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Thursday | 11 June, 2009 | 4:02 am

Establishing a presence

By Lisa Rummler

June 2009 - To succeed in business, it pays to be close to customers. When a company takes steps to minimize, if not eliminate, geographic distance between itself and those it serves, higher profits and better customer service are almost sure to follow.

For Prolamsa USA, Houston, increasing the speed of deliveries to customers has yielded positive results for all involved. That's been the result of opening of the company's first U.S. manufacturing facility.

Production began in early March at the Laredo, Texas-based facility, which manufactures mechanical tubing from 0.5 inch to 2.5 inches. The facility also includes a cut-to-length line.

"Market demand in the United States encouraged Prolamsa to open U.S. facilities," says Jean-Marie Diederichs, general manager of Prolamsa USA. "But given the global economic situation and our goal to begin to produce and ship product in the United States as early in 2009 as possible, we decided to move quickly and convert a warehouse facility we already had in Laredo by installing some mechanical tubing mills from our plant in Escobedo, Mexico."

Complementing its manufacturing capabilities, the facility also stocks mechanical and structural steel tubing. Another facility in Laredo stocks metal building components and shapes, purlins, channels, angles and red-primered coils.

Strategic maneuver
Customer needs played a role in the company's decision to open a U.S. manufacturing facility; Prolamsa USA's parent company is based in Monterrey, Mexico, and until the Laredo production facility opened, U.S. customers often had to wait for their orders to cross the border from Mexico.

"We will be able to have quicker delivery of the same high-quality products that we've always offered to our customers," says Diederichs. "We'll also be able to offer just-in-time delivery, which was hard to do when we were producing from Mexico because we had greater distance to cover and the border to cross.

"With the competition in general, service is the key, and in the economy we are in right now, it's even more demanding. You have to be able to ship basically the next day. With Laredo, we can do that."

By eliminating the border crossing and reducing milesÑand therefore delivery times--between itself and its U.S. customers, Prolamsa USA kicked off a more far-reaching initiative.

"We've always wanted to have a presence in the United States," says Diederichs. "This is the strategy of Prolamsa. The plant in Laredo is the first step." Additionally, the U.S. manufacturing facility has enabled Prolamsa USA to become more nimble and, therefore, respond quickly to order changes and rush jobs.

Diederichs says communication and technological innovations at the Laredo sites and the company's headquarters contributed to this and have improved customer service overall.

"Having the facility in the United States and being in direct communication with the plant, in combination with the SAP system, we have answers for our customers much quicker," he says. "And with the changes we're making to our information portal, customers will be able to get all the information they need, at any time."

As worldwide economic conditions begin to improve, Diederichs says Prolamsa USA will look into opening additional facilities in the United States.

"We have plans to cover most of the United States. Obviously, the economy has slowed things right now," he says. "We are just going to focus our strengths on the Laredo facility, and eventually we will start to look again at expanding in the United States." MM

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