Mention of the name Felipe Parrilla in Mexican plastics circles is almost certain to elicit a nod of approval.
Over five decades, the 74-year-old has become an eminence in reinforced plastics in general and fiberglass in particular.
Parrilla is definitely not your typical resin distributor: In addition to being a chemical engineer and holding a doctorate in business administration, he also is a successful author.
First published in 1970, his book Resinas Poliéster Plasticos Reforzados has sold about 30,000 copies. The 14th reprint appeared in 1998.
Parrilla graduated as a chemical engineer from Mexico City's prestigious Ibero-American University before obtaining his doctorate at the city's equally renowned National Polytechnic Institute.
In the mid-1950s, Parrilla joined a small Mexican company called Interchemical de México, then moved in 1960 to the Mexico City sales office of Durham, N.C.-based coatings and composites supplier Reichold Inc.
Parrilla established his own firm, F. Parrilla y CompaÃ±ía SA de CV, 28 years ago.
In an interview with Plastics News, Parrilla contemplated the situation of molders of fiberglass and reinforced plastics in Mexico and admitted he doesn't like what he has seen recently.
The future looks bad, because reinforced plastic has been losing ground in Mexico, he said.
Fiberglass resins represent only 5 percent of the total plastic resins market and maybe even less, Parrilla said.
When he launched his company in 1980, such resins were at least 10 percent of the total resins market.
The big era was during Mexico's minibus boom in the 1970s. The buses' front and rear ends, seats and hoods were fiberglass. Now all of those components have been replaced by PVC, Parrilla said.
He gave another example: Prominent Mexican automotive accessory designer and manufacturer Air Design, a Parrilla company client, used to make spoilers and other components from fiberglass. Now it uses much more polyurethane than fiberglass, he said.
Another market that has been lost is that of domestic water storage tanks, superseded by rotational molded PVC, he said.
Parrilla said the construction and boat-building industries continue to use fiberglass and other reinforced plastics prolifically: The marine market, 20- to 26-foot yachts, for instance, continues to be strong.
However, the greatest opportunity for makers of fiberglass components in Mexico lies in water-treatment plants for municipal governments and hotels, he said.
Other opportunities lie in the construction of oil refineries, or in new orders from the makers of polyethylene and fiberglass blades used to power electricity generators.
The advantage [in new construction] is that anything made of fiberglass can be repaired easily, not like PVC. Fiberglass is more resistant to climatic conditions, Parrilla said.
As a distributor with about 300 customers of all sizes, Parrilla's client base is concentrated in Mexico City's huge metropolitan area, where he claims to have 15-20 percent of the market. He has some clients outside the area and hopes soon to export special resins that he formulates to Central America.
Over the last seven months of 2008, company sales fell by 30 percent, he said, and 2009 will be a challenging year. Many of our clients buy 50,000 pesos' [$3,500] worth of material per month, with two or three months to pay, Parrilla said.
He estimates that about 12,000 companies in Mexico still buy fiberglass resins.
Parrilla is a founder and former vice president of Mexico's reinforced plastics industry trade association, Aniplar, which closed several years ago. Economics partially caused Aniplar's failure, he said.
Some large companies sponsored us, but assistance at the meetings started to fall and the sponsoring companies could not continue to support us economically. Some [plastics] companies used [the meetings] to steal customers. It became very serious and was one of the reasons the association folded, Parrilla said.