MEXICO CITY — Robin A. Hunt, president and owner of H&W Plastics Inc., got an up-close look at the plastics industry in Mexico.
Hunt visited eight injection molding companies in Mexico City in two days as part of a U.S. Small Business Administration trade mission. She saw technology ranging from Jurassic to modern.
There was ``a very interesting, 29-year-old, manual injection molding machine,'' she said.
``A gentleman poured a teaspoon of resin into a top of a funnel, which came down a little pipe, which was heated, and he put the mold in between a vice and turned a giant wheel — actually stood on top of it and with his weight, he weighed about 100 pounds — [which] closed the vice on the mold. The material went through and out came this part,'' she said, showing a 21/2-inch-long plastic screw.
The company has about seven manual presses, while less than 10 feet away is a 2-week-old, computer-controlled Demag press. The Mexican company is bringing in machines almost on a monthly basis to keep up with demand.
``So it was from the cave era to the highest technology within 10 feet of each other,'' she said.
Hunt was the only plastics industry representative to participate in the March 7-12 trade mission to Mexico City and Guadalajara. The goal of the mission was to introduce U.S. companies to their counterparts in Mexico, in the hopes of increasing direct trade and business among small firms.
H&W Plastics, based in Bowling Green, Ky., is a 41/2-year-old thermoplastic injection molder. The company has 50 employees and a 26,000-square-foot plant.
Automotive parts account for about 70 percent of its current business, with the rest split between a range of industrial and consumer products. The company is pursuing more electronics work. H&W is aiming for work from original equipment manufacturers that want to do more business with women-owned suppliers.
Hunt left Mexico with plans that may lead to one or two joint ventures with companies in Mexico City and Guadalajara, she said. She declined to identify the firms.
Hunt was impressed with the growth of the Mexican companies she visited.
``Out of the three that I went to Monday, all were apologizing because their facilities were in such disarray since they were all growing, expanding physically. Almost every one of them was adding new machinery,'' she said, and some were building additional warehouse space.
Before this first visit, Hunt had assumed costs in Mexico were lower. That was before she analyzed factors such as cycle times, the cost of imported materials, housing tax, vacation pay, busing in workers and training them.
``Their costs are not competitive; they're very equal to ours. They're not what the image is of cheaper parts.''
However, in value-added assembly, Mexico's processors are more competitive, she added.
The trade mission was set up by the Small Business Administration, with help from Mexico's trade ministry, Secretaria de Comercio y Fomento Industrial, and the development bank, Nacional Financiera.
The Mexican institutions are planning a similar mission to visit U.S. small businesses.