Felipe Villareal
CEO
Alian Plastics
/
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Alian Plastics: Smart Manufacturing to Attract New Customers

By Alejandro Enríquez | Tue, 03/16/2021 - 05:00

Q: How has the pandemic influenced Alian Plastics’ operations?

A: It created a revolution for everyone. We needed to adapt our strategies prioritizing health and safety, while focusing on our staff and sales. In March, most of our automotive customers started to suspend operations. Fortunately, we started a diversification process toward other industries in 2018. Our projects required years to be developed and by starting in that year, we were able to complete our diversification successfully in February, gaining participation in the HVAC niche. Amid the shutdowns mandated by the government, the HVAC industry remained an essential sector, which helped to keep our operations running.

At that moment, we were worried about how the automotive sector was going to behave after the lockdown. Our surprise was that companies resumed operations stronger than before. Premium brands we work with, such as Audi, Tesla and BMW, presented stronger demand than before the lockdown. We adapted our staff accordingly while implementing cost reduction strategies to keep the company healthy.

Health safety continues to be our top priority. We are more experienced in dealing with the virus. Nevertheless, we are constantly learning about how we can better protect our employees and make them feel safe. Without a doubt, the pandemic brought us unprecedented challenges.

Q: You have proven successful in leading through times of crisis. What elements have helped that success?

A: Maintaining balance with the help of family and exercise has been essential. I even did a Virtual Marathon. At the corporate level, protecting our staff was our priority. A company is composed of every single one of its employees. A strong, safe and stable worker will perform well. Reassuring them they would have a job and that they would not get infected at their workplace was essential to keep going. Even though there were times when I myself felt uncertain about the future, I needed to provide employees certainty.

A second element was home office. This hybrid working scheme broke paradigms. We were not sure how remote work would turn out but through KPIs and clear goals, we made it work. The mental health of everyone was really important, too. The pandemic is stressful in many aspects. In essence, it was about recognizing that we used to be free. We were not aware of how free we were until now. Mexican culture is really close and it seems we are mourning that closeness. Thus, addressing mental health was also a priority.

Leadership is about being creative and implementing out-of-the-box strategies. Adaptability is key and I am proud to say everyone at Alian Plastics has adapted successfully.

Q: Given the company’s successful strategy of diversification, how has Alian Plastics’ portfolio changed?

A: The automotive industry continues to be our core business. The second niche we are focusing on is HVAC, which is a demanding industry in terms of quality and delivery times. We are handling a just-in-time delivery every four hours. In the beginning, it meant adapting our day-to-day operations since automotive companies pick up products only two or three times a day. I accepted this challenge gladly because we recognized the potential of our operations.

Delivering quality also represented a challenge that we handled successfully. As part of CLAUT, We won for 2nd year in a raw the Tier 2 Category, this year with a project focused in developing quality tools to assure customer satisfaction. Last year, we won it with an engineering project focused on lean manufacturing.

This year, we also entered a new industry: toys. We manufactured pieces for iconic characters, such as Barbie and Batman, and for toy animals. It was an interesting challenge regarding our processes. We are used to manufacturing pieces for automotive and HVAC in black. Here, we are dealing with colors, pigments and resins.

We also invested, despite COVID-19. We bought new machines and robotic end-arms and grippers. Some HVAC parts carry metal pieces that required special machines. As for automotive, new projects also required new machines.

 

Alian Plastics Plant
Alian Plastics Plant in Nuevo León

 

Q: Being a successful Tier 2 supplier, how did the peak in demand after lockdown influence your projects?

A: We work with a variety of automotive companies. For over a year and a half now, we have focused on developing a project with heavy-duty trucks. In this niche, we have seen a peak in demand. In perspective, as e-commerce boomed throughout 2020, more last-mile vehicles were required. Transportation remains essential and that is reflected in the demand we are witnessing. Regarding light vehicles, this year we won two new projects with premium brands.

Despite everything, we have a successfully diverse portfolio, with an additional two sectors that brought extra motivation and professional challenges for our teams. We have worked harder than ever.

Q: The pandemic also drove companies toward greater levels of digitalization. How has Alian Plastics experienced this trend?

A: We started our smart manufacturing projects in 2019, collecting data faster and making better decisions in a really short time. 2020 was a year of consolidation and I feel very proud of our IT team. Having all the tools available to perform our job remotely and efficiently provides us with the capabilities to diversify our operations.

We enabled Industry 4.0 tools for each one of our presses. These tools send us alerts in real-time to identify area to address, whether it is production, quality, materials or maintenance. This has created healthy competition within the team as they are looking to reduce the number of alerts, reinforcing predictive maintenance while enabling better action plans when an alert is sent. In sum, at Alian Plastics we are implementing Industry 4.0 to do our job better, and to collect data faster and more efficiently. We are making the most of the platform we built.

Q: How relevant have smart manufacturing capabilities been in a cost-cutting environment?

A: They have been essential. Technology helps you to see problems that are not so visible. Moreover, it helps you to have better information in a matter of minutes rather than days. Having the data in a minute instead of a week helps you to see a potential problem before it happens, reducing costs or downtime and increasing overall efficiency. At the end of the day, equipment efficiency is a priority. Our system monitors equipment efficiency daily. On the commercial and sales side, embarking on new projects in new sectors also requires greater efficiency on our part.

Q: What is your perspective regarding increased requirements for a reduced carbon footprint in the automotive supply chain?

A: This trend is gaining strength. Our customers used to focus greatly on auditing our operations and quality systems but now, all of them are asking about the environment, sustainability and green energies. Fortunately, two years ago we started the ISO14:001 process, which has helped us to monitor and reduce indicators related to environmental impact. Even though our injection plastic processes are not air polluting, we do have scrap and use natural resources. We have a variety of plans to reduce our waste and regardless of what indicators the norm requires, we want to contribute to our communities.

Q: What are some key takeaways from the pandemic?

A: We have gained knowledge on the invisible enemy, which has made us stronger. We have discovered new strengths to lead a company, to lead a team, to be close to our customers and to reassure our stakeholders. There is an old Asian saying that says, “The tea shows its true flavor in hot water. The warrior will show his strengths during war.”

 

Alian Plastics is a Tier 2 company specialized in high-tonnage plastic injection and services to optimize production capacities. In the automotive sector, the company has worked with OEM Programs such as Audi, Tesla, Fiat, BMW, Nissan, among others.

Photo by:   Alian Plastics
Alejandro Enríquez Alejandro Enríquez Journalist and Industry Analyst