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Troubleshooting when changing production tooling material - P130

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Practice - A6Production Troubleshooting - A251Troubleshooting when changing production tooling material - P130
Troubleshooting when changing production tooling material
Practice document
Document Type Practice
Document Identifier 130
Objective functions
MSTE workflow Troubleshooting

Q: "I am trying to transition basic tooling styles, such as from composite to steel tooling, or vice versa, with everything else the same, to lower cost but am experiencing new cure quality issues."

A: The cause of the quality issues might be the result of the increase in thermal mass of the tool. Steel tooling has a larger thermal mass than composite tooling and as a result takes much longer to heat up. In doing so, it draws heat away from the part, increasing the thermal lag between the air and part. If the same cure cycle was implemented in both cases, it likely does not account for this increase in thermal lag in the steel tooling case. To mitigate this, a possible solution is to apply heat at a slower rate or introduce longer isothermal holds. If the process is a room temperature cure scenario, the steel tooling might be preventing the part from reaching the desired temperature by absorbing most of the exothermic heat that is generated. A possible mitigation strategy here would be to insulate the part or increase the ambient air temperature. In both cases, reducing the tooling thickness such that the thermal mass of the steel tool matches that of the original composite tool is another possibility.

Overview[edit | edit source]

In general, changes to either the material, part shape, tooling, or equipment should be done as early as possible when defining the factory workflow. This reduces costs associated with the change as well providing insight into potential quality issues that may arise as a result of the change. The good news is that of the four system components, tooling is generally the easiest to make changes to at a later stage. That is, it is easier to mitigate cost, rate, and quality issues that may arise.

Thermal management considerations[edit | edit source]

Link to thermal management

To gain a deeper understanding of how tooling may influence the thermal response of parts, visit the following page, effect of tooling in a thermal management system.

Generally speaking there are two ways in which in which tooling influences the part temperature. These are:

  1. By acting as a heat source/sink
  2. By influencing airflow, and therefore the heat transfer coefficient (HTC) - applicable only in convective heating systems

Tooling as a heat source/sink[edit | edit source]

During heat up in a convection system, heat may be transferred to the part via its bagside and/or toolside interface. In the case of two sided tooling (such as in a hot press), heat must come from the tooling. This means that the tooling always leads the part in temperature during heat up. If heat flows through the tool into the part, the tool behaves as a heat source with respect to the part. Once the part exotherms, however, the part often leads the tool in temperature, and heat flows from the part through the tooling. This is true for both conductive and convective heating environments. At this point, the tool acts as a heat sink, drawing heat away from the part and expelling it to the environment. The ability for tooling to be able to act as an efficient heat source or heat sink as needed is crucial for ensuring part quality.

If the tool can absorb a lot of the thermal energy (i.e. has a high thermal mass), it will heat up slowly. This will impact the heat up rate of the part and, in turn, lengthen the cure cycle time and potentially introduce large temperature gradients throughout the part. Conversely, if the tool cannot absorb a lot of energy (i.e. low thermal mass), although it may heat up quickly, when the part exotherms the tool may not be able to absorb the generated heat. As a result the part may thermally degrade.

The energy required to heat the tooling is determined by its thermal mass, as governed by the following equation:

\(Q=mC_p\Delta{T}\)Energy required to raise an object's temperature, where \(Q\) = energy, \(m\) = object mass, \(C_p\) = specific heat capacity, \(\Delta{T}\) = change in temperature from applied energy. Note that \(mC_p\) is the thermal mass of the object.

Aside from the tool's ability to absorb energy, the thermal conductivity and diffusivity of the tool also matters. If the tool has a low thermal mass but also a low thermal diffusivity, then it may heat up quickly, but unevenly. This will again affect the manner in which the part heats up as well. During exotherm, a tool with a higher thermal conductivity and diffusivity will help in conducting heat away from the part and out to the surrounding environment. In that sense, a tool with a relatively low thermal mass but high conductivity/diffusivity (such as aluminum) may still act as an effective heat sink. Another aspect to consider is that different areas of the tool/part may heat up at different rates, due to thickness changes and other local features. Tools with a high thermal diffusivity will help alleviate temperature gradients arising from such features. -tooling material

Thermal diffusivity can be calculated using the following equation:

\(\alpha=\frac{k}{\rho C_p}\)Thermal diffusivity, where \(\alpha\) = thermal diffusivity, \(k\) = thermal conductivity, \(\rho\) = density, and \(C_p\) = specific heat capacity.

The tables below provide a quantitative and qualitative list of typical thermal properties for tooling materials. Properties for composite tools are dependent on the fibre volume fraction and orientation. Note that in the second table, high and low thermal mass are shaded both red and green. The reason for this is that either can be beneficial or detrimental. A high thermal mass increases thermal lag and heat up time, but it decreases part exotherm. A low thermal mass decreases thermal lag and heats up quickly, but increases part exotherm.

