Mold maker's abilities stand out in Mexico

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When Coca-Cola Co. needed a mold maker to develop a PET bottle for its Zero beverage in Mexico, a Mexican company stepped up and won the business.

``In the United States, the container is shorter. In Mexico, something slimmer was wanted,'' said Eduardo Barberena Domínguez, managing director of EB y Heise SA de CV of Mexico City.

The company ended up designing three 20.2-ounce versions of the same mold.

``Here in Mexico, we like to customize things,'' he said. The bottles vary according to region.

``We are doing very sophisticated work at the high end of the market and the more complicated [it is], the better,'' he said in an interview, fingering the diminutive register symbol pressed into a Zero bottle, thanks to a mold made on the company's high-tech machinery.

EB y Heise is a 50-50 joint venture between Heise Industries, of East Berlin, Conn., and Eduardo Barberena SA, founded by Barberena's grandfather in 1937.

Barberena runs it with his father, Eduardo Barberena Blasquez, at the same area where his grandfather started making container caps for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries 70 years ago.

With a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and master's in business administration, the youngest of the three Barberenas entered the family business in the early 1990s.

Within a year, it became clear to him that clients in Mexico were looking for quality packaging products, requiring molds of a far higher standard than those available locally.

``I realized we were never going to be able to compete in the market by ourselves. That is when we started looking for a partner.''

He approached Heise in late 1992 and discovered that the U.S. company was also attempting to enter into a joint venture south of the border.

A deal between the two was formalized the next year.

The company had one main mold-making machine and employed six people, including the young Barberena. In addition, Heise sent its second-shift foreman down to Mexico for 18 months in an advisory capacity.

``We made errors, but I think we've been pretty lucky,'' Barberena said. ``We've not made many big mistakes, and those we have made have been the ones you would expect to make when starting a new business.''

He's coy about the number of people EB y Heise employs and the company's two dozen or so other customers.

``Most of our competitors are foreign companies. They know who we are but don't know how large we are,'' he said, stressing he would not give out any information that would be useful to a rival.

The molds the company makes are mainly for the health-care, beverages, household cleaners, motor and edible oils industries. The majority of its customers are multinational companies, according to Barberena.

``There is no other company like us in Mexico, in technology terms. We help the customer, from product design all the way to the mold commissioning.

``The customer comes to us and sometimes he doesn't even know what sort of bottle he wants.''

No one in Mexico has his company's level of technological expertise, he said.

``This is the reason we formed the joint venture. Heise is one of the world's major blow molding mold manufacturers, while most shops in Mexico employ low technology.''

According to the executive, the company is ``large enough to have the infrastructure that we need but sufficiently flexible to tailor each product to the customer's needs.

``We can work on maybe 10 different projects simultaneously and sometimes our partners in the U.S. help us out, and vice versa.''

At EB y Heise all the design is done by computer.

``Clients are becoming very, very demanding and this is very good for us because we have the technology,'' Barberena said.

Everything stays electronic, helping the JV partners to be able to send designs back and forth between Mexico City and Connecticut.

The molds are made mostly of aluminum, with some stainless steel and copper alloy included.

On a tour of the plant Barberena pointed out equipment that included a year-old Doosan Daewoo multiaxis machine and a Mazak Integrex 30 multitasking lathe, purchased a year ago.

``I don't know of anyone else among mold makers in Mexico who is using a machine like this,'' he said of the Integrex 30. ``I don't think there are more than five or six companies in the world with this capability.''

The company is able to design and manufacture molds with uneven parting lines and long stroke. ``For a single mold block we have made [up to] 16 cavities,'' he said.

The price of a mold made by his company in Mexico ``is more or less the same as in the U.S., maybe a little less.''

He believes EB y Heise ``still has a lot of growth potential, although we've always been cautious about growth, doing it slowly but surely.''