SAN DIEGO - Putting a manufacturing organization through a complete change in operating philosophy is a daunting task, but for Mattel Toys' Tijuana, Mexico, molding operation the need for revolution was also a matter of survival. ``In the late 1980s, Mattel Tijuana was facing a decision,'' according to Gregory Lehr, director of engineering. ``Essentially either change or get out of Mexico because it wasn't working.''
The company decided to abandon what it calls centralized manufacturing.
Under that system, Mattel Tijuana - known as Mabamex SA - had been simply a place where cheap labor assembled products designed and tooled elsewhere. Even basic administrative functions, such as production scheduling or accounts payable, were handled elsewhere in the company.
Then came decentralized manufacturing, where Mattel's two Mabamex plants took control of the various manufacturing functions, including scheduling, purchasing and mold building. A key ingredient in this system was empowering employees to make decisions and take responsibility. This, Lehr said, was an ``absolute'' element in the decentralized plan.
The result, Lehr said, was ``one of the bright stories'' within Mattel. Lehr described the turnaround at the MexCon 96 conference in San Diego.
During 1990-95, the labor cost of manufacturing in Tijuana declined from $14.80 an hour to $11.32.
Inventory was sharply reduced, scheduling improved and quality rejects went from 2.5 percent to 0.4 percent. Lehr said Tijuana's throughput was now 11/2 days from raw material to finished product.
The turnaround also has made the Tijuana operation more competitive with other Mattel plants for new business.
``We literally compete on a yearly basis with the other facilities,'' Lehr said.
At the same time, Mattel was building what Lehr calls one of the biggest mold shops in Mexico. Tijuana, which builds its own tools and also supplies Mattel's plant in Monterrey, Mexico, produces 20 molds per month, he said.
During the past four years, Mattel has recruited some 20 toolmakers from India to work in Tijuana.
The shop also employs about 60 Mexican nationals, including apprentices.
``It's been a very, very fast ramp up,'' Lehr said of the mold shop.
Depending on seasonal fluctuations, anywhere from 1,500-2,800 people are employed at Mattel Tijuana's two main plants. Core products in Tijuana include Barbie doll accessories, Fisher-Price toys, See 'n Say, Frisbee and Boogie Body Boards.
The injection molding operation includes 137 presses with clamping forces as great as 500 tons.
Mattel Tijuana also does assembly, decoration, rotomolding and wire harnesses.