Background—Polymer rapid tooling (PRT) inserts for injection molding (IM) are a cost-effective method for prototyping and low-volume manufacturing. However, PRT inserts lack the robustness of steel inserts, leading to progressive deterioration and failure. This causes quality issues and reduced part numbers. Approach—Case studies were performed on PRT inserts, and different failures were observed over the life of the tool. Parts molded from the tool were examined to further understand the failures, and root causes were identified. Findings—Critical parameters affecting the tool life, and the effect of these parameters on different areas of tool are identified. A categorization of the different failure modes and the underlying mechanisms are presented. The main failure modes are: surface deterioration; surface scalding; avulsion; shear failure; bending failure; edge failure. The failure modes influence each other, and they may be connected in cascade sequences. Originality—The original contributions of this work are the identification of the failure modes and their relationships with the root causes. Suggestions are given for prolonging tool life via design practices and molding parameters.
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