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Portuguese toolmakers group continues to push innovation

By: Robert Grace

October 22, 2012

Despite some rugged economic conditions in Portugal, one of the bodies at the heart of the country’s plastics mold-making industry continues to invest, while also probing new technologies and markets.

Founded in 1991, the nonprofit Centimfe, which describes itself as “the Portuguese technological center for the mold-making, special tooling and plastics industry,” now employs about 45 and has 230 members. Rui Soares, who heads technological development for the Marinha Grande-based organization, explained that Centimfe’s role is “to straddle research and industry.”

Centimfe also is one of the core organizers of the biennial Moulds Week event in central Portugal that brings companies, academia, researchers and government together for an international conference, technical seminars, workshops and business matchmaking. This year the event ran Oct. 1-4.

At the group’s headquarters, recent investments include a pair of German-made milling machines and a new additive manufacturing machine. This past May, Centimfe installed a three-axis, 20,000-rpm milling machine — an OKK VB 53 vertical machining center. Just a few weeks ago the group installed a high-speed, five-axis Deckel Maho HSC55 linear milling machine. These complement an older Makino V55 unit at the site.

Centimfe also has been active in the area of rapid prototyping, now widely known as additive manufacturing, for more than 13 years. “We are not kids in this area,” Soares noted.

The group recently installed a new sPro SLS center from 3D Systems to boost its capabilities in selective laser sintering. The new equipment complements its DTM SinterStation 2500 and Objet Eden 330 photopolymer 3-D printer.

Centimfe, Soares said, leverages its assets and expertise to further research, facilitate technology transfer, offer training and help companies bring products to market — all in the name of increasing Portugal’s global competitiveness. This is vital in a European tooling sector (covering molds, dies and special tools) that the group estimates represents average annual sales of $13 billion, more than 7,000 companies and some 100,000 workers.