A special kind of network: 30 years of VDWF

On November 5, 1992, 18 entrepreneurs from the tool and mold making industry met in a hotel in Bad Überkingen to pool their potential and represent it to the industry: And so, the VDWF was born. That small group has now grown into a network of around 480 members. The VDWF organizes a large number of seminars and events, is a co-initiator of the Molding Expo, has launched its own courses, founded a research community, and enters into dialogue with politicians in order to bring the interests of the industry to a broad public.

1996 saw the first delegation trip (to the USA); 2001 the first issue of the association magazine; regular networking events have taken place since 2005; 2010 saw a separate VDWF guideline for CE marking of tools. «What happened in the first twenty years were milestones for the VDWF as we know it today,» says the VDWF board. But a lot of new things have developed – especially in the last few years. The original idea has long since grown into a lively network through which companies can form strategic partnerships to jointly manage orders and capitalize on synergies.

VDWF President Prof. Thomas Seul explains that the VDWF also maintains interfaces with other industry associations and is above all a «voice» for the many smaller members who, through the association, can make themselves heard in the corporate groups, to clients, and in markets where they could not if they were alone. «It’s our job to pool the strengths and knowledge of our companies in order to attain the German speaking region’s leading position in international tool and mold making.» For Seul, this was true thirty years ago – and it still is now more than ever. The VDWF therefore offers competent advice and practical support on topics such as training and further education, marketing, management, and expert knowledge. The association is also involved on behalf of its members in higher-level issues, such as the DIN standards committee or the CE conformity of tools and molds. Education, technological excellence, visibility, and a culture of meeting are the four pillars of the association’s work, through which the VDWF would like to help to make its members, and the entire industry in the German-speaking region, fit for the future.

Through training and degrees with the VDWF

In 2011, the part-time further training course «Project Manager for Tool and Mold Making» was created in cooperation with the Schmalkalden University of Applied Sciences. The course is aimed specifically at up-and-coming specialists and managers in the industry. Seul, who also holds the office of Vice President for Research and Transfer at Schmalkalden University, explains that: «The focus of the teaching is aligned with the needs of the industry. It is also important to us that further education is available to anyone who is interested – which is why this program can also be completed as a distance-based learning course and is therefore easily compatible with professional and private commitments.» The course was a great success, and a series of additional courses were introduced: The master’s course «Applied Plastics Technology» in 2012, the master’s course «Mechanical Engineering and Management» in 2014, the master’s courses «Computer Science and IT Management» and «Electrical Engineering and Management» in 2016, and finally the certificate course «Application Engineer for Additive Processes/Rapid Technologies» in 2017. In the past three years, the Schmalkalden University of Applied Sciences has been named «Top Distance-Based Learning Provider» by the independent evaluation portal FernstudienCheck. Seul notes that, «As an association and as a university, we were of course very pleased about this positive response.»

At that same time in 2012, a trainee initiative was started. In addition to their in-company training, trainees can acquire special knowledge in tool and mold making in two-week block courses. Through both the training initiative and courses, the VDWF is laying the foundation to ensure the industry’s favorable future by introducing young people to this complex field of work in the best possible way.

FDWF: Bridge between industry and research

In addition to training, the VDWF is also involved in science: The Research Community of German Tool and Mold Makers (FDWF) was founded in 2021 to advance pre-competitive research and thus strengthen the industry, which is primarily characterized by SMEs. The inclusion of the FDWF as the 100th member of the German Federation of Industrial Research Associations (AiF) in the same year. In his function as chairman of the FDWF, Seul explains that «With the research community, we want to build a bridge between science and industry – that’s why we take feedback from companies on which developments would be useful in practice and define the research priorities accordingly.»

Constructive dialogue with politicians

Targeted research – a way to advance tool and mold making in German-speaking countries. But problems such as increasing price pressure in international competition, delivery bottlenecks, uncertainty in the automotive industry, or changing markets remain. To strengthen the industry’s scope for action, the VDWF started a conversation with politicians: In 2017, Baden-Württemberg’s Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann emphasized the key function of the industry in his laudation of the association’s 25th anniversary. So did Gerald – a member of the Bundestag Ullrich – who, as a production manager for plastics technology, knew the importance of toolmakers in industrial processes all too well. Then, in 2021, the VDWF initiated several round tables: In Haigerloch, there was a meeting with Thomas Bareiß, a member of the Bundestag, in his function as the Federal Government Commissioner for SMEs.  In Baienfurt, there was meeting with the Baden-Württemberg Minister of Economic Affairs, Dr. Nicole Hoffmeister-Kraut. According to VDWF Managing Director Ralf Dürrwächter, «The discussion was definitely constructive for both sides. After all, it is in all our interests for tool and mold making to a key industry in Germany as a business location.» Further meetings are already being planned.

The VDWF as a meeting place

Even outside of politics, the dialogue between association members was and is the focus of the association’s work: the core and foundation of the VDWF is its active association network, which can be found in the practical forums, specialist events, training courses, seminars, joint stands at trade fairs, delegation and study trips, as well as informal events such as ski weekends and barbecues. Due to the pandemic beginning in 2020, many face-to-face events had to be canceled and postponed – but in no way did that mean the end of communal get-togethers: The VDWF established uncomplicated online formats such as the «11-Uhr-Loch» or the «Spätschicht», which were immediately well received and used by the membership. These opportunities for inter-regional networking and range extension from one’s desk will continue to be an integral part of association life in the future. «We want to communicate with our members too, but primarily members should find each other through the association and communicate with each other,» explains Dürrwächter. The VDWF wants to be one thing above all: an active and attractive meeting place that people are happy to join.

A special kind of network – with a befitting response

In 2018, the VDWF won second place in the German Society for Association Management (DGVM) competition in the «Association of the Year» category. The association magazine «VDWF im Dialog» won the mediaV award in 2019 for «Best Association Magazine». And in 2021, Ralf Dürrwächter received the mediaV award for «Association Communicator of the Year». 30 years of VDWF therefore also means 30 years of successful interchange – internally and externally.


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