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tolerance stack up

Tolerance Stacking: An Overview of Its Analysis Methods and Best Practices

Tolerancing plays a crucial role in the engineering and manufacturing process. It indicates the permissible deviations from a part’s measurement. Tolerance values are key features in the Geometric Dimension and Tolerancing (GD&T) system that product engineers use to communicate key part characteristics to the production department.

More so, tolerance stacking is a crucial tolerancing technique. It ensures multiple features of an assembly fit together within a specified tolerance limit by calculating assembly variation in geometric tolerance. Tolerance stack-up analysis helps to ensure a part’s tolerance is mathematically accurate, feasible, and beneficial to the production and performance of the machined part.

Moreover, proper tolerance stacking is essential to allocate tolerance budgets strategically in the product development process.

This article discusses what tolerance stacking is and its method of analysis. You will also learn practical tips that help to ensure success in tolerance stacking by reading to the end.

What Does Tolerance Stacking or Stack-Up Mean?

Tolerance stack-up or stacking is the cumulative geometric tolerances of connected features. That is to say, all the tolerances of a part are summed up to identify their cumulative effect on the part’s entire tolerance. Tolerance stacking is essential in assembly processes. It ensures the part and its supporting features are all physically possible to manufacture high-quality components.

Tolerance stack-up analysis helps to ensure tolerances are attainable before manufacturing begins. This method eliminates situations whereby the part’s features are within the tolerance budgets, but the assembly measurement is out of tolerance and gets scraped.

Proper tolerance stack analysis helps determine the final product’s physical properties, functionality, and interaction with other components. Calculating tolerance stacking helps optimize machining cost and manufacturability by preventing potential errors in the production stages after the design process.

Example of Tolerance Stacking:

example of tolerance stacking on engine block
Example of Tolerance Stacking on Engine Block

For instance, We are manufacturing a complex engine block for an automobile requires several machined features like cylindrical bores, threaded holes, and flat surfaces. Each of these features has a tolerance specified for its dimension. For instance, the bores where the pistons fit have a diameter tolerance of ±0.05 mm, and the flat surfaces where components mount have a flatness tolerance of ±0.02 mm.
During assembly, a cumulative tolerance issue arises if each bore is machined at the upper limit of its diameter tolerance and the flat surfaces at the lower limit of its flatness tolerance. The pistons, manufactured to a tight tolerance, might not fit appropriately in the slightly oversized bores, and the components meant to be mounted on the flat surfaces might not align correctly due to the variability in flatness.
In CNC machining, even minor deviations in individual part dimensions can accumulate, leading to significant issues in assembly and function. This example demonstrates the importance of tolerance stack analysis in CNC machining to ensure that when all parts are assembled, they function as intended without interference or misalignment. Managing tolerance stacking is crucial for high-precision manufacturing to maintain the quality and functionality of the final product.

Methods of Tolerance Stacking Analysis

tolerance measure

Product designers and engineers often use two main methods to analyze tolerance stacking. Although these two serve the same purpose, they have certain key differences, making them suitable for specific applications.

Worst Case Tolerance Analysis

This is a more straightforward tolerance analysis method that is easy to implement. This analysis involves adding up all the individual tolerances of an assembly or a part and comparing the total assembly limits with the performance limits of the part to ensure correct design. Engineers assume all features are at maximum deviation levels in a worst-case analysis scenario. They determine the extreme minimum and maximum value for each tolerance.

Although this analysis rarely occurs in manufacturing, manufacturers adopt the worst-case method when the stakes are high, especially for high-accuracy parts in the medical and aviation industries. This analysis helps to ensure the components of an assembly function appropriately, even under highly unfavorable circumstances.

Machinists achieve the preferred engineering fit using the worst-case analysis, ensuring all machined parts are within the specified tolerance. Besides, it may add unnecessarily tight tolerances due to the over-conservativeness of the method. It can also be expensive for production since tighter tolerances increase manufacturing costs. However, worst-case tolerance analysis is perfect for low-volume machining because all the probabilities of machining parts within tolerance decline as the number of parts increases.

Statistical Tolerance Analysis / RSS – Root Sum – Squared

types of tolerance analysis
Types of Tolerance Analysis

This tolerance analysis technique employs a more realistic and systematic approach to tolerance stacking. Statistical tolerance analysis is also called variation analysis. Using statistical analysis methods like root sum square (RSS), it estimates the probability distribution of deviations in tolerance values to predict the part’s probability of failure or success.

