Guillermo Fernández de la Garza
Executive Director
FUMEC
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View from the Top

Mexico-Us Cooperation on Research and Innovation

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 17:35

Q: FUMEC recently introduced the Innovation-Corps (I-Corps) program to Mexico. What have been the successes of the early stages of the program, and how has it evolved since its launch in March?

A: The launch of this program was strongly supported by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), as well as CONACYT and the Ministry of Economy in Mexico. The country has outstanding research teams in its universities and the program’s structure fits our strengths. The problem is that we do not have enough tools to support those teams during the research stages in order to facilitate new spinoffs, which is what the program is all about. There is a new Mexico-US collaboration framework, established after the agreements that President Peña Nieto and President Obama reached. These set up a high-level economic dialogue, the Mexico-US Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council (MUSEIC), as well as the bilateral forum FOBESII for innovation, higher education, and research.

Mexico has held a lot of research efforts in mechatronics and automation fields, as well as in new materials development and sophisticated modeling processes for vision analysis and automation improvements. We want to facilitate these processes through the I-Corps, boosting start-ups and helping companies form within the industry. These companies can profit from the experiences of research groups, through spinoffs that have both the knowledge and the know-how in terms of automotive operations.

Q: What are the key techniques that FUMEC is using in order to increase productivity and competitiveness through the Intelligent Manufacturing Initiative (IMI)?

A: The program covers a full range of different technologies. It can go from simple sensor and computer communication, to sophisticated automation tools related to data analysis, as well as new simulation systems that require deep process understanding. It is critical to have digital support for both the design and manufacturing logistics that come afterwards, and IMI helps companies gather digital information from products, processes, and all the different elements that are interacting with them. In addition, it links the different parts of the innovation chain through digital media.

FUMEC has been working with more than 100 of the most important companies in the Mexican automotive industry. We have incredibly technologically advanced companies like Alps Electric in Reynosa. In contrast, there are many other big companies that have limited intelligent manufacturing processes, which still use 20-year-old technology. If these companies improved such systems, they would have much less consumption in terms of energy, water, and economic waste. There are many things that will be visible in the short term regarding this program, especially in the next six to eight months. However, the bulk of the most important implementations will come over the next three or four years. Training and building relationships will be the easiest steps to take, since we already have a wonderful interaction with the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), which supports the US manufacturing efforts promoted by Obama. DMDII is one of the world leaders in intelligent manufacturing, and we are really happy to be close to them in terms of training, certifications, data gathering, and connectivity with technology suppliers.

Q: How have your TechPYME and TechBA programs evolved, and what success stories have you witnessed?

A: Through TechBA Michigan, we have been organizing a consortium with automation companies that are linked to IMI. For small companies it is very difficult to tackle big projects, and most of the time they have to partner up with others to do so. This allows them to combine expertise and financial strength, and that is precisely what we have been doing. However, we need to find ways to simplify the government’s mechanisms to promote consortia, establishing clear and effective rules.

Q: Looking forward to the future, how do you see the foundation growing with companies from the automotive sector in 2015?

A: The automotive industry’s growth has brought many opportunities for us. We are working with Mecaplast in Puebla on the development of advanced plastics for the automotive industry. Ford, on the other hand, is now interested not only in product, but also in process design. We must continue to nurture the network we have in the US and Canada, so we can create high value for Mexican companies.