Mexico’s Plastics Sector Applies Technology to Compete Globally

Moving past cheap labor to high technology, Mexico’s evolution as a plastics hub continues apace.

Walter Jungwirth’s career has now included two forays into Mexico and the decade plus between the stints feels like stays in two entirely different countries for the long tenured Engel manager. “I traveled extensively in Mexico from 2003 to 2005,” Jungwirth, managing director of Engel’s Mexican subsidiary in Querétaro said. The company’s first operation in the country opened in 1996. “I just recently came back, and the changes I noticed here in plastics make me believe the industry in Mexico can compete with any other plastic industry in the world.”

Jungwirth spoke at Plastics Technology México’s recently completed live conference and exhibit, Injection 360°, running in late September in Querétaro (see a video report on the event). Held in the booming region at the heart of Mexico’s industrial triangle of Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey, the event featured numerous speakers discussing the applications at the cutting edge of technology, belying the country’s oversimplified reputation as a source of low-cost-labor and little else.

Miguel Angel Aguirre of Querétaro’s new plastics cluster opened the event, beseeching attendees to have a hand in creating game-changing technologies not just adopting them. “Why are we together,” Aguirre asked the crowd, half rhetorically. “The vision is to join together to do better; to be a country that develops technology. In Mexico, how many of our research centers develop patents? With the cluster we have a vision to make a country that generates technology.”

Aguirre said the plastics cluster is the region’s smallest and youngest, but its upside is substantial as Querétaro transitions from an agricultural economy to an industrial one. According to Aguirre, there are 188 plastics related companies located there, with manufacturing accounting for more than 70% of the state’s economy.

Erol-Kurt Yurtluk, sales manager at Austrian manufacturing execution system (MES) software provider T.I.G. Technische, noted in his presentation that his largest customer is in Mexico, with some 600 machines fully integrated and communicating across 10 plants in the country.

“The trend is clear,” Yurtluk told the Injection 360° crowd. “We have to handle the data; we have to handle the challenges we’re facing. Those companies that go along with the trend—who recognize the trend—will generate a huge competitive edge in the future.”

The two Mexico’s Engel’s Jungwirth’s has seen over the years lead him to believe the country will continue to evolve.

“I think the plastics industry here in Mexico understands and is prepared,” Jungwirth said. “Back in the early 2000’s, it was frustrating to talk to you guys about automation. You’d say, ‘We have cheap labor.’ Now, I see automation because of quality criteria required here in Mexico. We have to prepare our production plants. We have here all the possibilities to support growth if we do it right.”