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Tooling around the world

You would like to learn about tool, pattern and mould making in various countries around the globe? Find out about tool making in other countries from national profiles and reports from international markets!

Good form worldwide

International tool construction and mould making in times of the pandemic

A look at the worldwide markets for Tool construction and mould making shows a colourful picture of the state of this industrial sector. In this context, markets such as Portugal, Canada or South Africa are connected by common challenges, but also successes and similar targets.

Manuel Oliveira is the Secretary General of Cefamol, the Portuguese Association for the Moulds Industry. In tool construction and mould making, the western Iberians are strong; Portugal has the third-largest industry in the market rankings, joining Germany and Italy on the winners' podium. He knows the conditions and the challenges facing "his" companies like practically no other: "Our companies are not merely suppliers. Much more, they look after the engineering and integrate entire processes for your customers: The range extends from concept and design, prototyping and additive manufacture, up to the actual tool construction and mould making and the offer of test installations and commissioned production," says Oliveira. As examples for many nations in Europe and beyond, he also states the challenges confronting his industry: "We currently face strong competition and must consequently realign ourselves, particularly on a global scale."“

And competition is not his only concern with regard to the markets: The country on the Atlantic seaboard concentrates its tool construction and mould making almost entirely in two regions with a total of 515 companies, which all have their international orientation in common. However, though the countries supplied are very diverse, in the past decades the companies have become dependent on a single sector: Over 70% of them concentrate on the automobile industry as a purchaser for their products. Now, according to Oliveira, answers are being found for the change processes within the automobile industry: "We must drive the search for niche markets in order to continue our success in future too!"

Effects of the pandemic

Also in Canada, the slack period resulting from corona has led to loss of turnover in motor vehicle production. The pandemic has impacted practically all the companies, says Robert Cattle from the CTMA, the Canadian Tooling & Machining Association. According to his perception, however, the situation is at present satisfactory. All 160 member companies could have carried on working. "To be precise, our industry is currently even very busy! Although there are concerns on account of the decline in the automobile industry, our members are very diversified," says Cattle, assessing the current situation somewhat differently to Portugal. The good news, beside the robust demand in the USA, also includes the production changeover to products that are required in the pandemic, such as hand sanitisers or similar. Also, for example, new requirements on the part of carmakers led to an increased demand for more lightweight construction materials, engine blocks made of cast aluminium or high-pressure tools.

The problems regarding the supply chains in connection with the corona pandemic also seem to have rather benefited than damaged the local companies in South Africa: "Owing to the difficulties along the supply chains, we see that many orders that formerly went to Asia are now staying in the country. This is a very exciting development for us. It is now important that we maintain this development,", demands Tapiwa Samanga, Chairman of the PTSA (Production Technologies Association of South Africa), looking at the interests of his members. On the positive side, he notes that the companies are reacting to the pandemic locally and have adjusted their product portfolio. For example, after a short time they managed to develop and distribute labour handling systems.

Different flows of goods

A comparison between Portugal and South Africa shows how differently the nations are positioned. As already mentioned, Portugal is one of the countries with a very international orientation. Due to the lack of a customer industry in the country itself, around 85% of the turnover with 84 international trading partners, or roughly 566 million Euro, is generated with international trading partners, primarily customers from the European Union. In contrast, however, the market represented by the South African association, with a value in the region of approximately 1.5 billion US dollars, obeys other laws. With regard to the import/export structure, there is therefore a completely different situation to that in Portugal; only around 15% of the casting moulds required are manufactured in the country, and 90% of the pressing tools for the South African industry have to be imported. Precisely with regard to large tools, the users frequently rely on tool suppliers from abroad.

A look at the situation for mould construction in North America again shows another picture, namely the close neighbourly connection of two countries. So close that the tight interrelations between the two large North American economies have caused worry lines during the crisis. Because of the closed borders, engineers and technicians have not been able to travel to customers and partners. But demand is robust, as it seems. For example, after the crash last year the monthly calculated Gardner Index for the industry shows a value of 62.3, and thus has not only achieved the pre-crisis level, but is currently even recording an all-time high. This can be seen as a clear sign that the challenges on this market will probably be easily handled during the rest of 2021. Only the raw material prices for steel have increased significantly as a consequence of the crisis – fourfold within the past six months – and been a dampener on the overall picture.

Finding the way in digitalisation

Whether Germany, Italy, Canada or Portugal: Aspects of digitalisation are currently playing a major role in all markets. For example Portugal: "We are working on making our organisation and processes more digital. We are progressing with digitalisation also in the area of knowledge management, as well as in research and development," says Oliveira, at the same time warning of the associated new risks relating to cyber-security.

On the other hand, Oliveira defines sustainability not only with regard to material and environmental aspects. For him, it is important to stress that also finances and new business models should be considered in order to ensure success also in the future. However, all this would not be possible without keeping the interests of humans in mind. Portuguese companies ought to concentrate on building up new competences and maintaining old ones, and thus becoming generally attractive for young employees.

Also for the only African member of the ISTMA (International Special Tooling and Machining Association), training is very high up on the agenda. The PTSA, with its 65 members, cooperates with a number of other companies and associations in South Africa. In this connection, for example, within the framework of a nationwide training programme the South Africans operate three fully equipped training and testing workshops for aspiring toolmakers. "Furthermore, in order to gain an international perspective, our training facilities cooperate with institutes in Germany and the USA. In the long term, this increases our competitiveness in South Africa," says Samanga, looking to the future. A target for the promotion of young talent, which probably also applies for the other markets, in order to ensure that the worldwide tool construction and mould making industry can continue its success story in the future too.


Hosts: Prof. Dr. Thomas Seul, VDWF, und Bob Williamson, ISTMA World