Internationalisation International tooling network - Connecting local heroes for global performance

Author / Editor: Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Boos, Dr. Michael Salmen, Christoph Kelzenberg, Jens Helbig / Rosemarie Stahl

The international tooling network is a concept by WBA Tooling Academy Aachen to enable tool shops to internationalise their production. In six steps, tool shops are prepared for successful and effective collaboration around the globe.

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Competences can be distributed among different locations across the world, the WBA Tooling Academy states.
Competences can be distributed among different locations across the world, the WBA Tooling Academy states.
(Source: © royyimzy -

Currently, we are witnessing an ongoing globalisation of the economy. As a result, international sales and global market activities are constantly increasing. In consequence, almost every manufacturing company has established international production plants to have the local structures to supply global markets. Many internal and external tool shops have decided to pursue the internationalisation of their locations.

On the one hand, ensuring a geographical proximity between production plants and tool shops is particularly useful for the tool and die industry because it is positioned between product development and series production. By providing local resources, tool shops are able to offer services more effectively in order to reduce lead times, ensure short times-to-market or deliver fast repairs.

On the other hand, increasing price pressures force western tool shops to continuously decrease production costs. This requires these shops to establish international locations in order to benefit from factor cost differences. The result is a growing number of tooling locations. Coordinated action and a synchronised service portfolio are getting more important as a consequence. Synergetic effects can only truly be realised when tool shops successfully establish an international tooling network and thereby coordinate actions and synchronise services.

The approach of international tooling networking

Collaborating with a number of tool shops, the WBA has successfully developed a six-step approach for establishing an international tooling network.
Collaborating with a number of tool shops, the WBA has successfully developed a six-step approach for establishing an international tooling network.
(Source: WBA Tooling Academy Aachen)

For the implementation of an international tooling network, an approach with six steps has proven its worth. The WBA Tooling Academy Aachen has successfully applied this approach in collaboration with several tool shops.

Step 1 – Analysis of status quo: The precise knowledge of a tool shop’s own position in a market is the foundation of all strategic decisions. First, a tool shop must identify its strengths and potentials with a detailed status-quo analysis. The assessment of the initial situation of all tooling locations within an international tooling network enables the development of successful co-operation of all locations within the network.

 Using a detailed questionnaire, the data capture can be structured systematically and relevant key figures can be analysed in a target-oriented way. For a reliable assessment of the co-operating tool shops, comparative data of similar external tool shops in terms of product, process, resources and organisation – if necessary with external support – must be available.

Step 2 – Analysis of range of orders: However, before the fields of competence can be determined, tool shops have to analyse their range of orders. It has to be clarified which services are needed in which markets, which services must be offered by which location, which locations manufacture new tools and which locations offer repair and maintenance only.

These exemplary questions must be answered to develop a lead structure within the international tooling network.

Step 3 – Identification of fields of competences: As a result of step one and step two, the tool shops’ capabilities and their range of orders can be compared to define the fields of competences. Fields of competences are strategic bundles of capabilities required by a tool shop. As a result of step three, fields of competences are identified, which ensure a transparent description of the toolmaking locations’ performance as well as a focussed and efficient development of their own capabilities.

 For the identification of fields of competences, the tooling network has to interpret step one and step two. Based on the status-quo analysis of each location and the analysis of the range of orders, the required competences and available capabilities of all locations can be compared. Afterwards, fields of competences can be derived.

All locations within the tooling network must execute the identification of fields of competences because only in this way can effective collaboration of different locations with a realisation of synergetic effects be guaranteed.

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Step 4 – Definition of lead structure: Based on the results of the first three steps, a lead structure consisting of lead competences as well as a lead location can be defined. The definition of lead competences determines the responsibility for the development of identified fields of competences with regard to content alignment.

In general, some fields of competences are redundant between single locations, whereby a centralised development of the companies’ capabilities is reasonable.

 The lead location has the responsibility to develop superordinate topics like general strategies or manage certain central functions for the tooling network.

Here is how this step can work in practice:

(Source: WBA Tooling Academy Aachen)

Additional Information
International Tooling Network
Application Example

The figure shows an application example of a lead structure for an international tooling network, which was developed for the internal tooling network of an automotive company.

The example shows the lead structure of a tooling network consisting of four locations in two countries. Within the tooling network, one lead location for superior fields like “People & Culture”, “Technology & Innovation” and “Products & Processes” was defined. Knowledge management, networking, research and development, leadership programmes, process standardisation and other topics are part of these fields. Furthermore, five fields of competences were identified for the toolmaking network.

The responsibility for the continuous development of competences A and C belongs to the lead location. Similarly, the responsibility for the competences B and C as well as competence D belongs to location 2 or rather location 3. Location 4 does not have any responsibility regarding the fields of competences. Fields of competences include the development of big sheet metal tools, automation, design, measurement and milling technology.

Step 5 – Implementation of networking processes: With the definition of lead competences, an appropriate knowledge transfer is indispensable for ensuring the continuous development of all locations. Therefore, superior fields have to be organised in central departments at the lead location. These departments must facilitate decentral networking between the fields of competences as well as the connection between each individual location. Even though these departments are part of the lead location, individual employees or sub-functions can be established at other locations. For the successful implementation of networked co-operation, the definition of appropriate structures, rules and processes is indispensable. Step five completes the content for the development of the international tooling network. The implementation of the lead structure is linked to important changes within the entire organisation of the tool shop. For this reason, an implementation roadmap has to be developed in the next step.

Step 6 – Development of implementation roadmap: The implementation roadmap consists of several measures to implement the lead structure in the international network. In addition, responsibilities and deadlines for the systematic implementation of these measures are defined. To ensure successful implementation, it is recommended to categorise the elaborated measures into action fields and define measureable targets. Thus, the implementation progress is monitored.

 All in all, the six introduced steps ensure the implementation of an international tooling networking and enable a company to realise synergetic effects. With the allocation of lead competences to different locations, a tooling network is able to develop its capabilities efficiently. The development of these competences is a strategic advantage and increases the competitiveness of the organisation within international markets.