Bourns’ Mexico branch has been in operation since 1969, a depth of presence that is rare for foreign-based companies in the country, and even more so for U.S.-owned companies, as its 45-year presence makes it the oldest of any remaining maquiladora operations in Tijuana.
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Sérgio Valencia, plant manager for the company’s Chihuahua facility, and Jeff Pyle, worldwide vice president and general manager of Bourns’ automotive division, talk about the company’s extensive history in Mexico, the business advantages tied to the company’s regional position, and why recent expansions and new products signal a future even brighter than their past. Steve Engelhardt reports.
While Mexico begins to gather steam as a highly viable location for global manufacturers, count Valencia and Pyle as two of those who aren’t surprised. And why should they be, given Bourns’ lengthy stay in the country, and a habit of success that has continued right up to today. “The combination of an increasingly talented employee base here in Mexico and a regional location with proximity to three of the world’s major markets in North America, China, and Europe provides a production platform that allows us to serve and impact a large, diverse customer base,” says Pyle.
Bourns has two locations in Mexico, with facilities in Tijuana and Chihuahua. Although both manufacture parts and components for the automotive industry, each site serves different purposes. “Our Tijuana plant, the initial location Bourns chose when expanding to Mexico, employs 470 individuals in automotive operations that stretch across 160,000-square-feet, and can really be broken down into three main families,” says Valencia, continuing, “Walking through our facilities on any given day you’ll find our staff hard at work in the production of fuel management systems, chassis sensors, and torque sensors.”
Almost a thousand miles away and situated in the heart of the country is the company’s second manufacturing plant in Chihuahua. The plant, which was constructed in 1999, spans 93,000 square feet and is filled by 580 employees. “At our Chihuahua plant, we manufacture transmission and wheel speed sensors, as well as potentiometers,” Valencia says, adding, “most of the products made here are generally going to North America and Europe, but given our production and shipping capabilities, both of these facilities are able to produce products for anywhere in the world.”
One of the ways Bourns’ two Mexican facilities handle global demand for their products is through extensive utilization of lean initiatives and quality assurance programs. “Continuous improvement is part of our mission statement as a company, and has been an integral part of our philosophy from the beginning,” says Pyle, who adds with a laugh, “I think we were engaging in lean activities before people were actually using the word ‘lean’.”
A Lean Scene
In fact, lean manufacturing is so important to the company, that both facilities in Mexico have a managerial position specifically tied to continuous improvement practices. “These individuals are 100-percent focused on employing lean manufacturing tools that facilitate manufacturing processes that are as efficient as possible,” Valencia says, adding, “whether it’s through the principles of Kaizen or the tools provided through Six Sigma, we are always looking to improve ourselves in the face of an increasingly sophisticated global marketplace.”
Pyle says that an additional high degree of vertical integration complements Bourns’ continuous improvement practices, giving them the ability to manufacture just about every part of their components, and in a manner that is methodical and time-effective.
The company’s manufacturing prowess was recently recognized by General Motors, with the Chihuahua facility receiving the 2013 Gold Award for Outstanding On-Time Shipping Performance. The Gold Award recognizes key suppliers that have achieved a 99 percent or higher on-time shipping performance over the preceding 12 months and Bourns’ Mexico operations, tasked with supplying wheel speed sensors and transmission sensors for GM over the course of last year, achieved a 99.2 percent fill rate.
Valencia says it’s not just one aspect of the process, but rather a result of all aspects of the company working effectively and in-sync with one another. “Our on-time shipping performance, quality products, and superior customer service really positions us as a leader in supplying automotive solutions for today’s market,” he says, adding, “To receive recognition from a company as prestigious as GM is, it’s highly reinforcing towards our commitment to provide superior service and industry-leading products in a manner that best supports the ongoing needs of our automotive market customers.”
While the name of the game may be efficiency, the company also maintains an innovative identity as well, with the presence of design engineers at both the Tijuana and Chihuahua facilities. “Having a design team in-house is something that isn’t very common in our industry,” Valencia says, adding, “they are able to fully design speed sensors and are constantly working with our customers to identify improvements in validations, ensuring that the quality of the products coming out of our facilities is as high as possible.”
A strong relationship with the customer is paramount to Bourns, a sentiment most recently displayed in their announcement of a new dual ball bearing option on their 10-turn precision potentiometer. The option is available in the Hybritron® servo-mount version, is capable of 10 million shaft revolutions with up to 250 grams of side load, and is specifically meant for industrial machine-to-machine applications, a designation Pyle says was a direct result of customer feedback. “This specialty option was developed in response to customer feedback and requests for the higher performance and reliability of a longer life potentiometer,” he says, continuing, “Adding a new dual ball bearing to our industry-leading 10-turn precision potentiometer is a direct sign of our commitment to provide customers with solutions that meet their evolving application needs.” The product is to be manufactured at a few different Bourns facilities, including the Tijuana plant in Mexico.
Bourns serves a global audience on a daily basis, and its presence in Mexico plays a significant role in maintaining its success. “I think when you look at our automotive division as a whole, we are really proud of our ability to service customers everywhere in the world,” Pyle says, adding, “We strive to bring quality products to our customers in a timely manner, and our presence in Mexico is central towards achieving that goal.”
As a company that is self-sufficient in delivering high-quality, low-cost products to every corner of the world, Bourns is a success story that looks to continue writing itself well into the future.