Portugal Two toolmaking clusters in one small country

Author Rosemarie Stahl

Somewhere in the Portuguese no-man’s land between Lisbon and Porto there are two cities simply brimming with plastic injection mould makers. With 150 companies, Marinha Grande is home to one of these clusters. Some streets here are lined with nothing but mould makers.

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While tourists mostly know Portugal for its beaches, its port wine and its food, it is also quite famous for its experience in tool and mould making.
While tourists mostly know Portugal for its beaches, its port wine and its food, it is also quite famous for its experience in tool and mould making.
(Source: © Sean Pavone 2015 / Fotolia.com)

The Portuguese manufacturing industry was founded over 200 years ago. It started not with tool and mould making but with glass. The first glass companies were founded in the late 18th century in Marinha Grande and Oliveira de Azemeis. More than a hundred years later, Portuguese artisans started producing the first moulds for glassware. Many new companies dedicated to this business area were founded at this time.

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It still took several years until the first plastic injection mould was produced. Aníbal H. Abrantes is famous for being the first one to bring this industry to Portugal. After this start in 1944, Portuguese mould makers predominately produced moulds for toys. Dolls, playing pieces and other similar items were the foundation stone on which Portuguese mould making is now based. While at the beginning, most moulds were made for Portuguese customers, the step to selling Portuguese products abroad was not far away: In 1955, the first mould from Portugal was sold to England. And thus, a success story began.

It wasn't long before the few existing companies found themselves unable to cope with incoming orders. To deal with the increasing demand, spin-offs of existing companies were founded. Soon, experienced workers created their own companies in close proximity. This led to a friendly coexistence of a huge number of companies. Nowadays, about 450 tool and mould makers are based in Portugal. Most of them are still crowded into the same two areas of Marinha Grande and Oliveira de Azeméis.

When asking Portuguese toolmakers why Portugal is so successful, they answer with two simple words: trust and experience. Over the last 60 years, Portuguese companies have been gaining know-how, bringing them advantages compared to newer markets. The numbers show that this experience pays off. Today, most of the Portuguese products does not stay in Portugal: Over 90% of the moulds for plastic injection are exported to more than 80 countries worlwide. Since 2010, exports have increased by 92%. In 2016, exports reached over €625m.

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