Manufacturing Industry

Portugal: Two toolmaking clusters in one small country

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Know-how was gained over decades

The most important export markets for Portuguese moulds are other European countries. 22% of products are exported to Spain, followed by Germany (20%), France (16%) and Poland (7%). Last year, Spain overtook Germany for the first time. The greatest competitors for Portuguese tool and mould makers are Asian countries.

According to ISTMA, the International Special Tooling & Machining Association, Portugal is 9th on the list of the biggest global players in the tool, die and mould industry, with a production worth €607m. In Europe, they are the fourth-largest producer after Germany, Italy and France.

The days when most customers came from the toy sector are long gone. The most important sector nowadays is automotive. It has a share of 74%. Compared to this figure, the other sectors only play a small role: Packaging accounts for 10%, houseware electrics for 4%, electronics for only 2%. Still, the demand is increasing. According to Cefamol, the Portuguese Association for the Mould Industry, large multinational companies are increasingly choosing Portuguese moulds to develop products for major international brands. As a whole, Portuguese production increased by 78% over the past six years.

Co-operation and coexistence instead of competition

Still, one may wonder how so many companies can coexist so close together, sometimes next door. But this closeness also leads to a perfect exchange situation. If one manufacturer finds a solution to a particular production requirement, all other companies can adapt quickly. At the same time, companies put an effort in providing training programmes for employees – something that can be dealt with a lot easier by multiple companies compared to the effort a single mould maker would have to undertake. Furthermore, employees are paid similar salary everywhere.

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Another unrivalled advantage for Portuguese companies is their strong export numbers. As Noel Hugo Carlos, head engineer at Tecnimoplás, explains, they do not depend on the economical situation of Portugal because most of their customers come from abroad. Therefore, Portuguese companies did not feel the effect of the European debt crisis as strongly as other sectors. This is one thing, tool and mould makers in other European countries can learn from this Portuguese success story: A globally well-positioned company does not depend on the economic well-being of a single country.

This article was first published on ETMM online.