State of the tool, mould and die-making industry: What's ahead for 2017?

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In 2016, several members of VDWF travelled to China to gain a better understanding of the mould building industry there. Although already considered a lower cost alternative to onshore businesses, Chinese shops are working to improve their skill sets and become much more competitive by delivering better quality moulds. That said, their ability to produce certain products, such as two-shot moulds and high-strength steels, is still limited, and logistics continue to hinder extensive use of mould shops in this country by non-Chinese customers. “Quality and productivity are clearly lacking behind the European standard,” comments Franz Tschacha from Deckerform in Aichach, Germany. “We have to manufacture our products intelligently and rationally if we want to compete with a low-wage country.”

The fortunes of European tool and mould makers are heavily dependent on how they react to trends and challenges, how they adopt new technologies such as 3D printing and invest in automation, workforce development and high-end equipment, as well as how they shift their operations towards industrialisation and Toolmaking 4.0.

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This requires new concepts in tool and mould making that can further increase quality as well as productivity, flexibility and efficiency while also shortening lead times. Key to realising this is the standardisation and modularisation of products, process standardisation as well as the automation and industrialisation of production.

Industry 4.0 is certainly a term some people are already fed up with as it is somehow intangible. Steel, steam engines, assembly lines and integrated circuits - the pillars of previous revolutions - could be seen, touched and smelled. Not so with a virtual confluence of data, software and sensors where various networks of technology work together to streamline existing design and manufacturing processes. But the concepts of Industry 4.0 and Toolmaking 4.0 share one big thing in common with earlier industrial revolutions - the promotion and betterment of that most basic modern institution: the factory. Without manufacturing, any country will flounder.