IPC Mexico Continues to Grow
IPC Mexico has been growing for the past few years, and it’s no wonder: Mexico has become a major hub in the world of PCB manufacturing, spurred in part by reshoring as companies pulled work back from China during the pandemic. As the country’s maquiladoras1 thrived, IPC began expanding the Mexican educational and training operations, and the group recently named Lorena Villanueva as director of IPC Mexico.
Andy Shaughnessy and Barry Matties recently spoke with Lorena and IPC Vice President of Education David Hernandez about IPC Mexico’s growth, as well as the office’s plans to provide PCB manufacturers the training resources they need to succeed.
Andy Shaughnessy: David, why don’t you give us an update on IPC Mexico?
David Hernandez: As you’re aware, Mexico is becoming increasingly important in the electronic supply chain, particularly for North America. There’s a series of different geopolitical factors that are driving this as well as business decisions but over the last five years, what we’ve really seen is a significant re-shoring of manufacturing—or near-shoring of manufacturing—to Mexico to service the United States. Even before the pandemic, as all this was happening, we at IPC wanted to put a greater focus on Mexico, and we started an initiative to better service the industry in Mexico and what we could do to help.
We started meeting with Mexican companies to see how we could contribute and help them succeed. Then the pandemic hit, and we tried to continue the efforts as best we could virtually, but we realized it was very difficult for us in the United States to service all the needs of Mexican organizations and the industry in Mexico with just the staff here.
We knew we needed to hire someone in Mexico who could really connect with their industry, take ownership, and grow the services we offer companies in Mexico. We were quickly connected with Lorena Villanueva, brought her on board, and she has exceeded all our expectations. We are so excited about everything that she has been doing in Mexico to help us. She brings energy, excitement, talent, and professionalism to the team.
This is the first step. We have more plans for IPC Mexico. Our starting point was bringing in Lorena as director of IPC Mexico, and we hope to grow our team, and the services and product lines that we provide the Mexican companies as well as the industry there.
Barry Matties: I’m curious, are you seeing a certain request from the companies there that may be different from other regions?
Hernandez: It’s a great question, Barry. While there are definitely commonalities in the global supply chain, each region has a particular set of needs that are inherently different from the others.
It has to do with the local workforce, the local supply chain, and local politics; those variations create a different dynamic. They may not need a completely different set of products or services that IPC offers, but maybe they need them in a way that is tailor-made to their needs. That’s why having someone like Lorena, who is interacting with the industry there daily, is so important.
You’re seeing a similar effort by IPC and IPC Europe. We opened our first European office recently and we’re expanding the staff there. We’re placing a greater emphasis in the area, making sure that we can service their individualized needs. It’s the difference between saying, “Here’s a solution that fits everyone,” and, “Let’s take the solutions that fit everyone to figure out what we can do to better serve you.”
Shaughnessy: That’s great. Lorena, tell us about your background. I see that you’re a Six Sigma black belt.
Lorena Villanueva: Yes, and thank you, David, for this introduction. I’m thrilled to be here with IPC. As you mentioned, I’m a Lean Six Sigma black belt, and I’ve been working in the commercial, sales, and business development world for quite some time now. Being able to use my experience plus the knowledge that I had of the region has helped us reinforce the attention that IPC had already put on Mexico and the Latin America regions, as well as give our clients the confidence that we will help them build electronics better. I can’t tell you enough how thrilled I am to be here.
I spent the last 11 years of my life in the outsourcing industry, so I know Mexico very well. I know the border, the offshore, and the near-shore industries, so for me, it’s been quite a ride.
While I’m new to IPC and the electronics industry, IPC is not new to Mexico, so when they brought me onto the team, they had already been tapping into Mexico for a couple of years. They came to Mexico to meet with some of the clients and some of the member companies that we have here, and I think the timing was perfect.
If the pandemic taught us anything here in Mexico and the nearshore region, it was that the world turned again to Mexico as an alternative to the supply chain problem in China and other ports in the world because of the reliability of the maquiladora industry in northern Mexico.
Shaughnessy: It sounds like IPC is really expanding.
