Injection molding machinery makers had high hopes during the 2006 Plastimagen trade show in Mexico City, where the magic word was vendido - it sold - as machines found new homes in Mexican processing plants for end markets including automotive, pharmaceutical and white goods.
Officials agreed that the Mexican market is embracing better technology as U.S. and European firms support a miniwave of reinvestment in the region.
Krauss-Maffei Mexico in Atizapan de Zaragoza, for example, was running an all-electric press with 176 tons of clamping force and a side-entry robot. The machine was sold to a processor in Monterrey, Mexico. During the show, Krauss-Maffei announced that it relocated an official from Germany to Mexico just days before the start of Plastimagen. Ralf Knobloch now is sales manager for cross-border customers.
``At the beginning, [firms] moved to the maquiladora region and then to China,'' said Hector Moreno, general manager of Krauss-Maffei Mexico, in a March 30 interview at Plastimagen. ``Now, they want to be sure that the supplier of product will be close to them. We have a very strong service center here in Mexico. We are able to develop the whole Latin American market.''
Officials of Malterdingen, Germany-based Ferromatik Milacron Maschinenbau GmbH said they expect more Mexican business in consumer goods, especially in two-component molding.
``This year started very, very good,'' said Milacron's Hans Steupert, sales director for Western Europe and North America, in a March 29 interview. ``The peso has been strong, gaining and gaining value.''
The company now has General Manager Gabriel Leal, sales manager Alfredo Gunther and a group of three service technicians in Mexico.
``Through our new local presence, we hope to participate more strongly in one of the most important markets of the plastics industry,'' Steupert said. The company had its K-Tec series machine on display and recently sold one to a caps and closures maker.
Compared with Plastimagen in 2004, officials reported more demand for automation.
``Automation was impossible to sell to Mexico a few years ago,'' said Peter Kramer, general manager of Avance Industrial SA of Mexico City, Demag Plastics Group's machinery distributor for Mexico. ``But higher quality is demanded now.
``It's so wonderful to get out of one production cell a whole unit,'' he said of the in-mold-labeled container lid and base being produced from one cell at his firm's booth. The cell also stacked the product, incorporating a Demag El-Exis 165-ton hybrid machine and Beck Automation's Glaro Form Automation Robot.
Negri Bossi SpA of Milan, Italy, was showcasing its Candel series of fully electric machines, offered in clamping forces of 77-937 tons.
``Mexico is a major market for Negri Bossi,'' said Mario Merlini, area manager. ``Sacmi [Negri Bossi's parent company] sees Latin America as an expanding point. The group will be expanding here. We see Mexico as a very quickly developing country. We are preparing a structure that will meet the demands, including expanding with a service and spare parts center in Costa Rica.''
Negri Bossi had a plant in Mexico in the 1980s but closed it, Merlini said. It has worked with a dealer in Mexico.
``Now we want to take charge of the market, improving our presence and offering technology,'' he said. ``There's a large population that needs commodities, needs things made of plastics. It's rapidly industrializing.''
Equipment firm HTM of Cuauhtemoc, Mexico, has started building its own injection presses in China to serve the Mexican market after selling other brands of equipment, with consumption focused on small-ton machines.
``I think with restructuring of U.S. manufacturing, Mexico will benefit,'' said HTM President Javier Perez.
Still, the market isn't as robust as it once was. According to officials with Battenfeld Gloucester Engineering Co. of Gloucester, Mass., roughly 400 injection presses are sold into the Mexican market each year.
``The best time was when the requirement of the [Mexican] market was 650 units'' per year, said Juan Antonio Garrido Diaz, manager of Battenfeld Iberica SA in Barcelona, Spain. But the average volume for the past two years has been 400 machines. Automotive demand is driving investment by U.S. firms, and high-tech plant configurations will be required with that market.
Juan Carlos Lachica, general director of Industrias Plasticas L y H SA de CV, said being in or near the North American Free Trade Agreement region should be an advantage. But machinery makers should always be on guard.
``We have to be careful,'' said Lachica of the Naucalpan, Mexico-based firm that distributes Arburg machinery. ``We don't have so much of an advantage.''
He added that China has the infrastructure to react more quickly than Mexico, citing an example from the mold-making industry:
``We talk about months [in lead time]. They talk about hours,'' he said.