The manufacture of auto parts for electric vehicles is an attractive but demanding market. We visited the plant of APG Mexico, a manufacturer of plastic components for a well-known US assembler in this segment. We learned about their processes, their technologies and their strategy for talent training.
The manufacturing of electric cars (EV) is shaping up to be the big trend for the future of the automotive industry, and it is under the spotlight as a promising niche in the world and in Mexico, of course. The expansion of assemblers already installed in the country and the arrival of new companies to serve this segment is fostering local supply networks for various components, since the demand for plastic auto parts is increasing.
To serve this growing market, the Canadian corporate Axiom Group inaugurated an injection molding plant in San José Iturbide (Guanajuato) in 2017, with the capacity to manufacture complex and large components. Today, 70% of APG Mexico’s annual production, as the subsidiary in the Mexican Republic is called, is destined for a well-known American electric car company.
Plastics Technology México had the opportunity to visit the APG México plant and learn about its innovative processes, its human talent development strategies and the cutting-edge technologies that enable the manufacture of world-class plastic auto parts for the most attractive and dynamic segment of the moment.To serve this growing market, the Canadian corporate Axiom Group inaugurated an injection molding plant in San José Iturbide (Guanajuato) in 2017, with the capacity to manufacture complex and large components. Today, 70% of APG Mexico’s annual production, as the subsidiary in the Mexican Republic is called, is destined for a well-known American electric car company.
The origins of APG Mexico
Established in 1987, Axiom Group, a family business based in Ontario, Canada, has focused on the automotive parts manufacturing industry. With several years of experience in the manufacture of molds and tooling, this corporate group specializes in the injection molding of thermoplastics of various components and their assemblies.
Their goal is to deliver a high-quality product with the highest technical support. Axiom and its divisions are recognized in the industry for their achievements, including numerous Supplier of the Year awards from major automotive OEMs and have filed more than 10 patents.
With a clear vision of the opportunities and the growing development of the industry on Mexican soil, in 2016 Axiom Group began the construction of APG Mexico, a modern injection molding plant of 10,000 square meters, in San José Iturbide (Guanajuato) . One of the goals was to address the specific need for high tonnage injection, with and without 2K or two-shot injection capabilities. Thus, after completing the work and getting the plant ready, they started production at the end of 2017 to serve their customers locally, including major OEMs and Tier 1 companies.
Currently, APG Mexico serves the automotive industry as a Tier 1 supplier, when it delivers complete assemblies to assemblers, and as Tier 2, when it manufactures parts of a system. Its capabilities focus on the production of Class A exterior components, multi-shot assemblies, exterior body trim, interior components, pillars, consoles, interior handles, functional black plastic parts, door closer panels, HVAC modules, air filters. , powertrain components and electrification modules, among others. For this, the company uses double shot injection, flame treatment, door panel assembly, plastic rotary welding, hot plate welding, vibration welding and complex assemblies.
According to Ananth Pathmanathan, general director of APG Mexico, the vision of the company is to invest in the most recent manufacturing methodologies, systems, equipment and personnel training to make a difference in such a demanding market, and in which the new Trends toward electric cars demand even more from their suppliers. Plans for constant improvement don’t stop. They actively work to reduce costs and solve logistics challenges or achieve shorter delivery times through the integration of advanced technology and Industry 4.0 solutions. In terms of manufacturing technology, the goal is to develop great flexibility to adapt to the growing needs of the automotive industry, such as developments in lightweighting for electric vehicles, Pathmanathan said.
State-of-the-art technology for a highly demanding market
When asked which is the most complex component manufactured in the APG Mexico plant, Ananth immediately mentioned a door panel. It is a piece that they began to manufacture from the beginning of the company. At the time it was a completely new process, which involved several challenges. The complexity lies in the fact that all the steps of the production cell are carried out in line and in an automated way. This includes inserting the insert, overmolding the insert, removing the part and taking it to an assembly table where a nitrogen foamed material is applied to seal water leaks in the door panel; then the sensors are put on. This process requires great precision to ensure compliance with quality criteria at every step of the process.
From the manufacture of the mold, to the design of the automation and, of course, all the technologies involved had to be up to the task of such a complex project. This cell involves a MacroPower injection machine with 1300 tonnes of closure, from Wittmann Battenfeld, a WX173 robot (also from Wittmann Battenfeld), an E-Multi auxiliary injection unit from Mold-Masters, the nitrogen foaming system and a robot six-axis.
“Many times this type of process is carried out offline, that is, an injection machine produces a part, which is then classified as work in process and taken to another station. In our case, we get everything done online. When the part leaves the cell, an operator assembles a few clips and packs it for delivery. This gave us a competitive advantage in efficiency and in offering an attractive cost, to the point that this client awarded us a similar project for a new car model. We dared to think outside the box and believe that there are always ways to achieve continuous process improvements. Without this approach it is not possible to do business with the assemblers or with Tier 1 ”.
