Staying ahead in a competitive industry requires not only quality but constant innovation – maintaining the lead is even more challenging. It is a challenge that Indústria Metalúrgica Frum Ltda, the Brazilian manufacturer of brake discs and drums, has successfully taken on board. Since the company’s inauguration in 1952, it has put its foot to the floor with regards to progress and technological development and become one of the industry’s most recognized names.
“Identifying opportunities in our market is important to our ongoing success. In 2009, we began supplying assembled brake systems for heavy-duty vehicles using our own parts, and adding value to our existing product lines,” says Marketing Director Roberto Del Papa. The systems reflect the growing tendency in the automotive segment to buy pre-assembled parts, and have boosted sales and revenue for Frum. “In the last two years we have increased our client base of vehicle assembly plants and opened new markets,” Del Papa continues. The additions translate to record annual growth of 45 percent in 2010 and revenue in the same year in excess of $100 million.
THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
The figures are particularly impressive for a company that was started by its current President Pedro De Sordi in a garage in Vila Maria, São Paulo. At the time, there were no national automobile manufacturers; the company manufactured cast iron brake drums for imported cars, mainly from the US. During the 1960s, following steady rise in sales and expansion of product lines to include brake discs, wheel hubs and suspension parts, Frum began concentrating on producing components for trucks and buses.
The 100 percent Brazilian company was growing rapidly, and establishing important working relationships in the domestic and international markets with major industry players such as Ford and DaimlerChrysler. “By the early 1970s, the factory in São Paulo was no longer sufficient for our production needs and in 1973 we moved to our current facility in Extrema, Minas Gerais state,” Del Papa explains. In addition to space limitations, environmental concerns in São Paulo required that the company move to more comfortable premises. The 250,000-square-meter foundry and factory in Extrema afforded Frum the opportunity to update its processes and greatly increase production capacity.
The changes initiated a series of important technological advances at Frum. In the 1980s and 90s the foundry equipment for the manufacture of the cast iron components was fully automated, culminating in the first totally automatic production line in 1996. Three years later, Frum had increased its lead in the market and was the preferred supplier of the largest truck manufacturers.
In 2000, with sales at full throttle, Frum came to a fork in the road. Despite having started by providing brake drums to the automobile industry, sales of parts to trucks and buses had grown at such a rate that the company decided to specialize exclusively in this segment. The decision came at a time when Brazilian companies were increasing their presence on the international market, and Frum steered confidently towards an aggressive growth strategy in the heavy-duty vehicles sector. “As well as brake components, we began manufacturing wheel suspension parts and chassis,” Del Papa adds.
With its sights firmly set on newly defined horizons, Frum continued in its constant upgrading and updating of technology. A second automated casting production line was established in 2004, increasing capacity and subsequently sales volumes. “Today, there is no more modern and efficient foundry equipment available on the market than that which we use at our facility,” confirms Del Papa. Now, Frum has three fully automated foundry lines, two of which use German technology and one which uses machinery imported from Italy. In fact, the exclusively electric-run technology is not the only state-of-the-art equipment at the factory. Tooling and assembly machines are also the most modern available and are imported from all over the world.
TESTING THE BRAKES
“Almost 90 percent of our revenue comes from brake parts and systems,” says Del Papa. “Major companies worldwide trust us with their safety and their custom is testament to our stable, solid quality and competitive prices.” The department of advanced engineering at Frum is responsible for the development of the highly efficient products. Often working in partnership with clients to achieve tried and tested, top performance and results, the company listens to their input with a keen ear and, coupled with its expertise, produces award winning technology. The second way in which the department operates is to develop its own HP (high performance) components and offer them to existing customers.
“Tests on our parts are extremely rigorous. We take no chances with technology and our brake systems are tested intensely in Brazil and abroad. In addition to in-house laboratory processes, parts are tested by the Brazilian motorsport series Fórmula Truck whose truck tractor units expose them to the most arduous of trials.
International recognition of Frum’s quality is confirmed by the ISO 9001 certification, it was also the first Latin American company to receive the prestigious Q1 rating awarded by Ford. “Operating to international standards is important to us. We were one of the first in Brazil to receive the OHSAS 18000 award for occupational health and safety and are also ISO 14001 certified for our environmentally friendly practices,” Del Papa says.
ACCELERATING INTO THE FUTURE
Mapping out its strategy has certainly proved successful for Frum, and Del Papa is quick to confirm that the company has a strong business plan for the future. “We are currently working to reach full production capacity at our plant in Extrema. In 2010 we invested over $6 million in increasing our infrastructure, and in 2011 this figure is set to rise to $7.5 million.” The investments aim to hit full production volume, and an increase of 40 percent on current figures, in two years time. “Once we have achieved this goal, we have concrete plans to construct a new factory,” confirms Del Papa.
The ambitious expansion plans are more than justified when considering that Frum has increased the number of tons of iron produced by 661 percent in the last decade, grown continuously and maneuvered round crisis in the automotive industry without incident.
Plans for the future also include increasing the existing portfolio of clients and suppliers. “Our strong national, and international partnerships are growing constantly we are more and more visible on an international level and seeking the very best is in our nature,” Del Papa continues. Frum directly exports to all of Latin America, parts of Africa and South Asia, but its products are present all over the world. “Through the sale of our brake systems and of components to truck and bus assembly plants, our parts are indirectly exported to all corners of the globe,” he explains.
As Frum powers forward, it has its hands firmly on the wheel and, fuelled by the success of recent braking system innovations, has a positive outlook for 2011. With tried and tested technology that exceeds the expectations of the most demanding vehicles, Frum proves again and again that it is synonymous with standards that can be trusted worldwide.