Tool and mould making departments are located at 3 locations of a globally operating company with more than 20,000 employees. The toolmaking departments employ 160 people. The 3 locations distributed worldwide produce tools for their target markets in order to avoid customs and transport costs as well as transport risks. Especially in China, skilled workers are not available and therefore need to be trained specifically. Shortly after the training, however, they leave the company due to better offers. There is no solution to this unprofitable cycle. Importing tools into China is completely unprofitable due to government restrictions. Many similar tools are used worldwide of one type of tool. The tools are manufactured exclusively for personal use and are used in more than 160 production sites. The departments work in one-shift operation, the equipment and the processes are outdated. The reason for this is, on the one hand, that the departments have been working as cost centers for years and were therefore unable to make investments due to a lack of income. On the other hand, the previous department managers have shown no willingness to innovate in recent years and still regard tool and mould making as a craftsmanship. The internal departments have to compete with external competition, but have been lagting behind in the bidding process for years. The in-house production rate is just over 20% and only includes technologies that are subject to secrecy and are therefore not subcontracted. Normals are also foreign-related. The tool and mould manufacturing departments have been burdening operating profit for many years. The company is considering dissolving the departments and disclosing the associated know-how. The disadvantage, however, would be the loss of technology knowledge, which has justified the success of the company.

As you can see, the situation is tricky.


The question in the management is how the losses in the tool and mould making departments can at least be neutralized, so that the technology know-how, which is important for the company's success, can be maintained in the company.


The solution was delivered by one of the company's suppliers, who have been working well with the company for years. The supplier

  • is small but equipped with state-of-the-art machines and processes
  • has been offering the highest quality at market-oriented prices for years and has built up a respectable equity capital
  • is known in the market as a jewel and technology leader
  • has for years aimed to automate the development and production of tools to the maximum.

The company agrees with the supplier on a takeover. The staff with its wealth of experience and equipment is integrated by the company. The two owners of the supplier are employed at crucial positions, receive a generous budget and are responsible for the turnaround. The conversion is estimated to be 1 year in which the internal tool production is located at the main site. At the main site, a pilot project will completely renovate the building, remove the outdated equipment and replace it with a manless production cell with a production control room. The production cell should have all the technologies relevant for tool and mould making. The development will also be completely converted to the system and the operation of the former supplier. In a follow-up step, the pilot is rolled out in Mexico and China with the same configuration. The development and programming for the ongoing toolmaking operation is limited to the head office in order to secure know-how, to take advantage of advantages in quality assurance and to exploit synergies in the multiple use of work results. The production cells in Mexico and China have exactly the same configuration as in the main plant, so that the centrally created production programs can be used worldwide and little expertise is needed on site.


One thing in advance: The company's goal was previously considered illusory and unworkable. Due to its high tolerance requirements and its variety of parts, tool and mould making has always been regarded as a structured department. The project manager

  • was extremely focused, however, and defended its goals by all means
  • has paid performance- and change-ready employees far above house tariffs against the opposition of the works council, but has rejected employees who are unwilling to change
  • has relinquished responsibility, but has vehemently demanded the related performance
  • has prevailed with the support of the management against strong internal resistance
  • has led manufacturers of standard software to complement individual solutions that have brought benefits to the whole industry
  • has led suppliers to correct any small deviation from the optimum.

Working with him has n°not been easy, but he has achieved his goal. And after achieving his goals, even after reaching intermediate goals, the world was fine for him. Basically, the supplier's production system was taken over and completed with further solution modules. Other objectives were:

  • unmanned 24/7 production
  • Use of an MES system for resource, process and production planning
  • paperless working
  • further process automation in the development and manufacturing sector
  • Replacement of HPC machines with HSC machines
  • Unification of controls
  • Reduction of roughing times and tool wear through the use of modern Trochoidal strategies
  • Simulation of all machining operations by machine code simulation

In front of and behind the production cell, 2 automatic pallet high-bay racks with check-in and check-out stations for upgrading and dismantling the pallets were installed. The pallets with zero-point clamping system equipped with RFID were married at the check-in stations with the corresponding processing order and equipped with the raw parts or semi-finished products. Between the pallet high racks within the production cell, the pallets pass through the stations without a man. At the check-out station, either finished parts or semi-finished products were disarmed for reprocessing in a different clamping.

The production cell included, among other things:

  • several stations for 3-5-axis milling
  • separate machines for graphite and copper processing
  • Machines for graphite wet processing with centrifuge for cleaning the liquid
  • separate roughing and finishing machines, all HSC
  • all milling machines with internal probes for measuring in the process and tool control
  • Deep hole drilling machines
  • Hon machine
  • Washing stations
  • Measuring
  • Various pallet carousels for storage between the processing stations

Wire and sinker ingeroding machines were realized in separate production cells because standard solutions were proven on the market. The polishing process was partly left in conventional machines or by hand after the disbursing process. The tools were still assembled by hand, but with the help of large touch screens instead of paper documentation. The documentation was created automatically in the development and programming history.

Project method

In this project, I had my first contact with agile project management. Here, for me, the form of requirements assessment with a standard valid for all project participants has been raised to a new level. At that time, I went through agile standard ceremonies for the first time and realized that we were moving from intermediate goal to intermediate goal. And that was a good thing, because there was an idea for the project goal described, but none of the project partners had an already realized solution. The project was highly experimental. I have never experienced such harsh retros and reviews again – with the reviews taking place mainly at the production facilities as the project progresses.


In the course of the project, there were many solutions that had to be discarded. Solutions always seemed to be feasible through the offers of different project partners, but the other participants had to play their part. Until late in the course of the project, complete solutions had to be discarded and reassembled. Time and again the project was on the rocks – and again and again the project partners jumped over their own shadow to break taboos. And some necessary solutions never worked properly. The most outstanding stumbling block was the washing systems planned for a good washing result. It was clear to all involved that cleaning within the machines was not sufficient for a quality measurement process. Unfortunately, the result of the washing systems has never reached the level practiced by humans, so that quality measurement processes have had too many errors due to deposits on the components to be measured. Unfortunately, many improvements made by the project partner did not result in the necessary result and the promised solution has not been fulfilled. Automated correction loops have never been used in finishing.


Project duration: 1 year (main work)

Project team: 30 internal and external team members from 12 external project partners

Project budget: ? A lot…


The solution went into operation as planned after one year. Production was now in 24/7 operation, only interrupted by short and planned maintenance windows for cleaning and equipping the machines. Larger maintenance windows were available for coordinated machine maintenance measures. Especially for the last finishing operations, however, the pallets often had to be removed and upgraded, so that the workpieces could be cleaned manually before the quality measurement process. The washing systems were taken out of service and the processing process was adapted accordingly. The pilot plant was cloned in Mexico and China. This defused the employee problem in China and increased tool quality in Mexico. The company now also manufactures normals in order to make optimum use of production. The best conclusion, however, is that the tool and mould manufacturing departments are again operating profitably despite the high investment and could even accept external orders with the new competitiveness.

Of the 100 employees at the main site, only 20 employees were needed for development and production after a successful start-up. At the end of the project, the production hall was only about 30% occupied and therefore offers sufficient growth potential.

My employer

software manufacturer of the CAD/CAM system. In the course of the project

  • the standard software has been supplemented with individual solutions for the company
  • existing functionality has been improved to achieve the required quality level
  • PMI attributes have been supplemented according to project requirements
  • postprocessors were created, delivered, retracted and removed.
My role

I identified the requirements and participated in the solution development, was part of the project team and in my sub-solution area the interfaces between other project partners and our specialists and developers. From my employer's point of view, I was an account and project manager.