To achieve the level of excellence required by its customers in the electric car segment, APG Mexico has carefully selected the systems and technologies for its plant.
“We believe that investing in the best methods and technologies is vital in the manufacturing industry. Our commitment to this belief contributes significantly to our growth as a business and continued success with our customers. World-class manufacturing requires this kind of dedication, and we consider it one of our core values as a company, ”commented Pathmanathan.
When it comes to injection machines, automation and material handling systems, the company relies on Wittmann Battenfeld as its leading supplier. “We have cultivated a long-standing relationship with Wittmann Battenfeld for several years as we work closely with the Canadian team for our operations. Wittmann Battenfeld México helped us equip APG México when the plant was under construction, and continues to be a close partner to our success, ”commented Ananth.
The manager highlights the support and service received from Wittmann Battenfeld, as well as the extensive knowledge of its technicians and advisers, whether for issues related to injection machines, robots, auxiliary equipment, the central system of drying or with the silo system, which have been supplied by the company.
According to Rodrigo Muñoz, general director of Wittmann Battenfeld de México, an installation like APG México, in which all the equipment is from the Austrian brand, allows to maintain control of the process from start to finish and demonstrate in an integrated way its technological characteristics. “It is a pleasure for us to work with them and help them grow. The confidence they give us for all our lines has allowed us to explore various applications and facilities. In fact, in this plant we have a Macropower of 2,400 tons, which is among the largest machines that we have installed in Mexico ”.
The demand from the automotive sector, and in particular for electric cars, for a product of higher quality and without defects, has led APG to bet on automation and that some of its processes and assemblies are fully automated and incorporate other online processes , such as plasma treatment, insert molding and hot plate welding. Here, in addition to robots from Wittmann Battenfeld, they also use six-axis robots in complex assembly applications.
APG Mexico adds value to its technological heritage with a sophisticated digital system for the smart factory, called Smart Attend, as well as an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system of its own development.
“Smart manufacturing has steadily increased as an approach for our customers, so we invested early in this technology to fully understand its value. We have a system capable of providing information on plant efficiency, scheduling, quality, and production progress. This technology has allowed us to focus more energy on large and complex projects, and has made it easier to understand our weaknesses, ”said Perry Rizzo, CEO of Axiom Group.
For the company, the intensive investments in machinery, equipment and systems also require support to train and educate human capital. “Our goal at APG Mexico is to ensure that employees are successful in all facets of the organization. We empower our employees at all levels. We have implemented a large number of employee engagement programs, providing staff training events and training opportunities at our Toronto, Canada headquarters, as well as recreational activities. These initiatives are designed to build a long-term, mutually growing relationship with employees.”
According to Ananth Pathmanathan, APG Mexico has founded educational programs for those who wish to continue their education, in addition to courses in scientific modeling and technical skills. “Recently, several of our employees earned their high school diplomas through this program. Likewise, English classes are offered for those who want to learn from the basics or for those who seek to improve their level ”. The executive highlights that APG Mexico’s business culture invites those who work there to think outside the box, without fear of expressing new ideas and initiatives for process improvement. “Mexico is full of young and committed talent. Success doesn’t come overnight. I invite the younger workforce to be patient and let the process lead to their own success. As a company we are committed to training and educating each of our collaborators and accompanying them on a path of personal and professional growth”.
New investments and expansion plans
For the next two years, APG Mexico has ambitious plans aimed at doubling its capacity with an additional production hall, of about 10,000 square meters, and whose construction is expected to begin in early 2022.
“Our vision for the future is to offer customers a broader set of capabilities so that we can provide a more comprehensive approach to automotive manufacturing. At our corporate in Canada, we recently purchased a machine for a RD project. We currently work on injection molded composites, reinforced with long fiber as a lightweight substitute for metals and through thin wall molding without compromising the strength of the product. We believe that with this technology we can provide cost-competitive solutions to our end customer, without affecting the quality and function of the product. For Mexico, specifically, we have plans to add two-shot, high-tonnage presses to bring our capabilities in line with our Canadian counterparts.”
These investments demonstrate that in Axiom Group’s vision, the Mexican market is promising. “Our business is growing in Mexico. We are certain that an unprecedented development in manufacturing is coming to Mexico, driven by the nearshoring trends of several corporations. The country is reinvesting in its business programs to continue growth in the industrial and manufacturing sectors. Because Mexico represents such a large market for APG, we are constantly working to improve our facilities, our technology offering and support for customers and OEMs, logistics and shipping times. We are also looking to develop new customers with OEMs from Latin America ”, concluded Ananth Pathmanathan.