UFE Inc. is adding a Monterrey, Mexico, plant and plans during the next several years to standardize its injection molding equipment by buying about 170 presses from Sumitomo Heavy Industries Ltd.
In mid-March, UFE acquired the 107,000-square-foot Monterrey facility and 23 Van Dorn presses from a U.S.-based original equipment manufacturer, said Lelan Jamison in a telephone interview. The OEM did captive molding and assembly there until early November.
Jamison, general manager of UFE's injection molding division, declined to reveal terms or identify the selling firm, which retained and relocated some other presses.
Eventually, UFE's injection molding and contract manufacturing divisions will share space in the Monterrey facility, the company's sixth site. The contract work will include program and logistics management and assembly.
``We plan to produce parts by the July-August time frame and hire some employees who worked in this molding facility,'' Jamison said. The acquired presses have 25-350 tons of clamping force.
UFE will train a core team of about 20 Monterrey employees during three months beginning in early May at the firm's Stillwater, Minn., plant and headquarters. For the start-up phase, the Mexico site may employ as many as 40 by late summer.
UFE will mold precision, close-tolerance parts for which there is a ``tremendous need in Mexico,'' Jamison said. Automotive, consumer electronics and telecommunications OEMs are moving assembly operations to Mexico as an alternative to setting up in Asia with time-zone and distance complications.
UFE knows those issues firsthand with its own molding plant in Singapore. The unit, UFE Pte. Ltd., is in the process of replacing all 18 of its presses with Sumitomo machines.
UFE analyzed available molding machines and selected Sumitomo machines for replacements and new capacity to accommodate OEMs' movement of work and to have better control over spare parts and maintenance costs. Purchases began in late 1997.
UFE owns about 170 presses, including the machines in Monterrey, and so far has purchased 20 Sumitomos. ``It will probably take us five years'' or longer to complete the program, Jamison said.
About eight of those new machines already reside at the firm's Singapore site. That 85-employee molding and mold-making operation, which UFE acquired in 1992, began last year to upgrade its aging stable of equipment, mostly Engels, according to William Kellogg, UFE Pte.'s program manager for America/Asia operations. Kellogg was interviewed March 26 at UFE's booth at the ASEANplas show in Singapore.
The clamping forces on the new machines will range from 50-180 tons, though the firm will keep an existing 250-ton Engel for testing bigger molds, according to Singapore-based sales engineer Alan Low.
Kellogg, son of UFE's longtime president Martin Kellogg, joined the company just more than a year ago from a research and product development post with Hewlett-Packard Co. in San Diego. He spent four months in the Stillwater headquarters before moving to Singapore seven months ago.
The Asian unit — which splits its annual sales of more than S$5 million (US$2.9 million) fairly evenly between molding and mold making — does a lot of precision molding, especially of tiny gears and components for use in computer disk drives and peripherals. The Penang, Malaysia, plant of Iomega Corp., a maker of computer data-storage products, is a big customer, Kellogg noted.
But Kellogg said the Singapore firm, which recently gained QS 9000 quality certification, also is targeting Southeast Asia's automotive market, both for molding and mold making. He also notes a growing local interest in molds for caps and closures.
UFE Pte.'s plant is designed to accommodate 20 presses, and Kellogg anticipates the need to expand the plant in the near future. He declined to estimate the cost of a capital-equipment investment program now under way.
Plastics News' 1998 listing of North America's injection molders ranked UFE Inc. 83rd with related sales of $57 million out of a corporate total of $80 million for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1998.
UFE also operates plants in Dresser and River Falls, Wis., and El Paso, Texas, and has technology licensees in Germany, South Korea and Spain. UFE closed a Brea, Calif., molding plant in 1996, moving the work to El Paso.