MEXICO CITY — A small Mexico City-based injection molder with 50 employees is gearing up to compete with U.S.-based maquiladora suppliers in northern Mexico.
If plans stay on schedule, by January Tecnologica Plastico Mecanica SA de CV will have a new plant, called Sosa Molding Plastics, in Chihuahua.
``The Mexico City plant is already operating at 100 percent capacity with 34 million parts produced per year,'' Juan A. Sosa Bravo, TPM's operations manager and one of its owners, said in a recent interview at the company's Mexico City headquarters plant.
Annual sales increased from $1.24 million in 1995 to $2.15 million in 1996, according to Plastics News' survey of North American injection molders.
Sosa said that when he looks ahead three years, he believes the company has to expand. He said he expects Chihuahua to become a major force in the country — as evidenced by U.S. original equipment manufacturers such as Motorola Inc. of Schaumburg, Ill., already building operations there.
TPM has a distribution center in Chihuahua for the roughly 75 percent of its production that goes to exports, and for its three main maquiladora clients: Honeywell Inc. of Minneapolis, Emerson Electric Co. of St. Louis, and Coleman Co. Inc. of Wichita, Kan.
The proposed 37,600-square-foot Chihuahua plant will be the company's second production facility. The first phase will include four presses with clamping forces of 100-300 tons. A second, four-press phase is scheduled for 1999 and, depending on the market, eight more machines will be added after 2000.
``This will triple production capacity compared to what we have now,'' said projects manager Daniel Diaz de Castillo.
Sosa clearly believes his competitors in Chihuahua will be U.S firms, not Mexican. But TPM already has experienced a decade of competition in the export market.
Sosa and his brothers Sergio and Alberto inherited TPM and its two employees upon their father's death in 1984. They immediately set about a strategy to attack export markets, because reoccurring economic crises periodically affected the local market.
``Before signing a contract, Americans and other foreigners came to see how our plant worked. Now we can compete with plastic parts made by Germans and Japanese and earn in dollars,'' Sosa said.
TPM won Mexico's 1996 National Export Prize in the category for medium-sized firms. Sosa and TPM now are featured in spots on local television with the message that Mexican firms can compete internationally.
In contrast to many Mexican plastics companies, all of TPM's presses are less than three years old. Most are Italian-made Negri-Bossi models; the presses have 25-150 tons of clamping force.
Each work station has a quality- control chart to monitor production, and the internal rejection rate is maintained at about 1 percent. As production increased earlier this year, the rate increased to 1.19 percent, warrant- ing a board of directors meeting and a concentrated effort to drop that rate by 10 percent per month, Diaz said.
As a supplier, TPM maintains its standards under those of its main clients. For example, Honeywell requests a 300 parts-per-million rejection rate, but TPM aims for 20 parts per million, Diaz said.
Being in Mexico does not drop prices automatically, which often surprises foreign companies, according to Sosa. The only advantage is that wages are lower compared to the United States, though even so, he maintains he has to pay his workers a decent wage.
``How can we talk about `total quality' if there is no human quality, if the technology is obsolete, if there are no work systems, if my workers are dying of hunger?'' he said.
Sosa said that the strategy pays off.
``Our company is known for being able to change the molds quickly — in about 20 minutes,'' Diaz said.
Other companies in Mexico may take hours, but TPM maintains a staffing level that permits it to be more agile in filling orders and doing short runs. The plant has a staff of about 50, but recently expanded to 81 employees as some are being trained for the Chihuahua plant, Diaz added.
Sosa said that neither ``foreign or Mexican partners are in the works.'' He re-invests as much as possible in the company, and admitted he is trying to finance the Chihuahua plant with a mix of government programs and the plant's own resources. But the plan is to remain an independent 100 percent Mexican firm.
``I fell in love with plastic,'' Sosa admits. ``My goal is not to make money for the Sosa family, but to do a good job and create well-being for the community and the workers that make up the TPM family.''