tooling is perfect for quickly entering production or for those who want to decrease their time-to-market, while hard tools are better suited for high volume production with set designs and a long program life. Hybrid tooling can give you the best of both worlds. It’s important that you deeply understand your product’s design requirements and use case before selecting a tooling method for your metal enclosures. Do you have any thoughts about hard tooling, soft tooling, or hybrid tooling? Comment below! We would love to hear from you! Are you looking for more tips and tricks for manufacturing metal enclosures? Visit our blog. If you’re looking for a partner to help your business achieve these goals, request a quote!

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