The 24-degree heat and bright orange gerberas that are as prevalent in Portugal at this time of year as daffodils in Britain accentuated the positive, progressive atmosphere that pervaded at the Moulding Expo press event on March 8th 2017.
Organiser Messe Stuttgart succeeded in proving that having the strength of an industry built with sturdy foundations cemented after the Second World War does not distract from its desire to continue to innovate and embrace new trends and challenges in plastics processing. With innovators from 'traditional' mould-making to CAD/CAM system development represented at the conference, the media was given an accurate cross section of an industry that is strapped in and ready for Industry 4.0.
Moulding Expo press conference. L-R Gunnar Mey (Messe Stuttgart), Ulrich Kromer von Baerle (Messe Stuttgart), Florian Niethammer (Messe Stuttgart), Manuel Oliveira (cefamol) and Bob Williams (TASA).
Ulrich Kromer von Baerle, Messe Stuttgart CEO, kicked off proceedings by remarking upon the 'tremendous' growth of the event over its initial three years, becoming a truly international showcase for the moulding industry with exhibitors coming from 30 countries.
"We have decided to continue to focus on high quality tool construction, pattern and mould-making," he stated. "We are also proud to announce the ISTMA (International Special Tooling an Machining Association) lounge at the show, welcoming the members of this world-class organisation to Stuttgart.
"We are looking forward to a very strong and successful Moulding Expo in 2017."
A presentation from CEFAMOL (the Portuguese Association for the Mould Industry) followed, revealing that Spain has overtaken Germany as Portugal's largest export market for mould-making technology.
Manuel Oliveira, CEFAMOL General Secretary, explained that the grand tradition of mould-making in Portugal - which has its roots in glass moulding forged by a strong trade relationship with Great Britain - is being kept at the top of its game through constant investment in research and development and rapid prototyping, along with its participation with ISTMA's work and various European projects.
"We are involved in the tooling roadmaps of the future," he said, adding that the industry now has "more specialised people, more knowledge, better human resources" and it continues to invest in technology and manufacturing efficiency embracing "the international experience".
The vital ingredient
The manufacturing trends of the smart factory were never far from the discussion on the table and TASA's Bob Williamson remarked that no matter how innovative and efficient the production line, "there is no such thing as smart manufacturing without tooling".
"In excess of 60 per cent of the cost effectiveness of any product produced is directly linked to the selection of tools used in the manufacturing process," he told the delegation. "Tooling is not something you can buy off a shelf it's a highly subjective commodity directly linked to the cost of the article you’re going to produce.
"Is tooling a vital part of manufacturing? Or is it the ingredient that makes manufacturing do-able? It is the vital ingredient which any country needs to sustain an effective manufacturing economy."
Moulding Expo prides itself on making the entire moulding value chain accessible to the international marketplace and the press event in Portugal was no exception, giving attendees the opportunity to set up meetings with representatives from the likes of Meusburger, Fanuc, Mitsubishi Electric, DMG Mori, Merkle, Deckerform and more.
In the afternoon, the group was given the rare chance to tour some of the premiere mould-making facilities in the world, a startling number of which cosy up to one another in sunny Marinha Grande.
The pride Portugal has for its moulding industry is apparent when entering a factory. In the quiet studios where the engineers are perfecting their CAD designs, every expert is concentrating either in focused silence or with their headphones in, listening to the tracks that help them to think. On the factory floor, a surprisingly well-gender-balanced workforce is as well-oiled a machine as the gigantic milling and washing units, exerting enormous force on the shiny hardened steel blocks that are piled ready to be transformed.
At Batista Moldes, which specialises in moulds for automotive, domestic appliances and packaging, they make some 80 moulds a year, with each mould going to and from the client to be reiterated. The company boasted the technical expertise of its workforce, which directly impacts on its efficiency and safety records. Indeed, the careful training of the younger members of the team was evident. In each workshop and factory room, there was a junior worker being carefully supervised or instructed by a more senior colleague, setting them up for what in many cases is a job for life.
Batista Moldes, Marinha Grande, Portugal.
Down the road at the Google-like campus of Socem, the group was given a taste of the investment Portugal makes in its mould-making industry. The site was green with clean modern buildings housing some of the most expensive plastics processing machinery available, as well as some of the most skilled mould-making professionals in the world. The value in taking care of employees was marked in a presentation by Managing Director Luis Febra, who guided the tour of the company.
Socem, Marinha Grande, Portugal.
"There is no advantage to producing in Europe if you do not add value," he told the group. "This is my company and I help our people to grow and move up - we have to focus on the future."
The value of supporting Europe's mould-making industry is central to Moulding Expo's mission and the specialists who presented how they see European mould-making at the press event made this message very clear.
Quality and value should not be seen as mutually exclusive and as Kromer von Baerle identified growth in European moulding, he also emphasised the high standards expected across the industry - and the tours to Batista Moldes and Socem were the evidence.
Moulding Expo will take place at Messe Stuttgart from May 30th to June 2nd 2017.