MONTERREY, MEXICO - At Kodak de Mexico SA de CV, the task ofmaking a better camera has required upgrades in computer controls, paint technology and mold design. But, perhaps most importantly, it also has demanded a better employee.
At the company's molding and assembly operation in Monterrey, housed in three buildings in an outlying industrial park, Kodak molds parts for its Cameo EX and Star 535 cameras. Almost all of the production is dedicat-ed to export markets.
In an area where turnover among production personnel is chronically high, Kodak has built a loyal work force by paying good wages, investing in training and pushing authority down to the factory floor, said Gerson Heiderich, operations manager for plastic molding in Monterrey.
``They are accepting that and they are performing,'' he said in an April 25 plant interview.
It is a work force that requires, at times, much training, but one Heiderich also describes as honest and hard working. Kodak uses visual aids in the plant and standardized written procedures to ensure uniformity in its production processes.
``You have to spend a lot of time with them to make sure they understand the results,'' Heiderich said. ``But they don't hide anything from you. They have good ethics.''
Kodak pays a weekly wage - about $35 for a machine operator - that is above market rates, he said; that is a key factor in keeping employees loyal.
In the heavily industrialized city of Monterrey, where new factories are opening regularly, the competition for good workers is keen.
``The guy's going to change jobs for $5 because that's a lot of money to him,'' he said.
In the first four months of this year, only three employees out of 85 in the plastics operation left the firm, an extremely low turnover rate for the local economy.
In the past 18 months, the plant had zero turnover among production supervisors, toolmakers and mechanics, a group composed entirely of Mexicans.
The Monterrey camera manufacturing operation, now running on three shifts, includes 25 Van Dorn injection presses withclamping forces of 75-200 tons. A new paint line is in the works. Resin and tooling are sourced through Kodak's Precision Plastics plant in Rochester, N.Y.
In the late 1980s, the company was assembling cameras at a plant in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, a border city opposite Laredo, Texas. But Kodak was not happy with the transient work force, many of whom were staying only a short while in Nuevo Laredo and then continuing north to the United States.
In 1990, Kodak set up a molding operation in Monterrey, about 150 miles to the south, and then shifted assembly out of Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey. The company liked Monterrey for its stable and relatively better-educated production work force. And the city, home to some of the best engineering schools in Latin America, was a good place to find supervisors.
Heiderich, a Brazilian, arrived in Monterrey from Kodak Brasileira Comercio de Industria Ltda.'s SÃo Jose dos Campos, Brazil, plant in 1993 and was unsure of what to expect from the local work force. But with the results he has achieved, the questions have disappeared. And he is quick to dismiss any suggestion of a ``siesta culture'' existing in Monterrey.
``It has nothing to do with reality,'' he said.