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Europe: State of the tool, mould and die-making industry?

| Author / Editor: Barbara Schulz / Susanne Hertenberger

Topics like Toolmaking 4.0, automation, additive manufacturing, globalisation and cooperation will continue to determine the current year.
Topics like Toolmaking 4.0, automation, additive manufacturing, globalisation and cooperation will continue to determine the current year. (Source: Fotolia)

Europe’s tool and mould makers are facing fierce competition caused by increasing cost pressures and globalisation; which, on the other hand, also offers opportunities to tap into new markets and embrace new technologies. Let’s see what 2017 holds for the industry.

In Europe, tool, die and mould makers are optimistic about demand for their products for 2017, Manuel Oliveira, Europe secretariat at International Special Tooling & Machining Association (Istma), says. “Concerning Portugal, the demand from the automotive industry is high at this moment and we expect that trend to continue in 2017,” he said. “Regarding aerospace, we feel a slight in-crease but in Portugal this sector is still a niche market.”

In the UK, domestic mould and toolmakers report sales are improving as the trend for reshoring to the UK continues, Plastics News reports. But there is a mixed reaction to the shrinking toolmaking skills workforce resource, as more and more of those in the sector reach retirement age and leave the industry. Julia Moore, chief executive of the GTMA, acknowledges there is an ageing workforce element in the mould and toolmaking industry and the market is contracting, but she also points out that her association is encouraged by the steps small companies are taking to move forward, citing the Pentagon Plastics takeover of Phoenix Tooling. “Here is an example of the companies seeing an opportunity to work together and develop their combined businesses,” she says. “Some toolrooms now have moulding facilities, offer other engineering facilities or additive manufacturing.”

Cooperation is also high on the agenda for Germany’s tool and mould makers. According to Thomas Seul, vice rector for Research and Transfer at the University of Applied Science in Schmalkalden and president of the Association of German Tool and Mould Makers (VDWF), there is a paradigm shift in the industry. “Just twenty years ago, German tool and mould making companies all watched each other closely, but everyone was fighting their own battles,” he says. “Today, this competition is a thing of the past. Instead, focus has shifted to an awareness that you have to cooperate if you want to remain competitive.”

Small and medium-sized companies that shape the industry have to form strategic partnerships and identify opportunities for future developments so as to open up new markets. Think global, act local. That’s why the VDWF organises delegation trips to toolmaking clusters around the world.

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