Technological Excellence in Toolmaking: Fritz Stepper GmbH & Co. KG Is Again »Toolmaker of the Year«




Christian Lürken



+49 241 80 27372



The crises of recent years have put the international tool making industry in a difficult business situation: The change in the automotive industry, interrupted supply chains and production shutdowns due to the Covid 19 pandemic among tool making customers had dramatic consequences for many companies. Once again, it is evident which companies have already positioned themselves strongly and at the same time flexibly in the past through excellent strategies and efficient organization. With efficient technologies, constant investments and innovations as well as stringent order processing, Fritz Stepper GmbH & Co. KG stood out from the strong field of participants in the "Excellence in Production" industry competition and was thus able to secure the title of "Toolmaker of the Year" for the second time.

  Award ceremony Copyright: © WBA Aachener Werkzeugbau Akademie GmbH / Vincent Sima Fritz Stepper GmbH & Co. KG is the overall winner of the "Excellence in Production" competition and thus "Toolmaker of the Year 2022" (f.l.t.r. Raimund Ochs, Michael Stepper, Bernd Rexroth, Daniel Ast (all Fritz Stepper GmbH & Co. KG)).

Fritz Stepper already convinced the jury in 2019 with excellent key figures and technology leadership in high-precision progressive dies. Now the toolmaking company from Pforzheim was able to impress the competition jury once again: Fritz Stepper prevailed among 262 companies, from which a total of eleven finalists emerged in four categories. On October 26, Michael Stepper, managing director and owner of Fritz Stepper GmbH & Co. KG, accepted the coveted prize on behalf of his employees in front of around 300 guests at a festive award ceremony in Aachen City Hall. The laudatory speech for the overall winner was traditionally given by the previous year's winner - this year Steffen Drabek, Director Electrified Powertrain Technology at ZF Friedrichshafen AG in Schweinfurt.

Fritz Stepper GmbH & Co. KG: Efficient machinery and focus on highest quality

The tool shop of Fritz Stepper GmbH & Co. KG was able to convince the jury above all by its technological performance: It has a machine park of the highest quality and uses innovative technologies that the company proactively develops further in cooperation with leading machine tool and plant manufacturers. The machines and systems used have a high degree of automation in all production technologies and a very low average age. In addition, the tool shop is consistently developing Industry 4.0 applications, for example for process data recording in series production for automated quality assurance.

The company was also able to convince the jury on an organizational level: Efficient planning through the use of standardized work schedules in the ERP system developed in-house ensures the automated scheduling of orders. The productive involvement of trainees and the very high level of personal responsibility of the employees were also positively highlighted by the jury.

The Fritz Stepper company focuses on high-precision progressive dies for electronic components for the automotive and electrical industries. With 103 employees and 35 trainees, Fritz Stepper has a very high trainee ratio. As early as 1975, the company was the first toolmaker to develop a modular stamping tool, which, based on a universal base frame with modular inserts, allows individual adaptations of the products to be manufactured. With virtually 100 percent vertical integration and a high-performance machine park for the production of all individual components, Fritz Stepper is able to implement customer requirements particularly quickly. Wear optimization and high precision are ensured by a large number of innovation projects and an in-house coating development department.

Also best external toolmaking with more than 50 employees

In addition to the overall victory, the competition jury also declared Fritz Stepper the winner of the category "External Toolmaking with 50 or more employees". The jury also awarded a certificate to Haidlmair GmbH from Nußbach in Austria and WEBO GmbH from Amtzell in the Allgäu region as further finalists in this category.

Winner in the category "External toolmaking under 50 employees" is RKT Rodinger Kunststoff-Technik GmbH

This year's winner in the category "External toolmaking under 50 employees" goes to RKT Rodinger Kunststoff-Technik GmbH from Roding in the Upper Palatinate.

RKT was particularly convincing due to its systematic implementation of lean principles in toolmaking: A structured error management system including root cause analysis and effectiveness testing is used to check the implemented measures in day-to-day operations. RKT ensures high efficiency in work preparation through standardized work plan templates and a good planning system with transparent project tracking. By segmenting assembly into new tooling and service, tools can always be provided efficiently. In addition, RKT is particularly committed to sustainability initiatives at the entire corporate level.

RKT is a manufacturer of injection molds, equipment and special machines for the medical technology and electrical industries. The focus is on high-cavity injection molds with the shortest cycle time for the medical technology industry. The company not only develops molds for its own series production under cleanroom conditions, but also sells a large proportion of the molds it produces to external customers. The tool shop employs 43 people and around 10 trainees at its site in Roding, Bavaria, and thus has a very high trainee ratio.

