Querétaro, Mexico — French robotics specialist Sepro Group has become the first tenant at Avance Industrial SA de CV's highly sophisticated, $3 million technical center, which the Mexican independent machinery distributor opened in mid-2018.
"We should move to the facility at the beginning of the second quarter," Xavier Espaullard, Sepro Robótica de México's sales director, told Plastics News.
Avance Industrial, which claims to be Sumitomo (SHI) Demag Plastics Machinery GmbH's best-selling overseas representative and also represents several major auxiliary equipment makers, built the center over 11 months.
It stands on 57,586 square feet on the southern edge of Querétaro in central Mexico.
The building covers 28,631 square feet, and Avance Industrial occupies 56.4 percent of it. The remaining space will be lent to Sepro and another tenant for at least five years, helping the Mexican company defray costs.
Sepro will occupy 3,380 square feet of industrial space and 1,722 square feet of the office area, Alexander Kramer, Avance Industrial's technical director, said in an interview at the site. Kramer is the son of company founder and Managing Director Peter Kramer.
Founded in 1963, the company's auxiliary equipment representations include cooling experts Frigel Firenze SpA, raw materials supplier Motan-Colortronic GmbH and temperature-control specialist Regloplas AG, of Switzerland.
The two Kramers said Avance Industrial needed the facility to keep up with its competitors. KraussMaffei Technologies GmbH, Engel Holding GmbH and Arburg GmbH + Co. KG have all launched similar operations in the same area in the past decade.
"We were behind our competitors" in terms of demonstration, training and service facilities, said Alexander Kramer. "Now we are probably the only independent company in Mexico with a facility like this. Our partners are very pleased with what we have done."
One German visitor, he said, had told him that "we don't even have facilities like this in Germany."
The center is open to Avance Industrial customers and a variety of technological institutions for technical training, demonstration and servicing purposes.
The company has no plans to vacate its headquarters south of the Mexican capital, where it employs 40.
"We think it unwise not to be in the Mexico City metropolitan area," Peter Kramer said in an interview when Plastics News first reported on the technical center project.
However, Alexander Kramer said Avance Industrial's sales force is "my father, me and two other people. The model has to change, and [we need] to have more salespeople. The idea is that they will be here [in Querétaro]."
"I think my father will never retire," he added. "He's always working and he loves to work. He works at least as much as me and probably more."
The center, which employs a permanent staff of seven, can accommodate injection molding machines with a clamping force of up to 1,500 tons. It has six unloading bays and a 32-ton, 55-foot-wide crane, which moves on rails that are 236 feet long.
"We have Sepro here because of the crane," said Alexander Kramer, adding that a priority when designing the building was to ensure heavy machines could be taken in and out with minimum fuss. The technical training area is fitted with a Google Home system of smart speakers as well as with video cameras and acoustic wall panels and flooring.
Querétaro is located in the Bajío region of Mexico, which, Peter Kramer said, "is growing faster than any other industrial area of Mexico. Many of our customers are here."
Most of the customers are in the automotive and packaging industries. According to Peter Kramer, the company has 300 active customers. "We have sold more than 3,000 machines, at least 80 percent of which have been injection molding machines," he said.
A native of Germany's Baltic coast region, Kramer was a 20-year-old university graduate in foreign trade when he arrived in Mexico.
"I thought then that plastics had a big future. Nowadays, I think the future is even greater than I thought then. I think the future is enormous," he said.
According to Espaullard, Sepro will house its own tech center, including a training room with three robots, a spare parts warehouse and a permanent stock of 10-12 robots for sale, within the Avance Industrial facility.
The company employs nine engineers in Mexico, and they will have offices and a meeting room at the center. It has taken on "almost 250 customers since arriving" in the country in 2011, he added.
The move to the Avance Industrial facility would allow Sepro to develop synergies between the company and Sumitomo Demag, its global partner, said Espaullard.
"The project led by Mr. Kramer, [which is] state of the art, in our opinion, and the ideal location of Querétaro, made sense to us as every big [plastics industry] player is now present in Querétaro."
Asked about the state of the plastics industry in Mexico, which a couple of years ago Sepro said was booming, Espaullard said:
"We are now reaching a kind of plateau, but everybody knows that the car industry goes in cycles. As most global, big players in the plastics industry dedicated to the car industry are in the [Mexican] market, we have no doubt it [the plastics industry] will still grow and support our own growth."
Headquartered in La Roche Sur Yon, western France, Sepro manufactures three-, five- and six-axis robots for injection molding presses.
The Mexican robotics market for injection molding machines is about 1,000 units a year, Espaullard estimated, "and we have a 25 percent market share."