Special Report Mould Mecca
Portugal - With a centuries-old glass-making tradition that crossed naturally over into creating moulds for plastics parts in the 1940s, Portugal is today a hotbed of mould making and exporting, and moulds from Portugal can be found in almost every major end market for plastics.
Portugal is famous for its beaches, food and Cristiano Ronaldo…. but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As a nation, Portugal is not much given to boasting, so you may not know that Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe with its borders pretty much unchanged since 1297. Portuguese is spoken by the 10 million inhabitants of Portugal, and also by 230 million others all around the world. In fact, Portuguese is the official language of nine countries and is the 6th-most used language online. Furthermore, Portugal accounts for about 50% of the world's cork production, and the best cork in the world is from Alentejo. Portuguese cork is used by leading brands such as Moet Chandon and Rolls Royce, by Airbus and Nasa. And in 2018, Portuguese cork will be present in the spacecraft used by the European Space Agency in its mission to Mars.
A touch of glass – Portugal at its best
Portugal is also famous for its glass industry. At the beginning of the 20th century, Marinha Grande began producing moulds for glassware, having previously imported them from Germany and Austria. This was the foundation for the growth of the plastics moulds industry today. Aníbal H. Abrantes, a partner and lathe-worker in the first pressed glass moulds plant in Marinha Grande, established the first moulds plant for Bakelite products in 1944. Two years later, Abrantes produced Portugal's first plastic injection mould. Other plastic mould companies began to open in Marinha Grande and the northern town of Oliveira de Azeméis, another traditional glass-making centre.
Today, there are 2,000 tons of glass produced per day in Marinha Grande, all within a radius of 10 km, requiring 80 trucks delivering raw materials each day!
One of the major players in blow moulds and blank moulds for the glass industry in Marinha Grande produces 2,500 cavities per month, (30,000 cavities per year) counting both blow moulds and blank moulds. The company boasts 195 employees and 100 CNC machines, many of them automated as - in contrast to the injection moulding industry - the moulds are run in higher batches and have to be reproduced when, for instance, Heineken has produced around 1.5 million bottles with one cavity. The company exports around 70% of its products mainly to Germany, Spain, Poland, Argentina, Brazil, Russia, the Middle East and France.
Today, despite being a relatively small economy, Portugal is the world's eighth-largest mould-making country. According to Cefamol, the National Association for the Moulds Industry, Portuguese mould makers produced moulds worth €690m in 2015, representing the fourth consecutive year of growth. One of the reasons, Cefamol believes, is the country’s ability to adapt to customers‘ needs and the development of new technologies. Since 2005, the sector has exported more than 75% of its tools, dies and moulds. In 2015, export reached €591m (86%). Portugal’s mould makers exported their products to 89 countries, mostly to Europe. Top destinations were Germany (22%), Spain (19%), France (18%), the UK and the Czech Republic (5%); 4% went to Poland, 3% to Mexico, followed by the US, Brazil and Belgium (2% each).
While exports to North America have stagnated over the last couple of years, demand from the US is increasing due to the country’s so-called re-industrialisation efforts, a decrease in local mould production as well as a more favourable exchange rate, Cefamol says.
And the Portuguese tool and mould making industry has also been retooling itself. Almost eight years ago, the sector’s local leaders founded the private, non-profit Pool-Net Association to manage the Portuguese engineering and tooling cluster. The cluster was formally recognised by the Portuguese government in 2009. The cluster’s goal is to drive innovation and coordinate firms in the manufacturing supply chain that are engaged in industrial design, engineering and product development, prototyping, tooling, and plastic and metal parts production.
Pool-Net provides a portfolio of support services for its members: such as access and inclusion in international innovation networks; access to relevant data and statistics (intelligence) and the promotion of the international campaign and collective brand “Engineering & Tooling from Portugal”.