As reported in the fall of 2018, Rohrer has been building a new state-of-the-art thermoforming facility in Tijuana, Mexico. The Rohrer operations team has made significant progress since the original announcement. From staffing to customer production, the new Tijuana facility is making tremendous strides. Our conversation with two of the project leaders offers insights about the facility as it exists today and information about when customers should expect a “Grand Opening.”
Steve Fifer, VP of Operations, provides executive leadership for all of Rohrer’s thermoforming facilities. Fifer was an early leader of the project and has set the strategic plan for Tijuana operations. Bart Casper, Director of Research and Development, has a hands-on project management role with the new Tijuana facility. They supplied this update together.
First, some background: Many U. S.-based CPG brands and packaging customers have expanded their manufacturing to Tijuana and Mexicali. As they revealed their desire for a local packaging partner, it became clear they needed Rohrer in the Tijuana area. Fifer began the project by building relationships with a leading Mexico manufacturing advisory partner and making logistical selections like real estate location and facility size. However, Fifer states clearly that the best part of launching this project has been building the right team.
Manufacturing Team and Process:
“We have a really experienced and talented crew down there. Our plant manager, Javier Solis, is a manufacturing veteran with over 20-years of experience working for Japanese and American companies. He’s also a lean manufacturing instructor at the local college,” states Fifer. Lean manufacturing began in the Japanese manufacturing industry. It came to prominence with the automaker Toyota. Lean manufacturing refers to a systematic method to minimize waste without sacrificing productivity.
Rohrer currently employees more than 20 full-time staff in Tijuana, including three manufacturing engineers, multiple set-up technicians, and a quality control manager. When the facility is at full production, there will be nearly 200 people working in Tijuana. Fifer and Casper described how Tijuana will also be the launch pad for Rohrer’s lean management programs being implemented throughout the organization.
Over the past few months, many of the Tijuana employees trained with Rohrer employees at various sites. Fifer explains, “The ezCombo® program is best-in-class. We’re bringing all of the industry-leading manufacturing knowledge to Tijuana and duplicating the processes in a brand-new state-of-the-art greenfield facility.”
When asked if the plant is up and running, Casper answered, “Yes. It’s what we’re calling conditionally operational. We are producing combo blisters for several key customers and production has been live for nearly three months now.” Rohrer recently passed a major customer’s line-audit with high praise. Additionally, Casper explains that the Tijuana facility is implementing a quality management system, this formal QMS program will document the manufacturing processes already in place and will establish our agreement with our packaging customers moving forward.
Rohrer’s Tijuana manufacturing will continue to work in partnership with the teams in Huntley and Bensenville, Illinois. Fifer states, “For ezCombo®, speed is of the essence. We will continue exploring new solutions that allow us to meet our high standards.”
There are currently four thermoforming lines in the plant. Two lines are dedicated to custom thermoforming, and two are dedicated to Rohrer’s ezCombo® program. The machines were moved from the previous regional manufacturing facility in Ontario, CA. As we optimize our manufacturing footprint and move towards “Centers of Excellence” for our manufacturing process, there will be more thermoforming lines implemented in Tijuana to provide capacity for new partners.
Rohrer will continue to expand our relationships with current thermoforming customers running in Tijuana, and we have an agreement for another major customer to move production to Tijuana in the next few weeks. At that point, the four existing lines will be “full,” and a fifth line will be installed and utilized.
As we continue to add thermoforming lines in the Tijuana manufacturing facility, we’ll begin moving more manufacturing to the new site, and will bring on new customers from the area. “There’s a ton of new business in TJ and Mexicali that we haven’t been able to serve in the past, but now we can. And we have a plan in place to expand our capabilities significantly over the next year,” states Fifer.
The team agrees that the formal implementation of the customer-audited QMS is Rohrer’s internal milestone for a “Grand Opening.” Casper elaborates, “Between now and the launch of the QMS, we’re still going to ramp up production. We want to operate at a very high standard. So, to me, that is when the gun goes off and we are officially open.”
Contact us to schedule a tour. We look forward to welcoming you this summer.