Why choose Protolabs over Xcentric for soft-tooling?

When products are under development, they have a lot of issues. The best way to eliminate the issues is to build a lot of prototypes, testing rigorously at each step.

Many prototype builds (at least early in the development cycle) are one-offs. They're designed to answer the question, could this work?

Yes? (lock it in) or No? (scrap it, back to the drawing board)

As a design becomes more stable, we usually want to build higher volume prototype runs. (Maybe 10, 20, 100+ parts)

Sometimes these are referred to as Alpha, Beta, or Pre-Production runs. For some high-volume production parts, we may build 1000 or more pre-production parts. Each iteration gets closer to final design.

These higher volume prototypes allow us to learn about: 1. Build variation (part-to-part tolerance) 2. Assembly process and timing for cost modeling 3. Volume production costs 4. Batch sterilization validation 5. Mold flow 6. etc...

Typically, these are made with early versions of the production tools. For high-risk molds, a manufacturer may choose to 'soft-tool' the parts. Soft-tooling typically refers to aluminum molds.

Aluminum molds are cheaper/faster to produce than steel molds, and help de-risk the production tool design. With a soft tool, we can build higher volume parts to eliminate risk.

Protolabs and Xcentric are two of the big names in soft-tool production here in US.

I choose Protolabs when part designs are simpler and schedule is key. Protolabs doesn't miss their deadlines. Protolabs is usually about 10-20% higher cost than Xcentric, in parts and tooling. Protolabs has many other services, CNC, 3DPrinting, etc.

I choose Xcentric when I need something a bit more complex, or need lower cost. A custom insert mold, a bit of a complex shutoff surface, etc. They're more willing to take on custom molded parts. Xcentric tends to be a bit cheaper in parts and tooling, but has missed several times on our deadlines. They might overpromise and underdeliver, but prices can't be beat. I'd recommend Xcentric if timing is flexible. Might need to go through a few iterations on the mold designs.

Have a concept you want to bring to production? Need help estimating soft-tool costs?

Give me a call. ​

Make it a great week!


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