Typical material properties for tools. Note that the properties for the composite tool are dependent on the fibre volume fraction and orientation.
Tooling material Density (kg/m3) Specific heat capacity (J/kg-K) Thermal conductivity (W/m-K) Coefficient of thermal expansion - CTE (x10-6/°C) Thermal diffusivity (x10-6m2/s)
Invar 8000 515 11.0 0.6-1.5 2.67
Mild steel 7850 510 55 11 13.7
Carbon-epoxy composite 1580 870 0.7 (through-thickness) -0.5 (in-plane)
22.5 (through-thickness)
0.5 (through-thickness)
Aluminum 2710 896 167 23 68.9
Qualitative comparison of tooling materials
Tooling material Cost Durability Weight Thermal mass Thermal conductivity Coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) Thermal diffusivity
Invar $$$ Excellent Heavy High Moderate Low Low
Steels $$$ Excellent Heavy High Good Moderate Moderate
Composites $ Low Light Low Low Moderate Low
Aluminum $$ Good Moderate Low Excellent High High

Tooling influence on airflow[edit | edit source]

In a convective heating environment, the shape of the tooling can influence airflow over one part or multiple parts (if multiple parts are cured at the same time for example). By redirecting airflow, the local heat transfer coefficient (HTC) changes. Aside from HTC changes across the part, the HTC across complex tooling is also likely not uniform. Various features of the tool may experience different levels of airflow. By influencing the HTC, the heat up and cool down rate of the tool/part is affected. To learn more, visit the following page.

To learn how to measure airflow and the HTC, visit the following pages:

Troubleshooting steps[edit | edit source]

Because the manufacturing workflow is at the production stage, any changes made could have significant impact on cost, rate, and quality. In order to mitigate quality issues without a significant increase in cost, changes to the part should be avoided, followed by changes to the equipment, and then changes to tooling. The best bet is to try and meet specifications with the current system. Easy changes may include repositioning the tool/part in the equipment during cure to improve airflow. Alternatively, consumables may be added or removed to better insulate the part or to improve heat transfer across the bagside surface (if in a convective heating environment).

In order to properly mitigate the quality issues, the root cause of the defects needs to be determined. Below are a list of some thermal management troubleshooting steps that may be performed to determine the effect of tooling on part quality.

1. List the defects observed in the parts[edit | edit source]

This includes any observations where the part is not meeting quality metrics.

2. List changes to the tooling that were performed[edit | edit source]

This may include changing the tooling material, shape, thickness, etc. Have the thermal properties of the tool been altered (i.e. thermal conductivity, diffusivity, specific heat capacity, density, etc.)? Did the changes increase or decrease the thermal mass of the tool? Answering these questions and relating them to the observed defects may help identify the reason for the defects. To understand how changes to the tooling may have influenced the part's thermal response, visit the following page: effect of tooling in a thermal management system.

3. Determine the lead/lag locations on the tool[edit | edit source]

Determining the lead/lag locations often relies on engineering judgement. A good place to start is the thickest and thinnest areas of the tool, where the thickest likely represents the highest lag and thinnest the highest lead. It's also possible that a single location may represent the highest lead and highest lag location. If possible, this step should be performed on both the previous tool as well as the new tool.

4. Use these locations for proxy thermocouples[edit | edit source]

Measure the temperature at the suspected lead/lag locations (or other potential lead/lag locations) using thermocouples. The temperature measured at these points can be used as a proxy for the minimum and maximum part temperature. If the temperature at these locations on the tool are outside the bounds of the temperature specifications for the part, then it can be assumed the part is not meeting its thermal requirements. Note the time when the minimum and maximum temperatures occur. It may be that the maximum temperature occurs during exotherm of the part. If so, this implies the tooling is unable to absorb the heat or is inefficient in dissipating the heat to the environment. If possible, this step should be performed on both the previous tool as well as the new tool. That way the two results can be compared. If the new tool doesn't meet temperature specifications for the part while the old tool does, then it is likely that the change in tooling is indeed responsible for temperature-related defects in the part.

Additional thermocouples should also be placed at various other locations on the tool to get an idea of the thermal gradients across the tool. Again, a similar step should be taken with the old tool. If the gradients in the tool have changed significantly, this may induce a different thermal response in the part and could also lead to residual stress-induced deformations.

5. Correlate part quality to location on tool[edit | edit source]

Are the observed defects occurring at specific locations consistently and do these locations match with the lead/lag locations of the tool? If yes, this further assures that the min/max temperature of the new tooling is negatively impacting part quality. If no, measure the tool temperature in the affected areas to get an idea of the tool temperature where the part defects are occurring.