The Root Sum Squared (RSS) method is the most popular of all the various statistical techniques. This assembly variation analysis employs a normal distribution for the dimensional variations.

After considering these individual probability distributions, it sums them up to determine the probability of the overall part tolerance, providing a reasonable estimate of the number of parts that will fail the quality tests and inspection process.

In this case, the basic theory is that each dimension will vary. Some dimensions will be less off while others are more, the same as in the actual factory. As a result, it is ideal for mass production environments where a small number of deviations are acceptable so long that a higher percentage of the part falls in the specified tolerance range.

Tolerance Stacking Best Practices

tolerance stacking best practices

Tolerance stacking is a unique fusion of art and science. Moreover, you must possess a particular engineering prowess to determine the ideal chain of dimensions in tolerance stack-up calculations. This section discusses expert recommendations on how to optimize your tolerance stacking analysis:

Understand the Manufacturing Challenges

Most machinists get carried away easily and add tighter tolerance than necessary to some features. However, it would help to understand that while the production team can make high-quality parts, a part’s functionality determines its tolerances.

high precision cnc machining of combination parts
High Precision CNC Machining of Combination Parts

Therefore, product designers and manufacturers must examine their tolerance stacking from a practical perspective, preventing being too strict in their approach.

Consider Post-Manufacturing Part Quality

It is crucial to consider the changes a part will experience during service while you draw up its design and tolerances. Although this seems more of general advice, general wear, tear, and maintenance often affect the tolerances of parts over time after they have been manufactured. Hence, evaluating these post-manufacturing changes and determining the tolerances is advisable to maximize the part’s lifespan.

Adhere to General Tolerance Best Practices

General GD&T standards still apply to tolerance stack-up. This includes being mindful of how each part feature will interact with other component elements. Consequently, it guarantees that a part is machinable and within realistic limits of manufacturing capabilities and keeps track of essential part characteristics such as material selection. Hence, ensure your tolerance stack-up is permissible and within any relevant GD&T requirements for a specific part.

Make Clear and Defined Drawings

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Engineering drawings are standard means that manufacturers use to translate customer requirements into product requirements. It is often ideal to explicitly define tolerances only for critical features, as this automatically guides the dimensions of auxiliary features. Besides, inexperienced engineers often encounter challenges such as over-dimensioning by adding tolerances to each part feature.

Hence, experts advise against over-dimensioning when communicating design intent. Giving a part more nominal dimension than necessary can complicate the production processes. It can congest your engineering drawing, compromising success.

Tools for Tolerance Stack-Up

Tolerance stacking is a valuable manufacturing utility that has evolved significantly over the years. Innovative computer-aided design (CAD) tools, including a tolerance stackup calculator, help to simulate and calculate tolerance stacking virtually. These CAD/CAE tools facilitate the early detection of issues or complications in the design process.

Hence, you can easily choose from the various tolerance stacking methods, determine all potential tolerance chains in the part, and make necessary modifications to the engineering drawings. Tools such as the tolerance stack-up calculator drive innovation in the manufacturing industry. They help engineers to apply precision manufacturing techniques such as 6-Sigma.


Tolerance stacking is a core aspect of the design and production process. Product designers use it to address mechanical fit and mechanical performance requirements. Proper tolerance stack analysis guarantees that the components of an assembly meet the design specifications and function properly. Hence, understanding everything about tolerance stacking helps to reduce assembly issues and optimize product quality.

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FAQs about Tolerance Stacking

What Is the Importance of Tolerance Stacking?

Tolerance stacking is crucial in engineering because it ensures parts are produced within the specified tolerance limits for every geometric feature. It helps in achieving high producibility levels.

What Are the Common Difficulties of Tolerance Stacking?

Common challenges encountered in tolerance stack-ups include examining manufacturing capabilities, selecting the best variation of the tolerance chain, and determining the ideal balance between part tolerances and cost-effectiveness.

Is Tolerance Stacking Applicable to Any Industry?

The tolerance stack-up approach is a versatile concept that applies to several industries, including electronics, automotive, manufacturing, and aerospace. It guarantees machined parts’ reliability and functionality in different applications.

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