The European moldmaking competitiveness and its main challenges were the focus of the International Conference "Moldes Portugal", hosted by portuguese ISTMA member CEFAMOL. Alfred Zedtwitz (VDMA, Germany), Fausto Romagnani (UCISAP, Italy), João Cruz (CEFAMOL, Portugal) and Marcin Kropidlowski (Bydgoszcz Industrial Cluster Tool Valley, Polónia), moderated by Bob Williamson (President of ISTMA World), agreed that the industry's future predicts many obstacles and challenges and the solution will rely on greater cooperation and diversification of markets.

Alfred Zedtwitz, from the VDMA, gave an account of the association's progress in recent years, emphasizing the important role that, in his opinion, sectoral associations play "in areas such as networking, information and guidance for their members".

"Coordinating work and taking care not to put one company in competition with another, but to represent the interests of all" is, in his experience, the enormous added value of an association. And this makes it possible, for example, to take the needs and demands of its members to official bodies. He gave the example of Brussels, where most of the guidelines and regulations for European industry are decided.

Manpower is a concern that cuts across all industry in Europe. "We see companies with older people, when we need a lot more young people. In my opinion, it would take 15 to 30 years for Europe to recover from this reality and bring young people into the industry. This is a long time, so we have to find solutions by looking for talent in other parts of the world," he said, adding that only in this way will companies be able to "be healthy and competitive". "On this, as on other issues, it is essential that we work together fairly".

Fausto Romagnani, from UCISAP, began by saying that this is a time when the industry is facing "imperative challenges". As an example, he spoke of the Italian case, where the situation "is no different to that in Portugal or elsewhere in Europe". Attracting and retaining talent, he said, was also one of his main concerns. For this reason, he argued that it was essential to "develop not only individual skills, but to invest in partnerships, exchange of experiences and joint work between companies, in order to enhance each other". 

Another issue he highlighted was "the difficulty of trying to fight against the imposition of conditions on customers", in terms of payment terms and which, in his opinion, "are not financially sustainable: customers are looking for a new bank to finance themselves and that bank is us, the manufacturers".

Commenting on the issue of Asian competition, he said that "in the global market, we should have the same conditions to compete". That's why he pointed out that "it's not just one company that's going to make a difference; we have to work together and that's the only way to strengthen our strength and position".

Marcin Kropidlowski, from the Bydgoszcz Industrial Cluster Tool Valley (Poland), spoke about the cluster he represents, which was set up in that country around 20 years ago. He emphasized that its growth was the result of working together and persisting in doing more and better.

He argues that "the challenge of competitiveness lies first in companies being able to create effective management - leadership - and then being able to maintain the perseverance to remain in the market". He therefore advised companies not to give up and to continue to believe that "we are always capable of doing better". "The energy and determination to make it happen is in your hands and only by persisting will you be able to sculpt your future," he stressed.

Another aspect he highlighted, expressing some concern, is that "in Europe, we often work alone, but we should be able to come together to make our voice heard in organizations, for example in Brussels, in order to get another type of protection that is more effective in competing with countries like China."

João Cruz, from CEFAMOL, was asked to comment on the role of Asia and its impact on the sector. He spoke about the lessons the Portuguese have learned from Asia's growth, saying that, for example, "China has learned from European companies: we taught them and now they are enjoying the success they deserve". 

'Efficiency' is the key word for gaining competitiveness. "We need to produce more, faster and at less cost; in other words, maintain our quality, but be more competitive and efficient," he emphasized.

He pointed out that proximity to the European market is an advantage that should be exploited, as it fits into a more sustainable strategy. "We've managed to be more sustainable because we care about these issues and we have to assert our stance," he said. He believes that the issue of sustainability "goes far beyond economic, financial or environmental issues: we have to leave conditions for our descendants, for those who will stay when we leave, we have to think about the future and ensure that it is the best for those who stay".