Competition Excellence in Production
Nov 17, 2023
By Martin Ciupek
Despite major challenges for tool and mold making in German-speaking countries, there was reason to celebrate this week. The industry chose its best companies in Aachen.
The organizers of the “Excellence in Production” competition were able to experience how difficult the year 2023 was for tool making companies in German-speaking countries. Since the beginning of 2023, the WZL machine tool laboratory at RWTH Aachen University and the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT have been working together with an expert jury to determine the best tool and mold making companies in German-speaking countries. For the 20th time, they had surveyed companies in the industry and even visited the chain stores on site to choose the tool manufacturer of the year.
According to the organizers, the strong competition from the Asian region and enormous price pressure combined with high customer demands have caused problems for all companies, but especially for external tool making companies. This makes the performance of the companies that made it to the final this year all the more outstanding. The internal toolmaking companies showed equally strong performances in the field of finalists and ultimately provided the overall winner.
The overall winners are the converters from BMW in Munich and Dingolfing
From a field of participants totaling 305 companies, BMW’s joint Munich and Dingolfing toolmaking company emerged as the overall winner. The year before, the team had narrowly admitted defeat in the final. Twelve finalists competed in four categories – each differentiated according to internal and external tool making and the size of the company with less than or more than 50 employees. The day before yesterday, the BMW converter team was celebrated for their success by around 300 guests at the awards ceremony in Aachen’s town hall. The deciding factors for the jury were in particular the strong strategic positioning of toolmaking as a pioneer for vehicle design within the group and the stringent use of Industry 4.0 technology and digitalization. As an outstanding example of this, the jury highlighted the consistent use of augmented reality in quality inspection and to digitize employees’ specialist knowledge.
Forming tool manufacturing is part of the BMW Group’s extensive production network and employs 480 people, including 68 trainees. The Munich and Dingolfing BMW tool shop places a strong technological focus on its core competency of milling and has a high level of automation in this technology. With its technological equipment and the associated know-how, toolmaking is extremely well integrated into the upstream and downstream internal customer processes and also provides a wide range of services, which also include data-based services, for example sensor monitoring of the tool at the point of use.
The automobile manufacturer’s division had previously also won in its “Internal tool making with 50 or more employees” category.
The winner in the category “internal tool making with up to 50 employees” impressed with its high level of process competence
Among the companies with fewer than 50 employees, Technoform Insulation Solutions Tooling GmbH from Kassel was happy. As a German family company, Technoform operates internationally and specializes in the extrusion of thermoplastic profiles for thermal separations in window profiles and insulating profiles. The toolmaking team currently consists of 47 employees, six of whom are trainees. In total, Techform employs around 1,600 people at more than 45 sales and production locations worldwide.
The internal tool shop produces several hundred sample and series tools for our own use every year. The jury particularly emphasized Technoform’s high process competence in wire erosion. The company uses 4-axis machining and self-made clamping to reduce setup costs. According to the jury’s verdict, two redundant halls for series and sample tools form a coherent segmentation of tool making. The strong employee orientation in the form of flat hierarchies, a high level of personal responsibility among employees and flexible working hours also left an excellent impression on the jury.
Winner in “external tool making with 50 employees or more” impressed with its organizational excellence
Among the larger companies with external customers, Giebeler GmbH from Eschenburg near Gießen, founded in 1956, was able to prevail. The family business employs a total of 180 people in the areas of tool making and plastics technology. Around 11,000 tools have been manufactured there over the years. The latest technologies, digital processes and the strategically sustainable orientation of tool making determine the development of customer-specific solutions from the design to the production of tools weighing up to 15 tons. Injection molding machines with a locking force of up to 16,000 kN are available to test the tools. The company’s 24-hour tool service is available to assist Giebeler customers quickly if necessary. The company also uses its own database systems such as the “Giebeler Sphere” to gain access to current project data at any time via its own app.
The jury was particularly impressed by the company’s organizational excellence: This is particularly evident in the efficient calculation using a specially developed app with geometric similarity analysis. The app enables the company to identify similar tools and determine the costs in advance of production based on subsequent calculations. In addition, there is a high proportion of completed orders without exceeding budget or deadlines – despite frequent late changes by the customer. Another special feature is the pay-per-use business model that Giebeler is promoting. What is already used on some machines in the machine park is now also being tested on the first tools. To implement the new business model, Giebeler is working closely with banks and start-ups in the area of blockchain technology.
The winner of the category “external tool making with less than 50 employees” impresses with investments in new technologies.
Primaform AG, based in Thun, Switzerland, can be happy as the winner in the category “external tool making with less than 50 employees”. The company employs 43 people and nine trainees. The company’s core business is complex single-, multi-component and hybrid tools for injection molding in the medical technology and healthcare industry. Every year, 50 to 60 tools with up to 96 mold cavities and a maximum weight of 5 t and side lengths of 1 m leave the factory in Thun. In addition to the classic manufacturing technologies of tool making, the highly automated machine park also includes special processes such as texturing surfaces and producing tiny structures using lasers. Primaform AG also produces injection molding tools with electric drives and its own control software.
The jury rated Primaform’s targeted investments in new technologies such as laser structuring and wet milling of graphite electrodes particularly positively. In addition, the tool shop has a very good assembly concept based on the flow production principle with task-related workstations, height-adjustable tables and viewing solutions (viewers) at each workstation. Thanks to high process expertise in milling and eroding with a high degree of automation, Primaform achieves very high precision levels.
Special prizes for the best first-time participant and the best sustainability initiative
To mark the 20th anniversary of the Excellence in Production (EiP) competition, the organizers awarded prizes in the special categories “EiP Newcomer of the Year” and “Best Sustainability Initiative” for the first time this year. Because many companies regularly take part in the benchmark competition. According to the jury, the best newcomer in 2023 is Voss Werkzeugtechnik GmbH, the internal toolmaking department of Voss Automotive GmbH. The team impressed the jury with targeted investments in machines with high performance and a high degree of automation as well as by building a new, completely air-conditioned production hall. During the on-site visit, Voss Werkzeugtechnik also impressed with a high standard of order and cleanliness in the warehouse and on the entire workshop level.
The prize for the “best sustainability initiative” went to BMW Werkzeugbau at the Landshut location. The jury sees the automobile manufacturer’s location as a pioneer of the circular economy. This is already characterized by high rates of reuse of tool components. What is striking is the high presence of the topic in the factory halls, for example through labeled separation containers or the partial energy monitoring of machines and systems. The jury particularly praised the social component of sustainability, which is implemented in the form of attractive social spaces, very good ergonomics at all workplaces and an extensive health program for employees as well as a high inclusion rate.
The application phase for the 2024 competition begins on December 1, 2023
The best tool and mold making companies in German-speaking countries will compete against each other again next year. Interested companies can apply from December 1, 2023. Regardless of whether they reach the final, all participants in the competition receive an individual evaluation of their strengths and potential for improvement. Detailed information about the competition and registration is available at: www.excellence-in-production.de