Joint International Efforts Benefit Growth of SMESMon, 09/01/2014 - 14:19
One of the lesser known results of the signing of NAFTA was the creation of the The George E. Brown Jr. United States- Mexico Foundation for Science (FUMEC). One of FUMEC’s main goals is the development of collaborative science and technology efforts in important industries for the US and Mexico, with the automotive sector being one of the institution’s early targets. It began by focusing on the automotive industry’s pillars of competitiveness: the drive toward innovation, the understanding of market trends, manufacturing processes, and technology. It saw the future of all these factors as being dependent on certain advances, such as better ties between companies, education and research institutions formed within government programs, the internationalization of Mexican technology companies, and improved educational platforms. One frequent concern for automotive companies looking to hire is whether the training that engineers receive at universities is compatible with the needs of the industry. FUMEC’s Executive Director, Guillermo Fernández de la Garza, sees the need for a shift that would start at the very beginning by “developing basic education capabilities in schools and helping children develop cognitive skills through the technique of learning by doing.” This viewpoint was supported during the 2013 launch of the US-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue (HLED), when US Vice-President Joe Biden, discussing the need for increased skilled labor, referred to cognitive capability as “the new currency.” Spurred by this vision, much of FUMEC’s work has focused on promoting education innovation in technical high schools and universities. “To bridge the gap between automotive companies, universities, and R&D centers, FUMEC partnered with the AERI program of CONACYT, in order to provide guidance to universities in respect to the future needs of companies,” says Fernández de la Garza. For universities to be effective, he calls upon them to improve their educational processes and have research infrastructure in place that will allow them to keep up with advances in the automotive industry. AERI targeted specific issues within the industry, depending on local universities for support. “For instance, FUMEC has worked with universities to help them develop the capabilities to train people in embedded software for the automotive industry,” states Fernández de la Garza.
For Fernández de la Garza, focusing on strategic niche markets presents the opportunity to create a stronger impact and cover a broader set of objectives. In line with this, FUMEC developed the TechPYME program for Mexican companies focused on strategic niches in the automotive, aerospace, medical, and other highly dynamic sectors. This program helps to build innovation and support networks for SMEs to enable them to improve on a wide range of capabilities, from certification standards to better business models. “SMEs find it very difficult to develop the resources needed for strong innovation programs. They need labs, and advanced IT capabilities,” adds Fernández de la Garza. As dealing with each individual company challenge separately would be impossible, FUMEC has grouped companies with similar synergies, enabling them to tackle these challenges together. Working with over 200 advanced manufacturing companies, FUMEC has developed strong links to the automotive industry, and is working hard to develop SME capabilities. This is being achieved through a large national support network as part of the TechPYME program, and the international network of its Technology Business Accelerators (TechBA) program which is spread over eight global offices: five in the US, two in Canada, and one in Spain. TechBA’s HQ in Mexico is acting as an international accelerator of growth for Mexican technology companies. The TechPYME program begins with a group of business technology advisors who work with automotive companies in identifying their needs in product development, production processes, and marketing. The SMEs’ role within the value chain is analyzed to spot what specific contributions they could be making. Finally, articulators facilitate interaction between the companies and the specialized technical groups of universities and R&D centers. TechBA provides support for international acceleration of the SME’s, and the TechBA office specializing in the automotive industry is based in Michigan and works closely with the ProMexico office in Chicago. All TechBA offices work together to facilitate the interaction of small companies within a larger automotive industry support network. An example of this was seen in the case of Industrias Forza, a company based in Morelos that produces plastic covers to be used during the assembly process of new cars to allow the vehicles to be moved around without damage to the exterior. Company representatives travelled to Detroit, where they were able to interact directly with purchasing staff from large OEMs and Tier 1s, leading to the establishment of relationships with Nissan and other OEMs, both in Mexico and abroad.
As the automotive industry evolves in Mexico, it has become evident to Fernández de la Garza that stronger Mexican innovation promotion institutions, like FUMEC, will be needed to support more sophisticated manufacturing processes, both within the educational and private sectors.