MONTERREY, MEXICO - A mixture of technical know-how, enlightened management and several lucky breaks have helped Moldes y Pl sticos de Monterrey SA de CV become one of Mexico's top custom bottle and food container molders. The family-run firm, which began life in the 1970s as a simple machine shop in the northern industrial city of Monterrey, also has built itself an enviable reputation as an innovative and dependable integrated mold maker.
Mypsa got into plastics ``by accident,'' its owners said, and began by producing thin-walled polyethylene containers for Unilever's Anderson Clayton unit. It now has jumped into the PET bottle business.
Mypsa's general manager, Armando Alanis Sr., spotted an opportunity two years ago at the local Unilever subsidiary. On speculation, he invested in a new, high-tech Aoki SBlll-500LL-75 stretch blow molding machine.
The Mexican subsidiary of Unilever's food firm was pondering a switch from PVC to PET bottles for its cooking oils. Mypsa came up with a standard PET mold and PET bottle. To match other AC oil containers abroad, Mypsa put all its mold-making skills to the test and created a mold for a flat-sided
bottle design, said Alanis' son, Armando Jr.
``They really liked the bottles, their quality and price,'' said Armando Jr., who now manages Mypas's PET bottle stretch blow molding operation. ``They were asking for more and more bottles, and so we bought two more Aoki 500LLs.''
The PET bottle business has grown rapidly and today, the original three Aoki machines at Mypsa's 11,000-square-foot blow molding plant at Santa Catarina near Monterrey are dedicated solely to supplying Anderson Clayton. Mypsa located its plant in the developing industrial heartland of Santa Catarina to be close to AC's Monterrey plant. Since then, the Unilever unit decided to relocate its operation to Tultitl n, outside Mexico City.
Still, the molder remains a major supplier to AC, also providing all its thin-walled margarine tubs for the Mexican market, the senior Alanis said. Its main operation, including a sophisticated mold shop, is at a 43,000-square-foot plant in Monterrey.
Mypsa makes molds at rock-bottom price for selected customers as an added business incentive, Alanis Sr. said.
A year ago, his four sons launched their own bottle molding business - Reglo Pet SA de CV. It is an 11,000-square-foot facility next to the Mypsa unit at Santa Catarina. It is equipped with three more Aoki stretch blow machines -two SBlll-250LL-50s and a 250LL-50.
Mypsa and Reglo Pet together have invested around $4 million in Aoki equipment so far.
Reglo Pet has gathered a number of smaller PET bottle orders from local producers of Mexican salsa, cooking oils and pine oil cleaners.
It also has undertaken development of smaller bottle molds for products such as vinegar and salad dressing for AC.
Just what was that ``accident'' that turned a humble machine shop serving textile and petrochemical plants into a successful plastics molding business?
According to Alanis Sr., whose father and brother also were involved in starting the firm, they bought a 100-ton Italian Metal-mecanica injection machine to make special spare parts.
With the new machine, the firm began turning out PE tubes and cores for winding nylon filament, and in 1982, struck out into the seemingly simple business of molding thin-walled containers.
``We saw the demand and thought that it was an easy field, which was an error,'' said Alanis Sr. ``Thin-walled containers are very difficult, really.''
The newcomers faced a particularly steep and difficult learning curve in meeting the customer's precise demands.
``We started out making so many mistakes, trying to be our own mold designer. We made wrong controls - hot runners, wrong mold cavities and maintenance,'' he said.
The hard lessons were well-learned. Today, Mypsa offers mold design, mold making and a wide range of containers finished in six colors. The firm has embraced Japanese equipment technology. Apart from the Aoki machines, in 1994 it bought 10 Nissei injection presses, modified for high-speed output, with 80-360 tons of clamping force. They replaced older Van Dorns. Mypsa also invested in two six-color Van Dam dry offset printing presses.
Today, Mypsa consumes about 440,000 pounds of HDPE per month and 265,000 pounds of PET resin. Reglo Pet uses an additional 100,000 pounds per month.
Although Mypsa, with sales of about US$9 million, has seen business increase 10-15 percent annually as a result of its food packaging market, it has not been immune to the Mexican economic recession. Today, it is working at about 65 percent of capacity.
``This is our worst experience of any of the economic crises. The problem for people who don't export like us is much harder,'' Alanis Sr. said.
Longer-term, he noted, Mypsa may export its mold- and bottle-making businesses north of the border and even set up a plant in Texas.