Another participant in this year's final was Schnurr GmbH from Bischofswiesen near Berchtesgaden.

  City Hall Copyright: © WBA Aachener Werkzeugbau Akademie GmbH / Foto: Vincent Sima The award ceremony is held annually in Aachen City Hall in front of around 300 guests.

The winner of the category "Internal toolmaking with 50 or more employees" is the toolmaking department of igus GmbH

The best "Internal toolmaking with 50 or more employees" in 2022 was the toolmaking department of igus GmbH from Cologne.

At igus, the jury was particularly impressed by the organizational excellence: This manifests itself in a high degree of standardization and automation in order processing. For example, igus minimizes planning efforts through automated, rule-based avoidance of bottlenecks and uses standardized, automated costing for a focused product range. The design is also extensively standardized due to the modular tool structure.

The igus tool shop has its own "FastLine", which has suitable equipment for all relevant tool shop technologies and is available exclusively for rush orders. In this way, the igus toolmaking department manages to have the first molded parts available within seven days of the customer order.

Other finalists in this category were the internal toolmaking operations of the two BMW AG locations in Landshut and Munich, as well as fischer Werkzeug- und Formenbau GmbH in Horb am Neckar.

Best "Internal toolmaking under 50 employees" is Böllhoff Produktion GmbH

The winner in the category "Internal toolmaking under 50 employees" is Böllhoff Produktion GmbH from Bielefeld.

The jury was particularly positive about Böllhoff's defined Industry 4.0 implementation strategy, including the design of concrete solutions and the good use of cross-technology automation solutions. In the course of the Industry 4.0 implementation, Böllhoff has networked its production sites to provide an overview of the current tool status in production: If a problem occurs with a tool, the cause of the malfunction is displayed on a dashboard using color coding.

The Böllhoff Group is a global supplier of "360° connection technology" with assembly and logistics solutions for various industries: Böllhoff connections are used, for example, in the automotive industry, aerospace and mechanical engineering. At its headquarters in Bielefeld and in the worldwide group of companies, Böllhoff employs more than 3200 people. Böllhoff's toolmaking division supplies the entire group of companies with injection molds for series production.

Another finalist in the category "Internal toolmaking under 50 employees" was Rohde und Schwarz GmbH & Co. KG from Teisnach in Lower Bavaria was honored.

Excellence in Production: Selection of the best toolmaking companies in the German-speaking region

The Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering (WZL) of RWTH Aachen University and the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT, together with an expert jury, once again determined the best tool and die making companies in the German-speaking region in four categories. The basis for the detailed comparison was a comprehensive questionnaire and on-site visits to the top-ranked companies during the summer months. On this basis, the ten jurors from industry, politics, associations and science determined the eleven finalists, the category winners and the overall winner. A total of 262 moldmaking and tooling companies entered the competition in 2022, 191 of which completed the questionnaire in full and 50 were shortlisted.

The "Excellence in Production" competition was held for the 19th time this year. On the day after the award ceremony, selected finalists and partners of the Aachen institutes again presented their success strategies during the now already 21st International Colloquium "Toolmaking with a Future".

Under the motto "Holistic Solutions through Toolmaking - Sustainable, Digital and Networked", the organizers and selected speakers showed strategic and technological solutions for the way towards sustainable toolmaking in the face of the current crises and set impulses for a long-term successful orientation of the toolmaking industry.

New chance next year

In the coming year, the best German-speaking moldmaking and tooling companies will again compete against each other. Interested parties can already obtain detailed information about the competition at and register from December 1, 2022. All participants in the competition will receive an individual evaluation of their strengths and potential for improvement. As part of the 20th anniversary of the competition, participating companies can expect additional prizes and benefits for taking part in the competition.

After registering, all participants initially complete only the first part of the questionnaire with a small number of central questions and receive an initial key figure evaluation on this basis. In the second phase of the competition, more detailed questions are to be answered and the participants receive a more comprehensive evaluation of key figures. All participants in the second phase will also be entered into a draw for two additional on-site visits by the Aachen toolmaking experts.

This year's competition is sponsored by Hasco Hasenclever GmbH & Co. KG, Kunststoffcluster Österreich and Swissmem, the Swiss Moldmaking and Tooling Association, Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau e.V., and WBA Aachener Werkzeugbau Akademie GmbH. The media partners FORM+Werkzeug, VDI nachrichten and werkzeug&formenbau promote the competition through their comprehensive coverage of the winners and finalists. Another partner of the competition is the trade fair "formnext".