National Composites Week – Soft Tooling and Composites

National Composites Week is designed to introduce young people and others in the community to the composites industry, the career opportunities available, and demonstrate the contributions composites make to the local, national and global economy.  Coastal Enterprises manufactures Precision Board, a high-density urethane tooling board used extensively in composites, including industries like aerospace, automotive and marine and in a variety of applications including molds and prototypes. 

We’ll be sharing various ways that Coastal supports composites throughout the week.

Today’s Topic: What is soft tooling and how has it changed the composites industry?

Soft tooling (like Precision Board urethane) over hard tooling (metals like steel, aluminum and invar) has made a huge difference when it comes to short production runs and has given the industry greater flexibility when it comes to design changes and cost savings in terms of time and labor.  The change from hard tooling to soft tooling was a long time coming, but it’s already made an impact on the composites industry and Coastal Enterprises has been there since the beginning.

national composites week

The Transition from Hard Tooling to Soft Tooling

Formerly a composites engineer at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works (Palmdale, Calif.), Jon Sharp is a legendary air racer.  While many of the projects Jon was involved in at Lockheed are still classified, he was heavily involved in the now-declassified Lockheed Martin/Boeing RQ-3 Darkstar UAV program. An early precursor to modern day UAV’s, Darkstar was designed as a high-altitude endurance UAV with stealth technology. This project, with Jon’s leadership and dedicated team, was the first time high density polyurethane was used for tooling on a government contract job, a pioneering move that allowed Sharp and his team to complete their project on time and on budget. It helped to pave the way for the large amount of high-density urethane tooling board seen today in the aerospace and composites industries.

Jon shared his thoughts on what it meant to switch from the time-consuming tooling methods they were accustomed to, to the lighter, more nimble high density urethane:

“90{afbea94bd31582343c3017644f03ec8d7d8fa2386ecb82c250661e06c0c6e111} of the tooling for Darkstar was made from 10lb and 20lb. HDU. It would have cost us roughly 30 times that amount to do the tooling with metal. Not only that, as soon as we discovered the numerous options we had for block configuration and sheet size, we never went back to bonding up railroad-tie size pieces of wood or buying chunks of metal like we did in the past,” he said.

“If you make the decision to buy metal tooling, you’re constrained by a lot of factors — higher cost, size and weight and overall lead time for the tool build,” says Coastal Enterprises president Chuck Miller. “High-density urethane foam offers much more flexibility and speed, and the coefficient of thermal expansion can be easily compensated for.”

Customization options, allowing for easier accommodation of design changes, also played a large role in high density polyurethane winning the hearts and minds of the aerospace tooling industry.

Sharp went on to say,

“Another major reason we were so drawn to HDU for tooling was the greater level of design flexibility that was suddenly available. We used to order our blocks several inches thicker than we needed them, which made the inevitable design changes much less of a headache. Could we have done that with metal? Absolutely not, we would have had to start all over again.” says Sharp. “The bottom line is, once high density urethane became available, we weren’t about to spend millions of dollars on tooling for a prototype, especially one that could be of limited life! The quality, consistency, and block configuration options of Precision Board cut labor time and cost down so drastically that we didn’t want to use anything else!”

The Benefits of Soft Tooling

To summarize, the advantages of using soft tooling are as follows:

  1. Shorter Machining Time
  2. Less Wear on Your Machine
  3. Lighter Weight
  4. Easily Accommodates Design Changes
  5. Lower Overall Project Cost
  6. Shorter Overall Tool Production Time

Additionally, Coastal Enterprises offers services you can’t get elsewhere.  For instance, we can fabricate custom-bonded blocks and layup tool from Precision Board soft tooling, something that can’t be done with hard tooling.  Our team can assemble complex step tools of any size, any thickness, and any density.  Coastal’s bonded blocks have near imperceptible bond lines and are delivered in near-net shape, ready for machining immediately.

In tomorrow’s post we will address the many benefits of using Precision Board urethane tooling board from Coastal Enterprises and why many in the aerospace industry are relying more on soft tooling materials, like Precision Board.

National Composites Week Schedule

Monday- Coastal’s School Donation Program
Tuesday- What is soft tooling and how has it changed the composites industry?
Wednesday- The benefits of Precision Board over other tooling boards
Thursday- The creation and benefits of Precision Board step-tools
Friday- Coastal’s long history and roots in the space program

A group of composites industry leaders has announced the creation and launch of the inaugural National Composites Week, Aug. 26-30, 2019. The goal of National Composites Week is to encourage manufacturers from throughout the composites manufacturing supply chain — raw material suppliers, convertors, designers, toolmakers, fabricators, educators, students — to celebrate and bring attention to the myriad ways that composite materials and composites manufacturing contribute to the products and structures that shape the American manufacturing landscape today.  More information is available HERE

National Composites Week was organized and launched by braiding specialist A&P Technology, global advanced composites company Hexcel and media partner CompositesWorld magazine.

