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Laboratory in the factory

Prumo serves 150 companies and shows good results after one year

After one year and four months, when it reached the mark of serving 150 small and medium companies, Prumo, the Mobile Unit Project, drew up a balance of the positive results of transferring technological knowledge to the plastics processing sector – parts free from defects, improvements to the raw material, and the elimination of operational errors are some of the benefits achieved by dozens of businesspersons who are now more qualified to serve the domestic market and to win a place on the export list.

A study carried out by the IPT, the Institute of Technological Research, which runs the program, shows a few of the main results accomplished, such as increased productivity, a drop in returned orders, winning over more demanding customers, and the possibility of replacing imports. The same survey also reveals an increase of 25% in the processing of raw material, 29% in sales, and 18% in the number of jobs.

Launched in March last year, the program innovates in taking to companies a mobile laboratory, inside a van, with instruments for testing and for processing several useful experiments for industries in the transformation of plastics sector in the state of São Paulo. The mobile units are operated by an engineer and a technician in plastics.

Prumo is the result of a partnership agreement between the IPT, Sebrae, the Brazilian Support Service for Mini and Small Enterprises, and the INP, the National Plastics Institute, with the support of FAPESP, through  PITE, The University – Company  Technological Innovation Program.  Sebrae subsidizes 70% of the service, which costs R$ 2,900.00, leaving 30%, or R$ 900.00, for the businessperson.  Thinking of making life easier for the businesspersons unable to pay in one go for Prumo’s services, Sebrae has decided to split up payment into installments.  Since the beginning of this year, it has been possible to receive a visit from Prumo and to pay for the 30% in four installments.  The INP has done the job of publicizing the projects amongst the industries.

Lower cost
The mobile units are equipped to carry out 19 tests, with equipment of the latest generation. There are tests of extrusion,  water absorption, and several of resistance, to bending, tearing, pulling, and compression. Before Prumo’s operations began, some of them were only accessible to large-sized companies, due to the high cost.

Besides getting the companies to make the necessary changes, the project is also working as a gateway to the various services run by the IPT.  The institute has the reputation, amongst small and mini businesses, of being an institution intended only for large companies that charges a high price for its services. “With Prumo, the IPT has taken on a new attitude, and reached out to help  businesspersons in their  working environment”, explains Vicente Mazzarella, aged 67, the IPT’s technical director and the project inventor.  He says the activities carried out by Prumo have managed to show the participants the advantages of being technologically updated.

Mazzarella is planning to expand the project to other industries.  If it all works out, he would like to see it serving such industries such as leather and footwear, surface  treatment, ceramics, and rubber transformation. “The expansion of Prumo’s services will help in the process of technological improvement in these sectors”, he explains.

One of Prumo’s difficulties at the moment is to convince its target public of the importance to accept this kind of service. “We have to change some of the deep-rooted ideas in our businessmen’s mentalities, and that is not easy”, says Paulo Dacolina, INP’s managing director. He thinks that the process is slow, but that it is showing good results.

Changing to expand
To increase the number of companies it serves, at the beginning of this year INP reached an agreement with 12 distributors in the petrochemical resin industries in the state of São Paulo. The objective is to find sponsors to finance the 30% of the service cost, which today the company picks up.  “Each distributor accepts a quota of 20 companies, and pays the part that would be for theirs”, he says.  According to Dacolina, the INP has invested in this first year about R$ 40,000 to publicize the project.

Those who have tried out Prumo’s services have nothing to regret. Businessman Jorg Stegmann, aged 43, the owner of Aquaterra, in Taboão da Serra, in the metropolitan area of São Paulo, is one of them. Stegmann was looking for a way of checking whether the products that he manufactures were of  the same quality level, in order to satisfy the more demanding customers. The company manufactures boats, playground products, and canoes. Reinforced plastic and fiberglass are the materials used in production.

To meet the objective, a number of tests had to be carried out to check the industrial processes and the employed methods. That was when he discovered that the IPT had a mobile service that went out to the companies.  Stegmann decided to sign up for a visit from Prumo. “Until then, I thought that the IPT’s services were intended only for big projects, and prohibitive for Aquaterra’s size”, he says.  In three days of work, the technicians from the IPT drew up the parameters and made some corrections to Aquaterra’s course. “I feel secure about the quality level of my products, with it being checked by the IPT”, Stegmann commemorates, who is a yachtsman in his spare time.  He says that his company’s suppliers and customers were surprised at the presence of the IPT in Acquterra. “People are very favorably impressed when one talks of seeking technological improvements”, he says.

