Alberto Tolomelli
Director General
Comau Mexico

Leading Automation Supplier Looks Beyond Mothership

Mon, 09/01/2014 - 16:32

Being part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has not been a hindrance for Comau in comforting its leadership position in process automation. However, Alberto Tolomelli, General Manager of Comau Mexico, is keen to explain that Comau’s reputation has been forged through superior product offering and engineering. “Fiat Chrysler Automobiles only provides about one-fourth of our business. Like any other customer, they are welcome to choose the best option in the market and Comau has to prove that it is competitive,” he explains. The best way for Comau to prove its competitiveness is by relying on the technological developments it has created through the years. “Suppliers are taking a more aggressive approach and companies are increasingly having to become technology developers. Comau shares this view and is now involved in all its projects from the outset. This has given us better understanding of our projects across the supply chain, and it allows us to suggest ideas or to arrange for the incorporation of new technologies that we have developed,” adds Tolomelli.

Comau provides advanced manufacturing systems and solutions of machining, assembly modules, body welding systems, and integrated robotics, across five main business units. “The core of the company is body welding, which is engaged in production systems for the bodies of cars. We also focus on powertrain systems for engines and transmissions. Our third unit concerns robotics, where we offer industrial robots as well as robotized and integrated solutions. The fourth unit is dedicated to Adaptive Solutions, the business unit that has extended the automotive competences of Comau in other industries such as heavy commercial vehicles, agriculture & machining, aerospace, and our final unit is focused on maintenance and service. This naturally sees us providing services to automotive customers, but also to those in chemicals, mining, and steel production,” says Tolomelli. All five of these units draw on a wellspring of new technologies and production solutions that flow from Comau’s development centers, with Mexico benefiting from the center in the US.

With a presence in 13 countries regrouping over 14,000 employees worldwide, Comau pays close attention to where its bases of operations should be set up. In Mexico, that base was created in the town of Tepotzotlan in the State of Mexico. This breaks with the trend of most Tier 1 suppliers seeking to work out of the Bajio region or the northern states in order to be close to the OEMs. Tolomelli explains why Comau went in a different direction. “We realized that the area of Tepotzotlan is not highly industrial, but we selected this location due to the logistics advantages it offers; from this site it is easy to reach our clients all around Mexico,” says Tolomelli. The company has a long affiliation with the town and its employees have gained knowledge and skills that would be hard to replace. “It is a challenge for us to stay in the State of Mexico but moving to another location in the country would mean losing our workers. We have trained them and raised them to the needed level, so moving would represent a big problem for us,” he adds.

Comau has a total turnover of €1.4 billion per year, to which Mexico contributes with around €33 million. While this may not seem to make Mexico a major component of Comau’s strategy, the country forms part of the company’s focus on emerging markets, alongside Brazil and India. Mexico’s links to the automotive industry in the US also make it a valuable cog in the Comau wheel. In terms of staff, Comau has 500 people on the ground in Mexico, as compared to 2,000 in China and over 7,000 in Brazil, but Tolomelli is certain his charge will continue to grow while Brazil will stabilize. “Comau is well-known in other countries as we started the process of positioning the brand there long ago, but this still needs to be done in Mexico. The company knows it has to raise awareness of its presence in Mexico, and to do so, we will double our staff here by 2017, reaching 1,000 people.” Tolomelli says the company is not likely to develop wholly new solutions for the Mexican market but will follow the path it has already set in the US. Given that the production of cars in Mexico will keep increasing, he sees Comau’s body welding unit as showing the most potential here. Looking further ahead, continued sector growth will make maintenance and service another area of growth although Tolomelli predicts this will take more time. “We must first look to produce more products rather than maintain our current production level,” he states. “We have all the opportunities to grow and develop here in Mexico.”