CHICAGO — With the clear goal of increasing product penetration in the United States, the association of Portuguese mold producers, Cefamol, sent a delegation of 12 tool manufacturers to Plastics USA.
Three other mold makers from Portugal came on their own to the Oct. 6-8 trade show in Chicago.
``This is the first time the association has organized a massive presence at a North American fair,'' said Manuel Oliveira, Cefamol's assistant director.
With roughly 250 manufacturers, the Portuguese mold industry generates annual sales of US$270 million, of which 90 percent comes from exports. The United States and Canada are the main buyers, together accounting for 19 percent of Portugal's exports in 1997.
``We are here in order to open new doors and show local molders that, besides offering good prices, we also have quality and technology,'' Oliveira said.
At Cefamol's booth, a poster informed visitors that big-name clients of molders in Portugal include Tupperware, Mercedes-Benz, Electrolux, General Motors, Nokia and Unilever.
Presently, Portuguese tools can be delivered in the United States at prices about 10 percent lower than those offered by local manufacturers, said Cefamol Vice President Leonel Gomes da Costa. Costa owns LN-moldes Lda. of Maceira, Portugal, which focuses on technical parts.
Pedro Colaco, executive assistant manager at Tecmolde Lda., a mold-engineering firm based in Marinha Grande, Portugal, and also present at the Chicago show, said the competitive price advantage can reach 30 percent, according to feedback from his clients.
``If you want a Class A mold, you don't have many choices where to buy — you can go to Japan, Europe, the U.S. and a few companies in Taiwan. But when you start comparing prices, Portugal has the best cost-to-benefit ratio around.''
Shipments to North America represent 60 percent of LN's mold business. The company's sales should reach US$4.5 million in 1998, Costa said.
``Exports to the United States have increased 40 percent in the last two years, mainly due to a capacity expansion investment of US$1.5 million during said period.''
During the next two years, the company plans to allocate another US$1 million to upgrade technology. That will strengthen its position as a maker of highly complex tools for precision parts, such as electrical connectors.
Somoplaste Lda. of Martinganca, Portugal, also has invested in reinforcing its technical competence by adding four new computer-aided-design stations to the nine it already possessed. Somoplaste specializes in large molds up to 40 tons and dedicates 50 percent of its activities to processors in the United States, such as Rubbermaid and Sunshine, both active in the housewares sector.
``Currently, the Portuguese toolmaking industry is betting on the reduction of delivery-time schedules in order to meet the increasing demands of clients,'' Oliveira said.
``In practice, this occurs by means of major investments in high-speed machining and rapid prototyping, as well as production-capacity increases.''
Such is the case of Marinha Grande-based Famolde Lda., which plans to invest US$1 million to expand its facility next year and add a rapid prototyping center.
The prototyping equipment can reduce delivery times for tools by four weeks, according to Famolde President Joaquim Martins.