Irrigation equipment supplier Hunter Industries Inc. is investing $14.5 million for future manufacturing needs at a technology-showcase site in Tijuana, Mexico.
Its new maquiladora, Industrias Hunter Srl CV, has installed 16 new injection molding presses and started an extensive hiring and training program.
``From a production standpoint, we are ready, but we are holding off until May,'' when valve production will begin, plant manager Francisco Tovar said by telephone.
Extensive planning preceded the plant. In 1999, Hunter Industries hired Tovar, a Tijuana native, to work through the multiple issues to set up the facility. He reports to Carlos Gallastegui, Hunter vice president of manufacturing, at company headquarters in San Marcos, Calif.
A year was spent with architects and system designers. ``Everything is top-of-the-line,'' Tovar said.
Hunter purchased 5.7 acres for $1.5 million and contracted with Alepo Construcciones to build what it said is an environmentally friendly, 120,000-square-foot facility for $5.5 million in 2003. Intelligent features control lighting, electrical, chiller, compressor, air conditioning and fire detection systems, as well as molding machines.
The facility incorporates California-type standards for earthquake protection and U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration criteria for working conditions. Corporate managers will be able to monitor any aspect of the operation remotely, at any time, from any Web-connected computer.
The company invested $7.5 million in equipment for the Tijuana plant. The presses in Tijuana include nine Nissei machines - four with 197 tons of clamping force each and five with 309 tons - and seven Arburgs - three of 55 tons and four of 110 tons.
Currently, Hunter has more than 125 molding machines in San Marcos and more than 30 in a Cary, N.C., plant.
San Marcos employees will train new employees at the Tijuana plant before manufacturing begins. Initially, about 10 workers will translate materials into Spanish and take steps to comply with Mexican regulations. About 110 employees are slated for phase-one operations beginning in May. When the plant is fully developed, probably during 2006, it will employ about 300, Tovar estimated.
Hunter Industries, a privately owned company that employs about 1,200, was founded by Edwin J. Hunter, a legendary inventor and entrepreneur and plastics advocate. Hunter experimented with a tensiometer-based moisture sensor that automatically controlled irrigation. In 1952, he formed Moist-O-Matic Co. Hunter envisioned irrigation applications for thermoplastics at a time when all sprinkler heads were made of brass. Toro Co. purchased Moist-O-Matic in 1962 and retained Hunter as director of design and development.
In 1981, he founded Hunter Industries as a new business, developed a popular rotary sprinkler and created gear-driven rotors, controllers, valves, sprays and accessories. He retired in 1994 and died in 1998 at the age of 80.