Hernandez: We’re trying, little by little. As a nonprofit, oftentimes we must expand slowly because we must be responsible with the funds we receive from the industry. We use the funds in a responsible way, and we must ensure that the things we’re doing are paying dividends to the industry itself. Sometimes expansion is slow for IPC, but when we do make the effort, we want to make the biggest impact we can. That’s why hiring someone with Lorena’s background, experience, and connections was so important.
Sometimes it’s controversial when you hire from outside the industry to such an important role, but this is something that I’m a fan of doing. I am not from the electronics industry. I’ve been with IPC for five years, but prior to this, I worked for the American Welding Association, and prior to that I worked in academia. Bringing in people with a different skill sets and experiences helps us broaden our perspectives. It helps us view the same challenges that we all see in a different light. That’s something I admire about Lorena—she brings so much experience and knowledge and she was contributing from day one.
She looked at the challenges we have seen in Mexico and said, “There’s another way of looking at it. There are other ways and solutions, other ways to approach this.” Bringing teams together with these varying skill sets, ultimately pays the best dividends for IPC.
Matties: Lorena, what is a typical day like, if there’s such a thing as a typical day for you.
Villanueva: Well, it’s making calls, calls, calls, and doing a lot of research. I’ve been spending my first months establishing connections. I’m based in Mexico City, so we started geographically by looking at what was near Mexico City, in Querétaro, and then we started moving to other regions in Mexico. I am looking into and meeting with companies who are members of IPC and have plants in Mexico. We are finding out how can IPC support them in the region.
Recently, I traveled with one of my colleagues, Carlos Plaza, senior director for education, to Guadalajara to meet with one of our member companies. They have two very large plants here in Mexico, one in Guadalajara and one in Tijuana, with almost 2,000 operators; it was impressive. We learned that while they knew who we are, and they work by our standards and know our training programs, they didn’t know the extent of what IPC does.
The culture in Mexico is not very inclined to invest in education. They consider it a waste of money instead of an investment. We’re trying to change that idea, to help these companies see education, training programs, and certifications as an investment, not as an expense.
My days are full of emails. We’re now very active on social media, with Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, and the emails have been pouring in with requests for information, So many people are interested in meeting with me or other members of the team. Right now, we are spreading the word and telling them that IPC is committed to growing Mexico, to helping them build electronics better, and that education is a big part of it.
The noise that we created in Guadalajara was overwhelming. We came back very excited and satisfied. We met with three different levels of the company—operators, engineers, and management teams. The operators were very excited about having the opportunity to learn about IPC’s training programs firsthand; they want to learn more. They want to be better trained.
They are aware that the world is shifting its eyes toward Mexico, and they want to be better prepared, so that’s a fantastic opportunity for us and for me, to head this effort to enter this market.
Matties: With your in-person meetings in all these different factories, what was the most surprising thing you learned?
Villanueva: I would say that they were not aware of the inner details of what IPC does. From our first calls and early meetings, some of the management rolled their eyes, saying, “What is this lady trying to sell us?” But when you start telling them that IPC is a nonprofit company, that everything we do, live, and breathe is to help them build better electronics, that changes their mood. We were surprised that, at least in Mexico, their knowledge of how and what IPC does was quite limited.
Shaughnessy: Now, what kinds of IPC classes are available in Mexico?
Villanueva: We very quickly learned that when you address the operator level, you need to give them the training courses in Spanish. It is very difficult, at least in Mexico, to find bilingual people at the operator level. We started with two Spanish-language training courses, which are the most popular for the entry level: electronic assembly for operators, and the wire harness assembly for operators. These are the pilot programs we’re using to test the market, and they have been very well received.
They were not aware that they could do this in Spanish, although it is on our website. When I joined IPC, I told David —I still tease him about this—that I need their commitment that we will continue developing these training courses, certifications, and programs fully in Spanish, because we want to address this part of the world in their native language.
Matties: How do the students access the training? Is this more about in-person or online training?
Villanueva: That was very interesting. We first approached the companies’ training managers, and they told us, “I don’t trust people. They will click through just to get to the end of the training course, so I’d rather have it be in-person training.”
But when we showed them the demos, we explained that these courses were developed to keep them interested and to not let them click, click, click to the end of the course. With every module, every class, they have to take an exam, or that there’s an interactive part of the training that they have to click, so it keeps their attention on the screen. That changed the conversation completely and got the training managers very excited when they learned that they could access this through any device.
