Markets Germany: Tooling 4.0

Author / Editor: Dr. Wolfgang Boos, Michael Salmen M.Sc., Thomas Kuhlmann M.Sc., M.Sc., Dipl.-Ing. Dipl.-Wirt.Ing. Max Schippers / Susanne Hertenberger

Increasing cost pressures and fiercer competition are driving toolmakers to embrace new concepts such as Tooling 4.0 and to industrialise their operations to reduce idle and lead times by limiting the number of variations in tool components and processes.

Toolmakers must face the digital transformation and re-align their business accordingly.
Toolmakers must face the digital transformation and re-align their business accordingly.
(Source: © ake1150 /

As the suppliers of tools and moulds for series production processes, toolmakers around the world constantly seek to make improvements in order to deliver a high level of quality in a short period of time and at competitive prices. In the past, tools were made by craftsmen and designed and manufactured as unique pieces of art. This high level of dedication and focus on quality was needed to ensure reliable series production processes. Since then, the demand for tools has grown concurrently with the increasing number of products and product variants.


Other developments include the stronger focus on reducing toolmaking costs and greater collaboration with national and international suppliers to profit from lower costs. In order to meet these diametrically opposing demands of high-quality tools at competitive prices and short lead-times, toolmakers have improved their value creation processes, applying concepts from other industries. This article will give an overview of the two major development phases of improvement, which are described as “Industrialisation of Toolmaking” and “Tooling 4.0”.

Improvements in time and quality in toolmaking have always been enabled by advancements in machining technologies such as milling, turning, eroding and grinding. With this equipment, manufacturing times could be reduced and the necessary tolerances machined more reliably. Additional automation equipment like CNC control units as well as tool and workpiece changers increased the efficiency of the tool manufacturing process even further. Between 2004 and 2015, German toolmakers improved the average runtime of their milling machines by 38% to 3,547 hours per year. In the same timeframe, the share of machining hours per operator hour was increased by 72% to a value of 1.67.

Despite these technological improvements, the lead-times of new tools and maintenance orders were only slightly improved. Long idle times between process steps were the result of an uncoordinated shop floor with non-systematic planning and steering concepts of orders. Alongside these isolated measures, new and holistic production concepts were needed; here, the industrialisation of toolmaking had a major impact.

Development phases in toolmaking

The industrialisation of toolmaking was a radical development with the objective of using standardisation and specialisation to reduce lead-times while sustaining tool quality. It completely changed traditional toolmaking processes. The principles of industrialisation have already proven themselves in the fields of mass and series production, particularly in the automotive industry. The ideas of Taylor, Ford, Toyota, Womack and Jones helped the automotive industry to increase their output and at the same time reduce production costs. For the single and small-series production of tools, the concepts had to be modified in order to meet their specific requirements. Over time, new challenges and opportunities for toolmakers have arisen.

Three primary challenges have been identified: social change in the workforce, a stronger internationalisation of customers and production sites as well as growing digitalisation. Although the concepts of industrialisation still help toolmakers to improve today, a further development phase will be needed to face new challenges. Similar to current developments in the automotive sector, Industry 4.0 can be a role model for the toolmaking industry. WBA Aachener Werkzeugbau Akademie has developed a Tooling 4.0 concept thanks to their experience with consulting and research projects in the toolmaking industry.

Tooling 4.0 focuses on adapting the concepts of digitally enhanced products and services as well as building up organisational knowledge by collecting and analysing data of value creation processes. For many aspects of Tooling 4.0, the concepts of industrialisation in toolmaking are a prerequisite for further improvements. The status quo of toolmakers from different countries varies to a large degree. First-class toolmakers in Germany already implement aspects of Tooling 4.0, while the concepts of industrialisation in toolmaking would also benefit a large share of toolmakers. These two concepts will be described in more detail.

