Sulbras Moldes e Plasticos is a Brazilian company specializing in injection molding of plastic components. Its products go out to a variety of markets such as HVAC, automotive, electronics, computers and printers, white-line goods, buses and trucks. Amanda Luciano reports on the company’s success.
Founded in 1984, Sulbras began its activities as a service provider to Industria de Matrizes Belga, one of the most respected manufacturing companies in Brazil in injection molding. “The company was born from the existent synergy with Matrizes Belga. When some of Belga’s customers began to place orders, it was time for us to start a new business focused on component production,” explains Sulbras’ general director, Leocadio Nonemacher.
For four years the company invested in its own infrastructure and afterwards, started to enter the market in a competitive manner, acting solely as an auxiliary unit of Matrizes Belga, producing its components to their specifications. In 1989, after a new corporate reorganization, Sulbras created a new business profile with the construction of its own industrial plant.
ON THE RISE
In its new installations in Caxias do Sul, in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, and with its own tooling, Sulbras started to thrive. By the time of the opening of the company’s facility, Sulbras had about 30 employees. “Very quick growth happened in 1990, when Sulbras decided to really break into the market, and invested in equipment to aid the industrial subcontracting segment,” says Nonemacher.
In the 1990s, Brazilian corporations experimented with myriad new business management strategies. Precipitating this fresh look at business functions was the sub-contracting of manufacturing processes. This trend toward outsourcing created opportunities of growth for new companies such as Sulbras, as far as launching its own products in the market, as a service provider or by supplying components to other firms.
“Currently, the company’s tendency is to focus on the after business, working on our main processes as well as in production and engineering. We have clients that do not have their own production facilities and sub-contract for component production as well as the final build of products,” says Nonemacher. “And with this market more mature, Sulbras started to invest more in the technical sector aspiring to improve process quality. We invested in the best high-quality equipment,” including the finest injection molding machines from the United States, Japan and Europe for the production of thermoplastic components. The company owns fully automated hydraulic and electric equipment, with vertical locking and rotating table indexed capabilities, in capacities ranging between 50 to 1,100 locking force tons.
Sulbras offers a full range of options in thermoplastic materials. These include polypropylene, polyethylene, polyamide, acrylonitrile-butadien-styrene, polycarbonate, poly-oxide-methylene, poly-oxide of phenylene/polystyrene and thermoplastic rubber. It performs rotational molding and hot stamping for markets including computers, airconditioners, computer, electronics, white goods, buses and trucks.
Once Sulbras receives from its client an order with design specifications, material and test requirements, it initiates production. Tooling and prototypes are then verified and when approved, the item enters into full production mode.
To guarantee quality and accuracy, Sulbras has a chemical laboratory dedicated to testing and validating end products for adherence to stated specifications. There, it is ascertained whether chemical contamination exists that will damage the client’s final product. Periodically, tests are made on Sulbras’ raw materials to ensure that there are no contaminants.
Besides this laboratory, a metrology area takes care of technical components, where machines pay close attention to dimensions and high-precision resolutions to assure the quality and proportions of the products. “We work with a highly accurate and specialized process. Our components are made with high-precision equipment that make possible the quality production of pieces as small as 0.05 millimeters to 0.1 millimeter. In addition to this, quality certifications ISO: 9001 and ISO: TS 16949, which we are certified with, guarantee that our metrologic laboratory adheres to international standards,” explains the director.
Sulbras’ efforts to raise its service standards and, in turn, the satisfaction levels of its clients, were recognized in November 2007, when the company received the best supplier award from Flextronics International, a leader in industrial design and manufacturing of electronics products and telecommunications, headquartered in Singapore.
Today, Sulbras is a successful subcontracting company to important corporations in Brazil, such as Valeo and Roberto Bosch (both in the automotive market); Itautec and Hewlett-Packard (computers); Mundial (electronics); Spring-Carrier (air-conditioners); Embarco (refrigerators), and Marcopolo (buses).
Sulbras’ logistics operations cover all the Brazilian regions, assuring flexibility and punctuality in deliveries. The company’s internal logistics efforts are optimized with the use of tools such as the Kanban system. Kanban is a production management method in which a signalized card controls the streams of output on pieces or specific parts on a production line, and indicates the delivery of a determined quantity. When all the pieces are delivered, the same card is taken to its starting point, where is converted in a new order.
“We have two differentials. Our quality service, in commitment with the customer, which in our work segment is essential, and the production management style we adopted here – lean management – also known as the Toyota Production System,” says Nonemacher. Those in industry are generally familiar with TPS, a system of output focused on technological updating, as well client satisfaction, through the efficacy of the processes. This means that from the process development to the end product the company continually strives to utilize the best methods, technical processes and equipment, which can guarantee the reliability of the product.
Reliability of the processes is achieved through the use of high quality machines in all work areas, as well as through the standardization of work hours, streamlined efficiencies in the production cells, and specialization of the operators. It all makes for a well-managed production system.
To maintain a high level of efficiency, Sulbras’ team of approximately 610 workers, work in shifts and keep the company’s manufacturing output moving 24 hours, five days per week, assuring the efficiency and quality of its production as well as customer satisfaction. As a result of this management model, Sulbras processed, in 2007, 5,000 tons of thermoplastic resins and 84 million components. This year, the company hopes to increase production 15-20 percent.
Nowadays, besides the plant in Caxias do Sul, Sulbras also has facilities in Sapucaia do Sul, Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, and in Salto, state of Sao Paulo. The company’s three industrial units have 56 injection molding machines in a total area of 46,650 square meters with 16,168 square meters of built area. Sulbras invested last year 20 millions reais in the plants’ modernization and another five million is expected to be invested in 2008. In this way, the company intends to keep on top of production levels for years to come.