They had desktops in the training rooms that this company provided to them, but when we told them that they could access it through their cell phones or through a tablet, they were really excited. It completely changed what the local companies thought about online training.
Matties: That’s great to be able to convince them that the tool was right, and it does allow for that to happen. It’s to the employees’ benefit to not just click through it but to actually get the training.
Shaughnessy: Is it a mix of in-person and online training?
Villanueva: We have both modalities. One fully online at the student’s self-pace and a hybrid mode with a teacher guiding them through the different modules online.
Matties: Well, that makes the most sense too because you don’t have to worry about bringing trainers for these remote or onsite visits, so it’s a much more efficient model for everybody.
Hernandez: Yes. You’re hearing it from the horse’s mouth here: We can’t train everything online. It’s difficult, at best, for IPC to teach everything you need to know, so our goal is to get the new employee up to 85%.
We want them to know 85% of the things they need to do and know to be successful as a new operator once they’re done with the training program. That way the organization can take it from there and say, “Okay, that last 15%, that last mile, we’re going to train you on how we do things, how our equipment works, and how you apply what you learned to this particular product set that we’re building.”
It accelerates the combination of that online learning, plus that last mile, in-person training that they do at the facility on the floor. That combination significantly accelerates the process of getting these new operators up to full productivity. That’s our training philosophy across the board.
Matties: That is spot on. Is there a labor crisis in the industry in Mexico, like we see in the U.S.?
Villanueva: No, not really, not that we can see. From the statistics we’ve reviewed and from what we saw physically in this plant, they just keep growing. With the thousands of containers stuck in China, L.A., or Houston, companies are really looking for an alternative and Mexico is becoming the alternative. While we were in Guadalajara, the client told us that that same week their customer had increased the product line by two products, so they are moving to a larger facility. The same is happening in Tijuana; it just keeps growing and there’s a lot of labor available. Now we just have to get them all trained. That’s the challenge.
The challenge in the United States is that we can’t find talent. In Mexico, there are plenty of people who are eager to do this work; they just need the mechanisms to train them and get them up to full productivity efficiently.
Matties: Your training programs for the organizations fast-tracks it so they don’t have to worry about it when they have a partner like IPC that they can rely on to provide the right training, as you were saying, to that 80, 85% level, to really make them productive contributors.
Hernandez: The one thing I would change about what you said, Barry, is it’s not our program. It’s the industry’s program. We work with the industry to build these. We help facilitate them, just like the standards. The industry determines what they need, how and what should be taught, and what order it needs to be taught. They contribute with all the content, we just put it together and deliver it. That’s what makes it such an effective and efficient program, because it’s exactly what the industry needs with no extra; it’s taught in exactly the way the industry needs it to be taught.
Matties: Good point.
Shaughnessy: I read that there are almost 500 electronics manufacturing sites in Mexico.
Villanueva: Right, and that’s just in Juárez, the area bordering El Paso, Texas. Twenty-five percent of all the maquiladoras, just in Juárez itself, are in the wire harness industry, so when we see that and we see the size of the market and the opportunity, we get very excited about having all the hands that we have right now and the eyes looking at Mexico.
Shaughnessy: Now, IPC is partnered with the Wire Harness Manufacturer’s Association (WHMA), and you are doing this M-EXPO in a couple of months. Tell us about that partnership.
Villanueva: Yes, and we are very excited about this. M-EXPO is the Wire Processing Technology Expo produced by IPC and WHMA. This is the most important exhibition for wire processing in the Ciudad Juarez region and we are doing this in response to the industry requesting a focused and exclusive show for the wire and cable processing industries. It will be held in Juárez Sept. 27–29, 2022 and we expect all the major players in the region to be there.
Shaughnessy: I expect you’ll get a lot of people from Texas, especially El Paso.
Hernandez: We are targeting El Paso and Juárez.
Matties: It’s nice to meet you, Lorena. Best of luck. And Dave, it’s always a pleasure.
Hernandez: Great talking with you all.
- Maquiladora: A factory in Mexico run by a foreign company and exporting its products to the country of that company.