An interesting thing occurred during my recent trip to attend FABTECH® Mexico, May 11-13, in Monterrey, Mexico. I ate fried crickets, but that wasn't it. I witnessed a spark of fabricating equipment innovation that originated within the country's own borders and from the minds of its talented engineers. Mexico is growing up as a manufacturing market.
More specifically, I'm talking about the folks from Gas Care S.A. de C.V. and Infra, a Mexican distributor of industrial technology. They have formed a joint venture to market gas control technology for laser cutting machines.
"We asked our customers how we could help them and they said we would like to know how much gas we are using because we are paying for it and we don't know really," said Ranulfo Macias Chavez, a Gas Care engineer.
That was the motivation to form the joint venture. The result was introduced at FABTECH Mexico. It was developed in the Mexico City area and by Mexican engineers.
The control panel provides real-time updates on how much nitrogen or oxygen is being consumed in either cubic feet per minute or cubic meters per minute, the pressure of the gas flow, and gas temperature. With that type of detailed information, the laser operator can see just how much gas is being consumed during a particular operation and then compare those figures with other laser cutting jobs.
Is too much nitrogen being used cutting thin-gauge aluminum? How much more nitrogen is used cutting stainless steel as the laser operator really pushes for more speed? How much oxygen would be consumed if it replaced shop air for certain jobs? For fabricators in Mexico, answers to those questions are now available.
Chavez added that the control technology promotes "security" of the laser cutting machine as well. The control technology notifies the laser operator that the cylinder is about to run out of gas and alerts the shop floor if irregularities are impeding smooth gas flow to the laser resonator. Also, the control won't let the operator progress with a cutting job until a complete gas purge is done before switching to another cutting gas.
"Other laser manufacturers have seen this technology and want it for themselves," said Olivia Hernandez Ramirez, an Infra engineer in charge of specialty gas sales.
Actually, those capital equipment manufacturers were well-represented at FABTECH Mexico. More than 300 exhibitors filled the Cintermex exhibition facility, and much more fabricating equipment was under power on the show floor than in previous years. For instance, three booths had laser cutting machines in operation.
"You are definitely seeing more laser machines being sold into Mexico. Whereas in the past, it used to be only punches," said Ron Paliak, who is responsible for equipment sales for Prima Power in the Mexican market.
Ramirez echoed that point. She suggested that 40 to 50 lasers are being sold to the Mexican market per year. That's an amazing number, considering laser cutting machine sales in Mexico likely didn't register a blip on the radar only 10 years ago.
But that's the sign of a maturing market. Mexican manufacturers are using more sophisticated equipment and seeking out technology to help them run their machines much more cost-effectively. Sound familiar?
Of course, most Mexicans realize the country's government needs to get a handle on the escalating crime surrounding the drug gangs. If that doesn't happen, multinational companies may look elsewhere to locate manufacturing facilities.
Ironically, this situation also is forcing the Mexican manufacturing market to mature at a faster pace. Many U.S. companies are finding it difficult to send their engineers and representatives into Mexico because they fear for their safety. As a result, those same companies are relying more on Mexican representatives for sales and service to Mexican manufacturers.
These are exciting days for Mexican manufacturing, and even with the obstacles ahead, the country's young leaders are determined to keep pushing forward.