More competitiveness, more opportunities

Interview with Robert Williamson President Istma World

The president of ISTMA World Robert Williamson started from the analysis of the most recent data on the sector to outline the health state of the international tool industry, for which he foresees a future paved with fascinating challenges, even if not devoid of some unknowns.

«Toolshops are aware of the need of focusing on competitiveness: innovative solutions; more efficient and faster manufacturing methods and the use of new systems and technologies. At the same time, they must preserve know-how consisting of skilful and expert human resources».
This was stated in an interview with Stampi by Robert Williamson, since July 2017 president of the sector association ISTMA World (International Special Tooling & Machining Association) which represents also the tool industry’s interests on a world scale. Manager and entrepreneur, in South Africa he is administration manager of the consulting company Tooling Industry Consulting and number one of INTSIMBI National Tooling Initiative NPC. However, most of his successes can be ascribed to the ascent of Quad Precision Engineering, established by him in person in 1982 and become a leader supplier of South African aerospace and automotive.

How would you judge today the performance and the trend of the tool sector in the world?
In its whole, the market is dominated by Asia, followed by North America. The latest available data highlight the demand for tools and equipment has grown in the entire planet and China has gained a leadership ranking, with the 39% share. United States are at the second place, with 20%. Germany is fifth among European Countries, with 8.3%. During the last decade, international exchanges have risen, too. Customers develop relationships with new suppliers according to criteria of proximity, cost reduction and manufacturing strategies able to reduce the time to market of state-of-the-art products.

What are the rising Countries, in terms of both production and of consumptions?
Concerning the plastic injection segment, significant changes in the ranking of top performers have not been registered. The three steps of the podium are taken up by China, United States and Japan with regard to both production and demand. The situation stems from the sizes of the markets and their dynamics, considering that numerous multinationals have chosen these nations as locations for their respective world headquarters. In Europe, Germany is first by output; Italy and Portugal follow.

How much might current geopolitical and commercial tensions weigh on the field?
Geopolitics always exerts an impact on business, when suppliers compete on a globalized scenario. The example comes from the automotive industry. OEM are now in a standby phase; they wait for a better delineation of the international survey before proposing and releasing their new models. The link with uncertainty causes a descent of exchanges that unavoidably influences mould and die makers’ activity. We should get ready for a rise of competitiveness and a drop of prices, fact that does not support the development and the sustainability of the field.

The use of the additive manufacturing is likely to go beyond the perimeter of prototyping and of small batches and will include parts and components that can be integrated with tools.

In the case of a slowdown of automotive what are the possible alternative outlets?
Actually, after a period of intense activity car manufacturers are showing signs of a weakening of activities witnessed by the standby status that currently characterizes several projects. The tool industry is clearly concerned by it. Alternatives are not easily identified and entering a new business rapidly is as complicated. However, packaging, aerospace, medical and electronics offer interesting opportunities.

Do you think that tool manufacturers have succeeded in riding the wave of Industry 4.0 successfully?
The feedbacks we receive from markets indicate that competitiveness increasingly depends on the cost reduction, on the implementation of integrated innovative solutions, on the research of manufacturing strategies aimed at the reduction of the time to market. To accept these challenges, toolshops must evolve, use innovative materials and technologies: automation, robotics, revolutionary industrialization processes, laser and much more. Because they allow giving birth to faster and more efficient solutions while extending industry’s value chain and they support business initiatives upstream and downstream the manufacturing course. Data collection and analysis, machine-to-machine communication or cloud computing, in direct contact with customers, will introduce further criticalities on one hand but, on the other hand, they provide unconceivable chances of enhancing overall efficiency and productivity. Industry 4.0 should be called with its real name: it is the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Another topical theme, the additive manufacturing: do you believe it is more an opportunity or a menace?
The additive manufacturing is and will be integral part of the manufacturing process. Its use is likely to go beyond the perimeter of prototyping and of small batches and will include parts and components that can be integrated with tools. I do not think it can oust traditional tool production methodologies in the short-medium term but I think its presence can become stronger in the support to the development of high added-value solutions. Meanwhile, it facilitates the possibility of assuring innovative services to customers.

In Italy and in other West Europe States the problem of the skill-shortage is emerging…
If we consider the demographic evolution in European nations and the latest trends, we unavoidably expect the problem will worsen in the future. In all Europe, the manufacturing industry is coping with the same hindrance: the shortage of skilful young teams. A magic recipe does not exist but companies’ technological progress might undoubtedly represent a strong contribution to reduce the impact of the issue. We must work in strict contact with training centres and universities to create shared initiatives and projects that make students aware of what our industry really is and what fascinating technologies are joining it today.

Finally, going back to automotive, what weight of electric cars do you envisage?
These new mobility trends will bring new development to the mould and die industry and will change its value chain. In my opinion, we will witness the launch of unimaginable concepts and models that will impose different requisites: it is a good piece of news for toolshops. Starting from industry’s requisites, tool manufacturers are already committed to the research of innovative materials and technologies that are the enabling factors to support the future steps forward of the market. We must be confident: despite the current uncertainty, it is an exciting opportunity, for the automotive industry as well as for tools’.

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