SµO PAULO, BRAZIL-Huge billboards visible from many of SÃo Paulo's crowded highways simply declare, in large, block letters, ``ARNO.'' Nothing else. Such is the name recognition of one of the largest injection molders in South America's largest country. Arno SA, at least in consumer-recognition terms, is the Rubbermaid Inc. of Brazil.
Founded 50 years ago in SÃo Paulo by JoÃo Arno to make blenders and floor polishers, the privately held firm has grown into a US$300 million Latin American powerhouse in the manufacture of electrical home appliances. The firm's president, 64-year-old Felippe Arnstein Arno, is the founder's older son.
The ISO 9001-certified Arno today runs 200 injection presses under one roof, consuming more than 2.2 million pounds of resin per month. The company churns out 673 plastic components that end up in more than 70 different finished products.
The firm's portfolio includes blenders, coffee makers, toasters, mixers, food processors, hair dryers, electric irons, floor polishers, washing machines, desk fans and power tools - nearly all prominently carrying the Arno brand name.
The company, which limits its plastics processing exclusively to injection molding, recently invested US$2.7 million to buy 13 new injection presses - two 35-ton models and five 25-tonners from Germany's Mannesmann Demag, plus six 550-ton Sandretto models fromItaly. Arno, currently operating injection presses with clamping forces of 25-1,375 tons, expects the Demags to arrive this month, and the Sandrettos in February.
But Arno is more than plastics. The firm also cuts and stamps steel - lots of it.
Walter M rcio Cunha, technical and manufacturing director, estimates that Arno consumes about 2.65 million pounds of steel per month to produce motor laminations, motor endbrackets and other structural components.
The company employs 4,000, of which 650 work in the sprawling injection molding department that covers more than 86,000 square feet in one ofArno's five facilities. Another 160 are engaged in mold making and mold design, said Cunha, noting that the company produces on average 50 injection molds a year for in-house use.
Arno, with a view to speeding the launch of new products, has installed integrated computer-aided engineering, design and manufacturing systems used by some 200 engineers and technicians to make the company's molds and tooling.
A guided tour of the injection facility in late May by Arno supply manager Surgio G. Campo-darve revealed the company'sstrong interest in further automating the production process. Forty-seven injection presses currently are equipped with robots, and Cunha confirmed that the firm just spent US$400,000 to buy seven Star Seiki robots from Japan.
Without citing actual numbers, he also noted that Arno continues to invest heavily in new machines for the toolmaking department.
Much lower inflation and a more stable Brazilian economy has helped firms such as Arno, which rely heavily on consumer spending. The company's sales in 1992 dropped sharply to US$232 million from US$281 million the previous year, before rebounding to US$279 million and climbing a further 9 percent last year, to US$304 million.
Exports account for just 8 percent of Arno's sales, with most of those exports going to other South American markets.
In addition to automating and upgrading its injection process, Arno is striving to innovate on the materials and applications front. Though it uses some ABS, polystyrene, styrene acrylonitrile and nylon resins, Arno is a polypropylene resin salesperson's dream. Every month it consumes more than 1.5 million pounds of the material - both homopolymer and copolymer.
``At the present time,'' Cunha said, ``we are looking for a polypropylene resin which has the majority of the properties of copolymer with the same price as homopolymer.
``We are already applying polypropylene random copolymer instead of SAN to produce coffee-maker and blender carafes, but we could extend the application if we could have it with better transparency.''
The Arno executive said that the firm already successfully has replaced ABS with reinforced PP in many of its components.
``The next step,'' he said, ``is to find a new polypropylene resin to replace the polypropylene compounds to take advantage of having smaller wall thickness.''
One needs spend only a little time with the intense, fast-talking Campodarve to get the sense that, no matter what advances Arno makes, management is not likely to become complacent.
``We have to be creative,'' Campodarve said of the firm's constant efforts to find new materials solutions. ``It's a question of surviving or not.''