Even after 25 years of existence, its fair to say that the VDWF, the German Association of German Tool and Mould-Makers, is not a very old association. But since its start in 1992, it has achieved a lot while representing the interests of its member companies.
The association came into being because there was a sense that things that are done together are done better than alone. 25 years ago, the borders to the East had just been opened. Moreover, the economic situation was tense at that time. With professional workers coming in from Eastern European countries and competition rising, the situation was even harder for tool and mould-makers.
The founders of VDWF realised early on that German tool and mould-making could achieve a lot more if the companies had the opportunity to communicate. They were convinced that German companies had a lot to offer. They just needed a way to show it. The idea was to found an association to help the companies in doing exactly that: Supporting them in marketing their own services and getting them together for a better exchange between manufacturers.
This is what VDWF is still doing today: It is a platform for small to medium-sized companies and offers them support. One example of this support is the presence of the association at trade fairs. At this year’s Moulding Expo, VDWF had the biggest joint stand it ever had, befitting of the occasion of its 25th anniversary.
One platform for communication and co-operation
Looking back at 1992, there was not much joint action in the industry at all. Rolf Helle, one of the initiators of VDWF and former managing director, remembers: “25 years ago, toolmakers were very convinced of themselves – and most of them were rather old-fashioned.” One of the resulting problems at that time was a lack of communication and marketing: “Communication happened via mail, only sometimes a toolmaker would pick up the phone. The word “data” didn’t exist at all, it was a foreign word in mould-making. Technologically, it was the Stone Age,” says Helle. Before, communication was not a big issue, as production was going well and the companies were known to important customers. With the economic situation changing and competition rising, a change was needed. The foundation of VDWF was a huge step on the way to where German tool and mould-making is today.
The founders recognised early on that German tool and mould-making had a lot to offer and that it would only survive if the companies started to communicate more. The association sees itself as the voice of all these companies: “’Strong together’ is our motto today, says Thomas Seul, president of VDWF. “We tell the companies: You don’t have to do everything on your own, you have to enter strategic alliances with others. Co-operative production strategies are the future.”
Seul is convinced that one of the main strengths of the association lies in the different orientations of the member companies: “We are heterogeneous in the size of the companies, heterogeneous in the products, heterogeneous in the business fields or in the business of the members. This ensures that we always have smart minds that do not say yes and amen to everything, but always question established facts –and that is what brings us farther.”
Many of the member companies are rather small. VDWF sees it as its task to work to support these companies. According to the association, these companies have the chance to be heard by corporations, customers, and in markets that these companies cannot reach on their own. According to Seul, the size of the companies can also be an advantage, as they can also react quicker and more flexibly.
Training was one of the first goals of the association
Another focal point of the association is the training and education of young tool and mould-makers. From the beginning, the association took co-operations with universities very seriously. Today, its president is a professor at Schmalkalden University. VDWF sees one of its main fields of activity in the coming years in continued vocational training. “We are involved in the training initiative and in study programmes at Schmalkalden University. This is our main feature! Which association has its own course of study?” asks Thomas Seul, who is Professor of Manufacturing Engineering and Tool Design, Rector for Research and Transfer, and Head of the Laboratory for Applied Plastics Engineering in Schmalkalden.
One outstanding feature of the association is the interaction within. The atmosphere in this network is very welcoming and respectful: “How we deal with each other, how we interact, is something we have cultivated to enable it to grow. And, of course, it also depends to a great deal on the behaviour of participants.” To achieve this level of co-operation, VDWF has created many different events to help members be successful and to promote the exchange within the network. This includes training courses, seminars, joint stands at trade shows both in Germany and abroad, delegations and study trips, but also informal gatherings such as ski weekends and barbecues.
The year's birthday party was this year celebrated at Moulding Expo 2017 in Stuttgart. “Being present, to be a strong and visible player in the German industry, that is what the association and all toolmakers, not only VDWF members, have to work for if we want to remain technological leaders, not only in Germany but globally as well.” This shows what VDWF has achieved in the last few years: Tool and mould-makers are able to come together, to work together and to communicate better – inside and outside of the association.