MEXICO CITY — With sales up 50 percent each year, and capacity increasing along with it, EB-Heise SA de CV is settling into a leading position in blow mold tool manufacturing in Mexico.
``We are not aware of any direct competition,'' said Eduardo Barberena, general manager of EB-Heise, a joint venture formed in 1994 between his father's company, EBSA, and East Berlin, Conn.-based Heise Industries Inc.
EB-Heise acts as the Latin American division of the U.S. firm, permitting the company to offer the latest mold-making technology to the Mexican market.
The local market for blow molds does not have a good reputation, in delivery time or in quality, Barberena said in an interview Oct. 31 at the Mexico City plant.
Processors frequently buy imported molds, along with machinery, from as far away as Germany.
``But for a second mold, they were very expensive and took up to 20 weeks to be delivered,'' he said.
EB-Heise now delivers blow molds to its Mexican customers in four to six weeks. Its clients produce soft drinks and bottled water, personal-care products like shampoos, and motor oil. Customers include several local Pepsi and Coca-Cola bottlers.
The unit's sales have increased 50 percent each year since it started, with the exception of 1995, and the firm has placed annual orders to buy more equipment or expand capacity.
``Floor space was tripled in March this year from 4,000 square feet to 12,000 square feet,'' Barberena said.
``Financially, the company is in a good situation,'' he said, adding that it does not have a debt problem and has been reaching its goals. Barberena declined to give more detailed information on sales or profit.
His grandfather started EBSA making candles in 1937, then made the firm one of the first in the plastics industry in Mexico. The company tore down the last of its original buildings to make room for the 1997 expansion.
``Years ago, a doctor didn't have to specialize, and neither were our processes,'' Barberena's father, Eduardo, added during a tour of the plant. In plastics, the company began by molding caps for shampoo bottles. The firm also did blow molding for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.
``There was always a workshop to make and maintain the molds,'' Eduardo Barberena said, adding that ``at one point, we began to see that it was important to make molds in Mexico'' given the high cost of imported molds.
The firm dove into mold making in 1992, but soon realized that it needed a partner that had the latest technology to set the firm apart from other local suppliers.
Choosing from information collected on mold manufacturers at industry shows, EBSA sent a fax to Heise Industries. President Tad Heise Jr. was looking for a Mexican partner, and replied the next day. The joint venture was set up in 1993, and operating by January 1994.
Starting just before Mexico's worst economic crisis in 60 years proved to be beneficial, even given the problems they faced. Three days before the peso fell in December, a new shipment of equipment left for Mexico. By then there was no turning back, the younger Barberena said.
After the peso fell, ``people were less willing to order molds as usual from the United States, Europe, or Canada. This, in a certain way, helped us as we were more established, our prices were more competitive and people were more comfortable working with someone nationally,'' he said.
Heise engineers in East Berlin design molds for the local venture; workers in Mexico City can make only simple modifications to an existing design. For production, the computer-aided design and manufacturing systems are hooked up by an intranet between the two plants so that the mold is manufactured in Mexico exactly to the U.S. engineers' specifications.
Both plants have a high-speed, computer numerically controlled horizontal machining center and can produce molds that have enough shine that they bypass the need to hand polish the cavities. ``If polish is needed, it still has to be done by hand,'' Barberena said.
The Mexico City plant, which has 16 employees, can fill about 30 job orders per year. Its tools include 24-cavity molds used to produce 26,000 soft drink bottles per hour.
One reason the company focuses on blow mold manufacturing, where employees need more training, is that in injection molding there is more competition, with four or five plants that turn out good molds in Mexico City and Guadalajara, he said.
Barberena also pointed out that several of his employees participate in an apprentice program, working part time as they finish vocational high school. Many continue in the program to study for advanced degrees in engineering.
``It takes almost five years to fully train my employees, and I have to take care the competition doesn't take them away from me,'' he joked.
EB-Heise is confident some markets will continue to grow, such as molds for PET bottles. The firm also is exploring business farther south, in countries including Guatemala, Colombia and Chile.