Industrialised toolmaking

The primary objective of industrialisation in toolmaking is to reduce idle and lead-times by limiting the number of variations in tool components and processes. To benefit from the standardisation and subsequently higher specialisation in single process steps, a basis of focus and collaboration is needed. Toolmakers must identify their core competencies in the value creation process and focus their resources in the area of complex 5-axis hard milling, for example. To be cost-efficient and manufacture and assemble complete tools, collaboration with other toolmakers and suppliers with complimentary core competencies is necessary.

As a next step in industrialisation, the variants in tool components and processes are reduced by product and process standardisation. Although toolmakers need to modify their tool design specifically for every customer order, they can nevertheless benefit from using a mix of standard, modified and specific tool components. The modified tool components should only be flexible in certain dimensions with defined increments. This will enable toolmakers to move forward some parts of the manufacturing process of standard and modified tool components. This way, they can reduce the critical lead-time after order placement by a customer. The standardisation of tool components also helps to reduce the number of process order variants. A process order consists of a certain sequence of process steps. In non-industrialised tool shops, the total number of used process orders is often higher than 500 variants. This complex material flow is disadvantageous to the planning and steering of the tool components. By combining different process orders and making design changes to tool components, the number of process orders can be reduced.

Once tool components and processes have been standardised, the order fulfilment process can be fully aligned. In order to further reduce the lead-time, the processes on the shop floor are rearranged to follow the flow of material. This provides higher transparency of the status of orders while transportation times can be reduced by relocating processes. In addition, the processes can be linked together in clocked production and synchronised with upstream and downstream processes. All of these changes also have an impact on the employees of toolmakers. The change process has to involve employees and their ideas in order to successfully industrialise a toolmaking operation.


The five action fields of Tooling 4.0

Improvements in Industry 4.0 can already be seen in other industries. Industry 4.0 connects humans, machines and objects via real time-capable data streams. New applications and services are generated by collecting, storing, analysing and utilising data with sensors and actors. The increasing data-processing capabilities make it possible to handle complex systems better and more efficiently. These possibilities are expected to improve operational excellence in toolmaking, while also providing additional product functions and services for customers. Tooling 4.0 consists of five action fields: Smart Products, Smart Services, Smart Innovation, Smart Shopfloor and Smart Organisation.

The main idea of Tooling 4.0 is to augment devices or processes by collecting and processing data. In the Smart Products and Smart Services action fields, tools are equipped with sensors to collect data of their performance in the series production process. This data can be used directly in a control loop to adjust parameters of the tool or the production process. A second option is to use the data for subsequent improvements in the tool in question or for designing new tools. Intelligent tools also help in developing Smart Services. Toolmakers can analyse the collected data and offer various services to their customers, like predictive maintenance and data-based consulting on product and process development. With these applications and services, toolmakers are connected directly to series production and can thereby obtain continuous feedback on the performance of their tools. This in turn enables toolmakers to improve their tools and services and increase customer satisfaction.

Accelerating the product development process

The objective of Smart Innovation, meanwhile, is to handle change requests of tools in a more efficient way. The demand for a fast time-to-market and an iterative product development process with many prototypes needs to be addressed by toolmakers. The know-how of tools and the production process needs to be incorporated directly into the product development process and toolmakers need to analyse the recorded production data in order to make more precise forecasts for process limitations. Toolmakers can also accelerate the product development process by offering resources and know-how for 3D printing and building prototype tools. The Smart Shopfloor action field focuses on improving the efficiency of the internal toolmaking processes. Every process step can be traced by production data systems using RFID or indoor GPS. Transparency is increased with the available data and suggestions for steering options are made to employees in the planning department. The different steering options and their effects are calculated by the planning system and the planner can choose the best option by combining the analysis with his or her experience.

To perform in all action fields of Tooling 4.0, a Smart Organisation has to be established as a backbone for all of the collected data and knowledge. Individual employees learn by repetition or with the help of experienced experts, but now the entire organisation needs to learn from collected data and experiences made. This requires a constant exchange of knowledge between employees and the Smart Organisation. To take advantage of the lessons learned, the knowledge needs to be shared between different departments and key suppliers of toolmakers. This requires aligned and intelligent processes as well the implementation of digital systems and applications.

This article was first published on ETMM online