The die and mould sector has progressed by leaps and bounds since the turn of the millennium. The factors behind the advances are diverse, but their effects have changed shops around the world, from the biggest OEMs to the smallest family companies.
What change has had the most profound impact on the die and mould industry over the past 15 years? It’s hard to pick a favourite since technological, political, economic and social shifts have all played a role, according to a number of major industry suppliers polled by ETMM for this 15th Anniversary Issue. Their insight provides an idea about how the industry has developed, and where it may be headed.
A smaller world is bringing competition to the doorstep
Thanks to economic and political pressure, international trade has been rising since we first started writing about the industry, but the trend has been both helpful and hurtful to the industry. According to machine tool supplier Makino, the opening of the global marketplace over the past 15 years has heaped the pressure on shops throughout Europe. “One of the most significant changes impacting the European tool- and mould-making industry in this period has been the shift from regional to global competition. However large a toolmaker may be, major customers now demand a global presence.”
Makino explained that it has technology centres and offices in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Slovenia and Russia, a strategy that shops may be forced to follow. “It is not just a case of being able to deliver tools, dies or moulds to a customer’s facilities in Europe, China or the USA; it is also equally important to offer on-site engineering and an efficient after-sales service – wherever the tool has been delivered.”
This development is currently forcing many shops out of their comfort zones. Experienced German mould makers, for example, said recently that many in their industry need to expand operations into other countries. Such forays mean that along with supplying top-drawer engineering acumen to meet production requirements, shops will also need to rely on, or learn, soft skills to deal with workers, management and officials from other cultures.
Asia’s forceful market entry sparks response
For Glenn Starkey, president of Progressive Components, a trip to Asia provided a glimpse of the future. “Fifteen years ago, I had the privilege to lead a Trade Mission to Asia comprising mould builders and organised through the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI). We toured the companies of moulders and mould builders in Singapore, Hong Kong, and South China, and we met with local training leaders and government officials. It was the attendees’ first trip to Asia, and it really shifted one’s thoughts as to how they’d be able to grow and thrive as mould builders.”
The trip coincided with a surge in activity, Starkey noted: “It was during that period of time, approximately 1998-2001, that this industry really seemed to accelerate from being mostly made up of regional ecosystems to being an interconnected global industry. So, while there was some importing of moulds from low cost countries previously, at this time there was a tipping point and importing moulds was booming in popularity. After all, Asia has US, European, and Japanese suppliers of machinery, steels, components, and hot runner systems, so the low-cost country for shaping the cavities and cores would get all of the business, right? Not quite.”
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