Coastal Enterprises manufactures Precision Board, a versatile, cost-effective and eco-friendly urethane material used extensively in the tooling industry.  It is a closed-cell, rigid, dimensionally-stable substrate that is ideal for use in a number of different tooling applications.

Request free samplesget a quote or sign up for weekly e-blasts packed with helpful information.

CAMX 2016: Coastal Enterprises at Booth J97


Coastal Enterprises at CAMX Booth J97


From September 27-29 at the Anaheim Convention Center, Coastal Enterprises will be hosting a booth at one of the largest gathering of composites professionals in the world: the Composites Advanced Materials Expo, or CAMX. This is more than just a trade show: CAMX combines an exhibit hall with dozens of top-tier exhibitors, keystone speeches by some of the industry’s leading innovators, and individual courses to expand attendees’ knowledge of composites and manufacturing. CAMX is a joint effort between the ACMA and SAMPE associations, two of the top organizers of advanced engineering events all over the world. This is the cant-miss event of the year for composites professionals and hobbyists alike, and you can be sure there’s something for everyone at CAMX.


Coastal Enterprises will be hosting Booth J97, a corner booth bordering the University Pavilion. Come pay us a visit – We’ll have Precision Board samples available, along with some finished tools and models on display to showcase the material’s capabilities. And as always, members of our experienced technical team will be on hand to answer questions, provide guidance for ongoing projects, and help get you in touch with a Precision Board distributor. CAMX is one of our favorite events of the year, a chance to collaborate with composites professionals from all over the world and learn a little more about this incredible industry we’re a part of.

We want to see you there! CLICK HERE to print your free passes to the exhibition, and be sure to stop by Booth J97!

How to Reduce CNC Machining Time in Soft Tooling

Smart and Easy Soft Tooling with Precision Board Bonded Blocks

Custom bonded blocks can be a game-changing asset for any soft tooling application. Order a professionally bonded custom block, and have it arrive fully bonded and ready for machining- this is a huge CNC time-saving benefit. Our custom bonded blocks allow you to save significant machining time, as you only need to machine minimal excess material, rather than machining an entire block down to size. See the diagram below:



As you can see, the savings in CNC machining time and material when using Precision Board custom blocks are substantial. Additionally, our fabricating capabilities go way beyond simple stepped designs. We’re experts at planning a material utilization strategy that is unique to your specific project, no matter how complex. All we need is a dimensional sketch of the finished tool, and we’ll take it quickly from there to prepare a quote. As you can see in the video above, our skilled production team is able to create large, highly complex tooling blocks from scratch. And thanks to our large inventory and highly skilled production team, we can create blocks of any size, any shape, and any density. Plus, we move fast!

soft tooling packaged

Precision Board custom bonded block ready to ship

After the custom tooling block is fabricated, it undergoes a careful packaging process to ensure it arrives intact. We use sacrifice sheets, reinforced edge protectors, a custom-sized pallet, and yards of plastic wrap and bindings to protect the block and secure it for shipping. You can rest assured that your Precision Board custom block will arrive undamaged and ready for machining.

So give us a call or email today to find out more about our custom tooling block capabilities, or request a quote for a custom block of your own. We’re here to help!

Fast shipping tooling board: Don’t settle for long lead times!

Fast shipping tooling board: Check out our 52-second video to see how we do it!

We understand how important it is to get the material you need, exactly when you need it. That’s why Coastal Enterprises maintains such a large inventory: It’s fast and easy to ship Precision Board that we already have in stock! We excel at rush jobs, short timelines, last-minute orders, and unexpected complications. If your back is against the wall, give us a call! Precision Board is fast shipping tooling board, so click here for free Precision Board samples.

fast shipping tooling board

Large custom-bonded Precision Board step tool

Coastal Enterprises sustains a comprehensive inventory of Precision Board HDU at all times, to ensure that we can meet your needs at a moment’s notice. We make it a point to keep high stock levels of all material: fifteen different densities of High Density Urethane in eight standard sheet sizes, all with thicknesses up to 24”. This makes us extremely versatile in the way we can fulfill orders, since we have such a large stockpile of Precision Board on hand. And since we understand the tight schedule of a typical composites manufacturing or sign-making project, we can work around your timeline to make sure you’re fully supplied with the material you need.

fast shipping tooling board

Custom-bonded blocks in various sizes

Fast shipping tooling board

CNC-routing Precision Board








On top of that, our highly skilled production team can perform in-house cutting for custom-sized sheets, as well as custom-bonded blocks, step tools, and filament-winding mandrels. Thanks to our experience and technical knowledge, we have specialized production capabilities that allow us to really think outside the box! Give us your craziest idea and we’ll give you a way to make it happen, and fast. Get your free Precision Board samples today, and find out what Coastal Enterprises can do to make your project happen!