Specialized Processes Require Specialized PeopleBy Alejandro Enríquez | Tue, 03/31/2020 - 17:12
Nuevo Leon is proving that the Mexican market is ready for specialized processes. The key ingredient is its experienced workforce that makes more companies willing to develop local suppliers and specialized labor. “The state of Nuevo Leon has an industrial heritage. In other regions, you will find people who have never before seen a stamping press. Here, you have generations with experience in the steel and metal-mechanics industry,” says Javier Gallegos, General Manager of Trans-Matic Precision Metal Forming.
Trans-Matic is a US-based company specialized in deep draw metal stamping, with facilities in China and Mexico. Its most recent US$12 million investment is its new plant in Nuevo Leon. The investment included land reserves to expand its operations when needed. The arrival of Trans-Matic to Nuevo Leon took place after the acquisition of a small company specialized in similar processes and with a broad portfolio that helped to ramp up Trans-Matic’s operations. “Many of our customers asked us to develop local facilities so we started to transfer our processes to the country as a commitment to our business and clients,” says Gallegos.
Specialized processes such as deep draw stamping require an equally specialized workforce. For Gallegos, Trans-Matic’s arrival to Nuevo Leon was strongly influenced by the fact that the company being acquired had the expertise in metal-mechanic production, but more was needed. “Having a well-experienced workforce is the first step. Once they get to the plant, we need to train them to develop their capabilities. We are talking about tolerances of a fraction of a millimeter for a piece that has to be formed instead of machined,” Gallegos says. “We rely a great deal on people’s craftsmanship. We need a person who knows how to evaluate every single piece.”
To ensure the skills it requires, Trans-Matic has developed a local apprenticeship program. “Having trainees is an investment. We started by replicating Trans-Matic’s US apprenticeship model with local technical schools and technological universities. It has brought very good results,” Gallegos says. When a trainee completes the program, they visit the company’s Michigan headquarters to gain real-life experience in the field. “Here, they also rotate through all our production areas, from quality to engineering and production,” he adds.
Given their expertise, specialized companies can offer added engineering design services apart from production. In fact, having the ability to offer a diversified portfolio can be a major differentiator. “In some cases, we suggest alternative materials that help the forming process. In this sense, we work hand-in-hand with our customers and some have even asked us to help them from the design stage” Gallegos says.
Sometimes particular customer specifications put certain segments of the industry out of reach for Mexican suppliers, as is the case for steel. “In our case, we might not be requiring Advanced High-Strength Steel (AHSS), but we are not using commercial steel either,” Gallegos says. For stamping companies, steel performance, thickness and formability are non-negotiable characteristics, which has made it difficult to find Mexican suppliers. Thus, it has become increasingly important to develop a local supplier base that we can partner with given our technical expertise.
However, developing local suppliers in a state with an industrial heritage can be easier than in other regions. “Trans-Matic chose to develop a local supplier given that the volume of manufactured pieces for thermal treatment is not so attractive for large companies,” said Gallegos. The company found a family-owned business and developed its capacities, strengthening its structure and reducing PPMs. “The challenge is to improve SMEs’ management structure,” he says.
Nuevo Leon’s industrial heritage, as well as Trans-Matic’s willingness to develop local expertise and local suppliers, has made the company an example of how specialized processes can be developed in Mexico in an easier and faster way.