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£1m Precision Tooling Academy set to reverse toolmaking skills crisis

The UK’s first ever Precision Tooling Academy has been launched thanks to a pioneering partnership between In-Comm Training and Brandauer.

Over £1m has been invested by the two strategic partners to create a commercial toolroom in the training provider’s facility in Aldridge, which will produce complex tooling, as well as acting as a professional training ground for the toolmakers and designers of the future.

This is a vital move for domestic industry, with the sector being held back by a severe lack of toolmakers and the very real possibility of losing these essential skills forever as older workers choose to retire.

The Precision Tooling Academy aims to reverse this trend by offering companies access to professional toolmaking courses, upskilling opportunities for qualified engineers looking to diversify their skills and a Level 6 Tool Process Design Apprenticeship to develop the next generation of talent.

Training will be unlike anything currently on the market, with up to 35 individuals in the first twelve months able to learn on live tooling projects that will be producing hundreds of thousands of parts every week and will give Brandauer and other tooling experts the opportunity to reshore more manufacturing projects from Asia, the EU and the US.

In a massive stamp of approval, a major car manufacturer has agreed to be the first company to put their engineers through the toolmaking course and has contributed to the actual development of the curriculum.

Gareth Jones, Managing Director at In-Comm Training, commented: “We have always placed employers at the heart of our approach to skills and, through our close relationship with Brandauer, identified a real demand to create and upskill engineers into world-class toolmakers.

“Lots of conversations turned into a rough plan to create an advanced training academy that is embedded into a live commercial toolroom. This would serve two purposes…provide the best possible hands-on practical and theoretical training, whilst also giving the precision stamping specialist additional capacity to meet the growing global demand for more UK made tools. A win-win and we’ve both backed it to the tune of £1m.”

He continued: “Brandauer has jointly developed the course syllabus around its own proven tooling development process, whilst we have contributed our years of expertise in vocationally balanced delivery to offer truly unique course content.

“This isn’t just a ground-breaking project for our two businesses, but for manufacturing as a whole. We immediately have provision for 35 training places, yet this could easily expand with more companies getting involved…this is open to everyone, whether you are an OEM or part of the supply chain.”

The Precision Tooling Academy has also attracted the support of Inventive Engineering & Design and Hexagon, who will bring product development, jig and fixture design and VISI die making expertise to the fore.

Unique to the toolmaking sector, the latter is an end-to-end CAD/CAM solution that is used in the design, simulation and manufacture of progressive & stamping dies and supports all parts of the process.

“This is a real industry collaboration featuring some of the best names in training, toolmaking and tool design,” added Rowan Crozier, CEO of Birmingham-based Brandauer.

“We are talking about one of the ‘great’ manufacturing disciplines and we’re in a real pinch point now where a lot of the skills could be lost forever with people retiring.

“This Academy – with more than £1m invested in a GF AgieCharmilles and Mitsubishi wire EDM machines, CNC machines, grinders and ZwickRoell material testing equipment and Hexagon scanning arm – will begin to address this issue, as well as giving us additional toolroom capacity to produce commercial tools that will help us grow.

“Return on investment for companies looking to get involved is relatively quick, with an average toolmaker recruitment fee of £6k (if you can find them) and £1k savings from every press tool set right, first time.

“Exchange rates are already boosting a recent reshoring trend that has seen us win new tooling projects back from China and other low-cost countries.”

The toolmaking programme features 12 different units, ranging from manufacturing process, costing and strip layout to understanding the bill of materials, using a wire EDM machine, part validation and problem solving to ensure the tools work when they are built.

Apprenticeships will also be offered in the form of a Level 6 in Tool Process Design, an advanced course that has been shaped in partnership with the Confederation of British Metalforming (CBM).

The latter will be a crucial ambassador and the End Point Assessment Centre for the qualification, which covers CAD training, blanking/form tools, simulation, SMED and lean and APQP/PPAP quality certifications.

Gareth Jones concluded: “Our approach is all about bringing industry and training specialists together to ensure we deliver current and future skills.

“With this in mind, In-Comm and Brandauer are both part of the Level 3 Toolmaker and Tool & Die Maintenance Technician trailblazer group, which is rewriting the way training is delivered. This should be launched in time for the September 2023 cohorts, creating a further 30 spaces for the engineers of the future.”

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