When Canada-based businessman Klaus Reithofer turned his eyes south in search of business opportunities in the early part of the last decade, he set in motion a chain of events that would culminate in the creation of one of Mexico’s largest tier one metal stamping plants.
The transcontinental success story began with a partnership with Volkswagen and led to an enterprise that now generates more than $90 million in annual sales to an impressive client list that includes, among others, the world’s major automobile manufacturers. In only 13 years, Reithofer’s company, Refa Mexicana S.A. de C.V., became a full-service international supplier that serves the tier one and two automotive, truck and industrial sectors.
Reithofer and his father founded the company in 1994, building the business upon an initial (and ongoing) association with Volkswagen. The Reithofers started out with a $4 million investment and a willingness to take a risk. They were also in the right place at the right time.
“The previous year, when we first went down to Mexico to look for business opportunities, we discovered that Volkswagen was developing an industrial park and wanted to include its suppliers within that new location,” recalls Reithofer, who now heads Refa Mexicana in his position as general director. “Basically, that’s how it all began for us.”
But the beginning was a bit tricky, Reithofer reveals. “When we first connected with Volkswagen, our company didn’t even exist yet.”
However, Refa Mexicana managed to acquire its initial purchase orders and soon became a major Volkswagen supplier. “We eventually took over their small press shop, as Volkswagen sought to eliminate the machines and jobs involved in that shop,” Reithofer relates, adding that most of the shop machines were utilized in the production of Volkswagen’s old ‘Bug’ model and its vans.
Subsequently, from 1994 to 1998, Refa Mexicana worked primarily with Volkswagen. But as the new company grew, it began broadening and diversifying its client list. New Volkswagen projects provided a slingshot that accelerated momentum. “The main growth drivers for us were the launches of the Volkswagen Jetta and the new “Beetle” model, as we provided a large volume of parts,” says Reithofer.
Today, along with Volkswagen, Refa Mexicana’s extensive and diversified customer base includes GM, Ford, Chrysler, Lear and Behr. “We’re also now working with Nissan and Honda, a relationship that represents our first opportunity to work with a Japanese companies,” says Reithofer.
Refa Mexican currently employs 1,200 workers (nearly 10 times the initially envisioned number) who cover three shifts and produce stamping metal parts and fabricated metal products.
The privately held company has established business locations in Canada, the United States and Mexico, as well as its headquarters and main manufacturing facility in Puebla. The 770,000-square-foot site (ISO 14001:1996 and TS 16949:2002 certified) includes 440,000 square feet of production space. It not only evolved into one of Mexico’s largest tier one stamping plants; it also became a full-service, one-stop shop for customers – a development attributable to Refa Mexicana’s involvement with the Volkswagen Jetta and new Beetle projects. Specifically, those projects entailed difficulties that involved tooling capabilities, prototyping and parts development. By addressing those problems, Refa Mexicana developed a substantial range of capabilities that helped move the company forward.
“Basically, we can now develop and design the sheet metal product that all of our customers want. We will prototype, build the tools in-house to run production, make containers and whatever else is needed for packaging and, finally, we can ship the products. Those are the essential services that we offer,” says Reithofer.
ONE-TWO KNOCKOUT COMBINATION
In the past five years, the company has enjoyed an average annual growth rate of between 10 to 12 percent. It has engendered this organic growth, established its market leadership position and differentiated itself from competitors through a combination of technology and tooling capabilities, Reithofer indicates.
“From a technological standpoint, our large presses help set us apart from the rest of the market,” he comments.
The company’s automated, state-of-the-art press facility, located in its main production site in Puebla, includes 86 presses, ranging from 80 to 3,000 tons. “We have 28 small presses that range between 80 and 200 tons and 20 medium-sized presses that range from 250 to 500 tons. The rest range from 500 to 3,000 tons,” says Reithofer.
The facility also includes two hydraulic tandem press lines, which it installed in 2002. One is a 3,000-ton press line with five presses, and the other is an 800-ton press line with six presses. All machines are programmable. “The 3,000-ton press line is considered the second largest on the North American continent as far as table size and tonnage,” informs Reithofer. “With it, we can stamp very large panels.”
As far as tooling, Refa Mexicana offers customers a fully equipped tool room for the design and construction of progressive, mechanical transfer and line dies of all sizes and capacities, enabling the delivery of projects in cost effective and timely fashion.
“Our combination of presses and tooling is what truly sets us apart,” says Reithofer. “Because of the capabilities we offer, our customers don’t have to shop out for those types of jobs. We’re a one-stop shop for any kind of requirement a customer might have on the stamping side of the business. Also, we can do it all and in a shorter time period. In our industry, people are looking to get things done much more quickly, especially when it comes to the development stage. That’s one of our main attractions.”
A versatile and vertically integrated organization, Refa Mexicana provides value in a range of areas, as it boasts the highest levels of expertise in manufacturing processes including stamping, welded assemblies, product development and tooling design and reconstruction.
In particular, as a stamping supplier, the company specializes in the high-volume production of small-to-large metal stampings (including aluminum and stainless steel), generating an impressive range of products for the sectors it serves. These products include Class A panels and assemblies; hoods, trunk lids and door frames/hemmings; floor and platform assemblies; wheel housings, structural parts, pillars and cross members; firewall, instrument panel support beams; oil and transmission pans; rails and engine cradles; light truck pick-up box assembly, and sun roof reinforcement.
As far as welded assemblies, the company indicates that it has grown with the needs of its customers and now supplies complex painted assemblies, modules and full-assembled cabins. Welding capabilities include robotic and cell assemblies, spot welding, and MIG/TIG welding, as well as riveting processes to produce subassembly components to large vehicle assemblies.
Other Refa technological highlights include CAD, CAM and CAE, as well as CNC machining (3,4 and 5 axis) and laser cutting cells for rapid prototyping and production stamping.
Moreover, Refa Manufacturing fosters expertise through comprehensive employee training and a toolmaker school that focuses on tool making, machining and CNC programming. Expertise expands into its complete, in-house engineering and architect team for expansions, new sites and structural analysis.
Refa Mexicana acquired its enviable prosperity, market position and outstanding reputation by continually realizing all of the goals that it set for itself as well as meeting any new challenges presented by its customer bases. The company’s diversified client list, comprised of world-leading manufacturers, is a testament to its remarkable success.