Heat Treating in Mexico vs; The USA

Hector Ibarra has been involved in both captive and commercial heating in Mexico and the USA, most recently he worked with ALD Thermal Treatment, one of the largest commercial vacuum carburizing companies in the world. In this article he talks about the differences between heat treating in the two countries and in the process he puts some myths to rest.

My cross-border heat treatment experience. By: Hector A. Ibarra.

During my professional career I have had the opportunity to work in Companies who had internal atmosphere heat treatment operations and others who provided vacuum heat treatment services in North America. I will not get into the details of each of these processes as I wish to focus more on my personal observations.  This article is going to be more focused on my experience while working in Mexico and the USA in a heat treatment setting-even though the process and procedures may be the same, the implementation has to be customized to each location.

Safety.  There is really not a lot of difference between working in the USA and Mexico, even though each country has its own set of government agencies, they usually follow the same guidelines. As we know OSHA is the leading standard in the USA and you will find very similar requirements in Mexico. Most international companies will follow the same tracking to compare performance across its facilities, most will track incidents, non-lost time accident and lost time accidents.

Companies will always put safety as their number one priority and prevention is equally important in each country. I have not observed any difference in people’s behavior and the leaders have to lead by example, being aware that workers will test the boundaries to see how far they can go without getting in trouble (Ex: not wearing safety glasses all the time, not wearing ear plugs, etc.). I have always believed that your minimum expectation is the maximum you will receive, as an example: if you walk by someone and you do not notice or mention to them to properly use their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), then you are allowing this bad behavior to continue, there is  generally, no difference between countries. Regarding the Company security please be aware that in Mexico you will be more likely to have a company providing protection services than in the USA. (editors note; we have always found security to be more strict in Mexico than in the USA).

Quality. Since all companies follow the same standards if you are a supplier of automotive or aerospace industries, there are international standards that have to be followed, CQI-9 and NADCAP are the obvious examples. My personal experience is that both countries have similar implementation and maintenance on their quality systems.

Moral.  This is where is starts to get interesting and where the same approach will not work. What I learned is that people are motivated differently in each country and sometimes you will find major differences between regions of the same country. The first major difference is that religion has been almost fully removed from the workplace in the United States. In my experience in the USA religion is a topic that you do not talk about it, everyone has their own religion and people respect each other without really talking about it. In Mexico, religion is quite often a part of the culture of the Company, for example there are several festivities that that would never be held in a US manufacturing facility but which are regularly held in Mexican facilities. For example in Mexico we have the Virgin of Guadalupe celebration, Day of the Dead celebration, etc., and for these occasions you will very likely have an event inside your Company where all of the employees participate-this is part of the culture and this is something which foreigeners find different.

People in Mexico are very family oriented so it is very likely you will find several people from the same family working inside the same company. I think in the USA you will have something similar but not as strong as it is presented in Mexican culture. People inside the plant in Mexico perform better then they feel they are part of the “Company Familia”. If you can build a family friendly environment you will see tremendous results. What I have seen is that in both countries people are looking for respect, to be treated fairly and to feel they belong.  

Another thing you will find in Mexico is that most of the salaried people will have degrees sometimes bachelor, masters or above, there are a lot more opportunities for education in Mexico.  In Mexico it is unusual to find individuals in higher positions who worked their way up the Corporate ladder based upon their hands on experience. In the US though it is quite common to find people who do not have a college degree but who worked their way up by learning skills and gaining experience on the floor.  I believe both are very good for the heat treatment industry

Costs. As we know there has been a lot of talk about the cost difference between manufacturing in Mexico vs the USA. I would say the main difference will be in the hourly wages, but be aware that if your company is very technically advanced then your costs may be almost the same to produce in the USA as in Mexico. For example: if you are maintaining your equipment and want to do the right thing which is to use original OEM spare parts, this will likely be more expensive in Mexico than in the USA-this is mainly due to importation costs and also availability in the local market. This is improving every year, but I still believe that in the USA you have a better chance of getting parts for your high-tech furnaces at a cheaper price (of course maintaining the same quality) than in Mexico.

Salaries for Salary personnel will not be that much different between the countries, plan for your upper management salaries to be almost the same in both countries. In  Mexico by the way plan on paying 12 months plus 1 month to cover the other benefits while in the USA it is a straight 12-month salary (bonus would be the same proportion in both countries). Be aware that Mexican currency fluctuates a lot more than the dollar or the euro, so you will have to account every month for the gains or losses due to this high value variation.

Delivery. As we know heat treatment is a service and transportation always needs to be considered so location will always be one of the reasons why companies are setting up facilities in a close range to their customer. In Mexico this is a very critical point to consider because as you may know the infrastructure is not comparable to the USA. This means the risk of damaged parts or late delivery is greater if not planned correctly.  

I hope these are similar experiences for people who had the opportunity to work in both countries and hope it provides a small introduction into what to expect when running business on both sides of the MX/USA border. I want to thank to the Companies who offer me these opportunities during my professional life in the heat treatment and outside the heat treatment industry.

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