Innovation Park Seeks to Be Developer and IncubatorMon, 09/01/2014 - 14:34
Nestled in a gleaming, LEED-certified building on the Chihuahua campus of ITESM, the PIT2 (Innovation and Transfer of Technology Park) aims to be one of the foundation stones of the state’s automotive future. In 2010, the vision for PIT2 came from ITESM as it sought to support the needs of the government and private companies. The PIT2 idea was born from a desire to support Chihuahua’s competitiveness by providing physical and organizational infrastructure to boost the role of SMEs in the state, and churn out highly employable students.
Since opening its gates, the park has sought to become a landing pad for all automotive companies coming to Chihuahua and the prospective automotive engineers seeking to work for them. The park has invested in developing research facilities dedicated to the industries it serves, has set aside space for companies wishing to work there, and has forged links with Mexican and international companies. The park’s Director General, Antonio Ríos Ramírez, says the first major coup by PIT2 was when it landed Visteon as its first major client in 2010. The major auto parts supplier took up residence in the park and was open to getting help from ITESM for its projects. “The park offers the chance for our students and staff to work on various design projects for the automotive industry, as well as on specific Visteon projects, mainly revolving around panels and lights,” says Ríos Ramírez. Visteon seems to have been satisfied with the quality of ITESM’s students since early 2014, when it grew the number of products it would be working on locally. PIT2’s metal mechanics division has also been contracted by a client in Parral to redesign a monoblock, and the park is collaborating on developing new materials with CIMAV (Investigation Center for Advanced Materials).
PIT2 has maintained close links with the Chihuahua Automotive Cluster over the last three years, and its links to the private sector have allowed it to help the cluster set its priorities. “We have set out space for the cluster in our new PIT2 building. Around 80% of its meetings are carried out at our facilities, and our professors take part in the cluster’s development,” explains Ríos Ramírez. In order to focus its students’ efforts, PIT2 selects four or five projects each semester and puts together taskforces of students and staff along with the cluster. Ríos Ramírez says the cluster has come to rely on PIT2’s support due to its specialized laboratories and industry links that allow it to harness new automotive technologies. These ties benefit ITESM’s students as they graduate with advanced technical skills, making it easier for them to swiftly find jobs in the automotive industry. PIT2 has ensured that its courses teach cutting-edge techniques. Its manufacturing processes teach lean manufacturing and Six Sigma, while it has incorporated the use of software like CATIA, Solidworks and Siemens’ NX into its design classes. Many of the park’s initiatives, including forging closer links with industry and offering more job opportunities for graduates, are tied to partnerships with international institutions.
Chihuahua has long been known for the manufacturing of auto parts but Ríos Ramírez says PIT2 wants to be part of the state’s quest for an OEM. “The direction we are taking is focused on design, engineering and testing. We have agreements with companies like Ford and TRW to place our students in their operations, allowing them to apply some of the technology developed within PIT2,” says Ríos Ramírez. The technological park is also collaborating with TRW on bringing a new design center to the state that would focus on testing.
Ríos Ramírez is confident PIT2’s track record will hold up to such scrutiny, but he is concerned about one area: the up- to-date technical knowledge of staff. “Around 30 to 35% of our professors are motivated to go into the industry and learn about new technological developments. Even in ITESM, which benefits from a high-tech environment and close ties to the industry, 60 to 65% of our staff is only familiar with technology that is over a decade old. In the public education sphere, the amount of professors that are out of touch with new technology could reach 90 to 95%,” he clarifies. Ríos Ramírez adds that these old-fashioned professors are reducing the capacity of public education institutions to react quickly to the needs of the industry. He calls for a major effort to overhaul this trend over the next two to three years as it is slowing down Mexico’s progress. Up-to-date staff can also serve as a stepping stone for the entrepreneurial ambitions of students and recent graduates. “Mexican suppliers only supply 3% of the automotive industry in Chihuahua, which gives PIT2 and its students a massive opportunity to build up the local supply chain. We provide a good outlet for students who want to go in that direction. PIT2 has an incubator, an accelerator and a venture capital program in place to help them. I would like to see at least 20 companies created here to support the automotive supply chain,” concludes Ríos Ramírez.