6. Implement tooling mitigations[edit | edit source]

Thermal mitigation strategies for tooling
Problem/defect Mitigation strategy
Maximum temperature too high
  • Ensure good airflow across this area of the tool (convective heating)
  • Ensure good contact in this area with the heat source (conductive heating)
  • Increase local tooling thickness in this area
  • Change tooling material to one with higher thermal mass
  • Change tooling material to one with higher thermal conductivity/diffusivity
Minimum temperature too low
  • Ensure good airflow across this area of the tool (convective heating)
  • Ensure good contact in this area with the heat source (conductive heating)
  • Decrease local tooling thickness in this area
  • Change tooling material to one with lower thermal mass
  • Change tooling material to one with higher thermal conductivity/diffusivity
Uneven temperature/large thermal gradients across tool
  • Ensure good airflow across the tool (convective heating)
  • Use tooling with an open substructure (convective heating)
  • Ensure good contact with the heat source (conductive heating)
  • Change tooling material to one with higher thermal diffusivity

Material deposition management considerations[edit | edit source]

Link to material deposition management

Content coming soon

Flow and consolidation management considerations[edit | edit source]

Link to flow and consolidation management

If changing the tooling influences the flow characteristics of the part, it is likely the viscosity evolution of the part has changed due to an altered thermal profile. To learn about ensuring appropriate resin flow, visit the following page: ensuring appropriate resin flow and part consolidation for a new cure cycle.

Residual stress and dimensional control management consideration[edit | edit source]

Link to residual stress and dimensional control management

The coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) is another factor that should be considered when changing tooling material. If the mismatch in CTE between the tool and part is considerable, and this is not mitigated for, then the part may deform during cure or upon demoulding. The best way to mitigate for this is to match the tool CTE with the part CTE. Generally speaking, composite materials have a low CTE while metallic tools have a much higher CTE. The exception is invar, which has a very low CTE and is therefore a preferable option for advanced tooling choices. However invar is also very expensive, heavy, and thermally massive. Composite tools, may also offer a close match in CTE to composite parts. However, because the resin and fibres of a composite material exhibit different CTEs, the overall CTE for a composite part is dependent on the fibre volume fraction and orientation of the fibres. Therefore, it can't be assumed that all composite parts, even if made with the same materials, have the same CTE. The same is true for composite tooling.

Another way to mitigate CTE-induced deformation at the tool-part interface is to include a low-friction film between the two surfaces. This may be a release agent, release film, teflon film, or other consumable.

General CTE values for common tooling materials are provided in the table below:

CTE values for common tooling and part materials [1][2]
Material CTE (x10-6/°C)
Aluminum 23
Steel 11
Invar 0.6 to 1.5
Epoxy 45 to 62
Polyester 60 to 200
Vinylester 100 to 150
Carbon fibre (longitudinal)

-0.2 to -0.5

Carbon fibre (transverse) 10 to 15
E-glass fibre (longitudinal) 5
E-glass fibre (transverse) 5

Related pages

Page type Links
Introduction to Composites Articles
Foundational Knowledge Articles
Foundational Knowledge Method Documents
Foundational Knowledge Worked Examples
Systems Knowledge Articles
Systems Knowledge Method Documents
Systems Knowledge Worked Examples
Systems Catalogue Articles
Systems Catalogue Objects – Material
Systems Catalogue Objects – Shape
Systems Catalogue Objects – Tooling and consumables
Systems Catalogue Objects – Equipment
Practice Documents
Case Studies
Perspectives Articles


  1. [Ref] Daniel, Isaac M.; Ishai, Ori (2006). Engineering Mechanics of Composite Materials. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-515097-1.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link) CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  2. [Ref] MatWeb LLC. "MatWeb: Online Materials Information Resource". Retrieved 9 September 2020.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)

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The way that the material, shape, tooling & consumables and equipment (abbreviated as MSTE) interact with each other during a process step is critical to the outcome of the manufacturing step, and ultimately critical to the quality of the finished part. The interactions between MSTE during a process step can be numerous and complex, but the Knowledge in Practice Centre aims to make you aware of these interactions, understand how one parameter affects another, and understand how to analyze the problem using a systems based approach. Using this approach, the factory can then be developed with a complete understanding and control of all interactions.

The relationship between material, shape, tooling & consumables and equipment during a process step

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Design for manufacturing is critical to ensuring the producibility of a part. Trouble arises when it is considered too late or not at all in the design process. Conversely, process design (controlling the interactions between shape, material, tooling & consumables and equipment to achieve a desired outcome) must always consider the shape and material of the part. Ashby has developed and popularized the approach linking design (function) to the choice of material and shape, which influence the process selected and vice versa, as shown below:

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The relationship between function, material, shape and process consisting of Equipment and Tooling and consumables


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