CIUDAD JUºREZ, MEXICO - Thomson Consumer Electronics Inc. was one of the pioneers of the move to maquiladora assembly. In 1970, the Indianapolis firm located its first plant in Ciudad Ju rez. It followed that with a plant in Torreon, in Mexico's interior, and still another plant, in 1993, in Ciudad Ju rez. The newest plant includes a section with 600 employees molding TV cabinets and TV remote controls - front and back covers for the cabinets and tops, bottoms, and doors for the remote controls.
The TV cabinet fronts and backs - more than 100,000 pieces a day - simply move to another part of the Ju rez plant. The cabinet molding lines are aligned with the instrument, or television, lines.
``When the instrument line makes a change, we make a change on our cabinet finishing lines,'' said Dennis W. Campbell, plastics manager.
Campbell said the Ju rez plant, with a total of 5,500 employees, is the only one in Thomson Consumer Electronics that is so integrated.
``We do nearly all the manufacturing here,'' Campbell said. ``The picture tube comes in. We assemble our own chassis. They go into the cabinets with the tubes.''
The end products are sold under the RCA and General Electric brand names.
Campbell's plastics operation in the Ju rez plant has 46 presses with clamping forces of 150-1,500 tons.
Seventeen of the machines are used for TV cabinets and 24 mold the housings for TV remote controls, which are sent to the plant in Torreon for assembly.
The rest of the presses mold TV chassis trays at the rate of 3.8 million pieces a year.
Campbell is proud of his plant's leading-edge technology. For 15 months, the plant has used gas-assisted injection molding to reduce the weight of the cabinet fronts.
Thomson's other, 26-year-old Ju rez plant manufactures TV chassis, assembling the components on boards to be shipped to Indiana for final assembly into televisions.
Thomson is relatively unusual among U.S. companies in the area.
Most proprietary molders - Eureka and Hoover for example - have plastic injection molding facilities in El Paso from which they ship components across the border to their assembly plants in Ju rez.
The general consensus among local manufacturers is that Ju rez offers no advantages to plastic operations, since such operations are not labor-intensive enough to require the advantage of lower labor costs.
Why does Thomson maintain an operation on the Mexican side of the border?
Campbell contends that ``cost is the major reason for our being here. Synergism. Having one plant for all the operations reduces the need for incoming material having to be inspected for quality. By being in the same plant with our customer, we must be very sensitive to their needs. Also, shipping costs are reduced.''
However, Campbell admits there are some disadvantages to being on the Mexican side.
The cost of electricity, for example, is higher than in El Paso. Furthermore, the work force in Ju rez has a ``higher turnover than what would be comparable in the U.S. It appears to be a common problem for maquiladoras. Even so, our plant has a lower turnover than the area in general.''
Campbell attributes the lower turnover in his plant to the various programs the company has introduced, including holiday celebrations and intramural sports contests.
One program that he believes has significantly reduced absenteeism is a company-sponsored raffle for a house.
The company issues raffle tickets to employees for each month that they have perfect attendance.
``The more tickets they have, the better their chances of winning the house we raffle off at the end of the year.''
Campbell praised the Mexican workers.
``Our operating efficiencies are very good, compared to other operation,'' he said.
Campbell's work force - operating on a three-shift basis - is generally young.
``They are open-minded to change. With the right tools and training, they exceed my expectations. I've learned to stay out of the way.''
Thomson Consumer Electronics' parent company, Thomson Multimedia, was acquired earlier this month by Daewoo Group of Seoul, South Korea.
The deal made Daewoo the world's largest supplier of televisions.
Although analysts predicted it may result in layoffs at operations in the United States, company officials did not reveal plans for plants in the United States or Mexico.