Mind over matter
Founded in 1904, Honeywell has a 30-year presence in Mexico, where it develops aerospace systems. Its goal is to apply Mexican talent to compete not only in manufacturing but also in project design and management.
Honeywell has its head in the clouds and its feet in Mexico. Founded in 1904 by a young engineer by the name of Mark Honeywell, the company now has 122,000 employees worldwide. That includes 19,000-plus engineers and scientists whose task is to invent, design and manufacture products that respond to global trends in safety and energy efficiency.
Part of that design effort and intellectual capacity is located in North Mexico, in facilities that develop aerospace projects for commercial airlines and the military.
The Mexicali Research & Technology Center in Baja California is one of a kind. This 35-million-dollar system integration lab has been in operation since 2007 and employs 400 people engaged in the design engineering and testing of components for aircraft systems.
Also on the border, Honeywell Chihuahua Manufacturing Operations is a manufacturing center that produces mechanical engine components. These facilities in Chihuahua have been recognized as a Center of Excellence in advanced precision mechanics for commercial and military aircraft engines.
Honeywell is also present in Monterrey, Nuevo León, where it has a center that serves suppliers and supports the manufacture of commercial vehicles and jets.
In 1986, Honeywell significantly enhanced its position in the aerospace industry with the acquisition of Sperry Aerospace, which contributed flight controls, space vehicles and the first FAA-certified wind shear warning system, making Honeywell the world’s leading integrator of avionics systems.
It was around that time that the company realized Mexico had the potential to be competitive in the aerospace industry and began hiring engineering graduates and professionals with six or seven years of engineering experience.
According to Alfredo Cárdenas Roldán, director of the Mexicali Research & Technology Center, Honeywell has invested in Mexico for strategic reasons because its proximity to the US and South America facilitates product transportation and because it has a steady supply of skilled labor, with 90,000 engineers graduating each year from reputable universities like the Tec de Monterrey, the National Polytechnic Institute and research centers funded by the National Science and Technology Council (CONACYT).
“You find cosmopolitan people educated at good schools and who like aerospace engineering. The company realized there’s a lot of talent in Mexico in the field of engineering. That’s why the design groups have grown so much. We’re asserting ourselves in the design of the products Mexico makes. We’re starting with simple products but the long term goal is for all manufactured goods in Mexico to also be designed here; to do away with all the coming and going whereby products are designed and approved in the US and then manufactured in Mexico. The idea is to position Mexico as a leader in the technology that develops the products designed here,” says Cárdenas.
On the commercial end, Honeywell has also found an ally in Mexico. The company has teams providing assistance for corporate jet and commercial airline markets, while Mexico leads in customer services for Latin America.
Honeywell has employees in Baja California and Monterrey who handle corporate projects and programs, take care of the finances and engineering design, draw up contracts, deliver products and provide after-sales support.
Cárdenas believes “Mexico has an enormous advantage in its manufacturing costs which are extremely competitive, sometimes lower even than in Asian markets. Mexico also has great potential on the operating side of things. But it’s the engineering aspect that’s really taking off. Thanks to Honeywell, other companies in Mexicali are bringing in engineering teams for their own projects.”
On the supply front, Honeywell has a chain of direct and indirect suppliers who have buoyed its success in Mexico for many years. The challenge here is that the aerospace industry demands certified products, which implies costs too expensive for many smallscale manufacturers to absorb. Honeywell is trying to surmount these obstacles so the products manufactured at its facilities can also be designed by Mexican minds.
But it’s not all business. Since 2008, Honeywell has been organizing university programs to support and promote science and math in Monterrey, Chihuahua and Mexicali. For example, the Rocket Club is an educational physics project where kids can learn about the concepts of gravity and mass by building their own rockets.
In the mid-term, the company plans to expand its global Honeywell Turbo Technologies program and set up a world class testing center in Mexicali. The MultiAir gasoline engine Fiat automobiles are equipped with is an example of that technology, which offers 10% more power and a 15% improvement in fuel economy compared to conventional engines, resulting in reduced emissions of CO2 and polluting particles.
Mexico’s aerospace sector has experienced exponential growth over the last decade, to the point where it is now the sixth largest worldwide. Exports have also grown in the last five years, touching 3.13 billion usd in 2008. Clearly the sector is in good health and has a lot more than hot air propelling it.