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Stainless Steel
Saturday | 01 July, 2006 | 3:33 am

With age comes wisdom

By Abbe Miller

ThyssenKrupp Mexinox, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, just turned 30. For anyone in that same stage of life, the idea of leaving behind the carefree 20s for the responsibility-laden 30s sounds like a drag. But entering the third decade of life doesn’t have to be dreadful. For Mexinox, turning 30 was a welcomed milestone that proudly signified the company’s longevity, experience and maturity. Modern Metals felt that there couldn’t possibly be a better time than the celebration of the big three-oh for reflecting on the company’s past, examining its present and looking forward to its future.

Mexinox’s operations are right in line with the rest of ThyssenKrupp’s stainless division and especially impressive when noted that this specific family just happens to be the No. 1 producer of stainless steel on the planet. Annually the group produces more than 1.5 million metric tons of cold-rolled stainless steel. As the only cold-rolled stainless steel manufacturer in Mexico, positioned to serve all of North America, Thyssen­Krupp Mexinox is building a reputation upon a solid customer base.

When Mexinox first opened its doors in 1976, it was founded as a joint venture between the Mexican government, a development bank and the French company Pechiney, in order to supply the Mexican market. In the early 1980s the government decided to sell all companies not directly related to the government, and in 1991, Mexinox’s ownership was divided into equal parts by a group of Mexican investors, the German company Thyssen and the Spanish company Acerinox. This ownership structure continued until 1997, when, with the merger of Krupp and Thyssen’s companies, Krupp Thyssen Stainless (now ThyssenKrupp Stainless) purchased 95.5 percent of the company. Currently ThyssenKrupp Stainless owns 100 percent of Mexinox, now known as ThyssenKrupp Mexinox. Today the company employs more than 1,200 workers.

Finishing lines
Mexinox doesn’t mind difficult customers. In fact, it has centered its marketing campaign around the fussy ones. After analyzing its business performance, the company discovered that it was satisfying its customers’ greatest needs in the value-added market. In turn, Mexinox realized that it could provide the greatest service by creating a relationship with the end user, other than strictly dealing in the commodity stainless business.

"Through our research we came up with a branding campaign," says Katie Benchina, marketing manager for Mexinox USA. "We started out with the tagline ‘We love picky customers.’ It was so obvious. We’re not in the commodity, flat-roll stainless steel market. We’re interested in polishing, cut-to-length and slitting--doing something special that is specific to the end user."

With three annealing and pickling lines, three Sendzimir mills, two skin pass mills, six cut-to-length and slitting lines, two coil polishing lines, a sheet polishing line, coil preparation line and punching press equipment, Mexinox produces more than 200,000 metric tons of cold-rolled stainless steel each year. A bright annealing line was recently installed and with another polishing line and cut-to-length and slitting lines on the way, the facility is adding capacity at breakneck speed. It offers its customers a gamut of grades, sizes and surface finishes. Mexinox competes as a local producer with the few remaining stainless steel companies in North America.

"Because the ThyssenKrupp Stainless facility is in the region that it serves, it doesn’t act like a typical importer." says Benchina. "ThyssenKrupp Mexinox has lead times comparable to U.S. producers."

In providing the value-added stainless steel products, Mexinox continued its marketing campaign by branding certain grades of the material as well as a fistful of its finishes. T430 Rolled-On, unlike other stainless steels that are used to face appliances, is magnetic—a quality that has proven quite desirable for end users. The removal of nickel from the material also heightened its desirability by stabilizing the price of T430 due to the fluctuating surcharges that nickel tends to carry. Constantly paying a different price to produce a refrigerator that won’t even allow the display of children’s artwork or a collection of newspaper clippings just doesn’t seem right.

Mexinox’s Bright Annealed finish, another extension of its branding campaign, complements the company’s capacity for finishing. As opposed to a general cold-annealed and pickled finish, Bright Annealed adds a cosmetic touch with its mirror-like surface. The finish opens the door for Mexinox’s entry into the automotive trim, tanker truck, and laundry and dishwasher tub markets. In addition to its T430 Rolled On and Bright Annealed, the mill provides its customers with material in coil, sheet, circles and strips which can be polished to No. 3 and No. 4 finishes, or application-specific polished finishes according to varying needs.

Product recognition
The strategies that the company has adopted benefit both the customer and employee. Working at a closer proximity to end users allows Mexinox employees to feel a certain pride in their work that many comparable facilities aren’t able to offer. Instead of preparing anonymous shipments, everything that moves through the mill is now classified by customer name. "If we’re working on a particular piece of business our processing order identifies the end user," explains Benchina. "We’ve developed a lot of programs at the mill to make our inspector, the production people, all the quality people and the planning people know who the end customer is, elevating the importance."

So what was once a simple stock order now can be envisioned as a future product. Simply knowing that the material will be part of the production of refrigerator door panels, commercial ovens or sinks, allows employees to have a hand in the bigger picture. Thyssen­Krupp’s partnerships with its service centers and end users are highly valued. The term middleman doesn’t seem as appropriate when all involved share a partnership and common goal to produce a quality, finished product.

Whether Mexinox is adding capacity with new polishing or slitting lines or whether it is working side by side its service centers and end users, the first order of business is always to ensure product satisfaction. For the past three decades the response has been positive. And with its branding campaign in full swing and with its tight customer bonds, the company’s future looks as bright as its polished sheets of stainless steel. So here’s to another 30, Mexinox. MM

By Abbe Miller, from the July 2006 issue of Modern Metals.

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