He thinks that the presence of a mobile laboratory on the factory floor has made it easier to solve the various problems that appear in the daily routine.  “Monitoring the processes of gluing, painting, resistance and the methods was crucial for the good results achieved”, he reckons.  Aquaterra has 30 employees and its sales last year were R$ 1.5 million.  For this year, the expectation is for growth of 25%, bringing them close to R$ 2 million.

New universe
Stegmann is now imagining flying higher: the foreign market. With the assurance that all the adjustments have been made, the company is in the middle of a study of technical feasibility, referring to the first stage of Progex, the Program of Technological Support for the Exporting Company, run by the IPT.  “Having started with the work done by Prumo, I am discovering a new universe of business”, says Stegmann.

According to Mari Katayama, the assistant director for special projects at IPT, Prumo successfully solves some of the main technical problems faced by businessmen that make it difficult to export. “Despite not having exporting as its main goal, Prumo improves quality and productivity, at the same time that it contributes towards a reduction in the costs of production, so creating a potential exporter”, she says. Mari tells how Prumo is arousing interest in other states, and may have its methodology made available in other in places the country.

There are certainly many companies in a critical situation that, with Prumo’s support, are developing better business. This was the case of Mebuki, from Guarulhos. Last year, with the start of Feicon, the International Trade Fair of the Construction Industry only 15 days away, businessman Jairo Uemura felt that the investment of R$ 150,000, made for the launch of a bathroom kit, was under threat. “We didn’t have the slightest idea of the cause of our problem”, admits, today, a relieved businessman.  Mebuki’s bathroom kit, made with ABS, a kind of plastic, and perspex, kept all those involved  in project awake for several nights, and, even so, the quality failed to please. “We had tried everything, and the only way out was to dump the project”, recalls Uemura.

Kits without defects
When he visited Brasilplast, the International Trade Fair of the Plastics Industry, in São Paulo, the businessman learned about the f the existence of Prumo, and signed up straight away. “We were the first company to be assisted by the program”, he boasts. In three days of tests and analyses, the technicians manage to solve the “mysterious” problems that were afflicting the businessman.  Changes were made to the temperature and speed of the injection of the plastic, amongst other details.  The equipment was regulated, and the first defect-free kits began to come off the production line, in time to go on display at Feicom.  “They were a great success”, Uemura recalls.

The kits are marketed today in the whole of Brazil and exported to the USA, Argentina, Uruguay, and the Caribbean. In one year, they have come to amount to 30% of Mebuki’s sales, which came to R$ 2.5 million. Mebuki also manufactures toilet seats, floats, overhead cisterns and seed boxes for the agricultural sector.

“The mini and small businessman are very afraid to open up their companies to organizations that have, in some way, a connection with the government”, observes Uemura. The reason is the suspicion that the company will be minutely investigated with regard to taxes, technology, and the products considered to be industrial secrets. These are actually concepts that have nothing to do with the functions of Prumo.

Before having access to Prumo, Uemura says that he judged himself to be one of the greatest experts on plastics on the face of the Earth. “I used to believe that I had complete mastery of the subject, but reality proved to be showed itself to be quite different”, he confesses. Today, Uemura does not take one step in the area of technology without consulting the specialist at the IPT.

Quality products
Mebuki has, at the moment, 65 employees. With the success of the bathroom kit and a new launching before the end of the year, the company hopes to increase sales by 40%.  “We are creating quality products aimed at the C and D classes, which are very poorly served”, says Uemura.

Besides making corrections in the manufacturing processes, the team from the IPT also clears up the doubts of the workers involved in the process.  Direct contact with the owners and their employees is part of the daily routine of Engineer Walmir Hiroharu Wada, who goes out with one of Prumo’s mobile units. He has been with the project since the beginning, and says that the problems shown by the companies are generally easy to solve. He recalls, however, that there is great resistance to the necessary changes on the part of the businesspersons.  “In the first contact, some are scared about the effectiveness of the work, but after seeing the results they start to trust our work, and even  become good friends”, explains Wada, who has visited some 50 companies scattered all over the State.  “I have even visited a company set up inside an inactive chicken farm”, he laughs.

Rookie in the business
Another good example of the service offered by Prumo is Plásticos Bom Pastor, located in Santo André, which has as one of its partners businesswoman Nanci Rodrigues Correa.  She was worried over the variation in weight shown by a five-liter plastic flask, produced by her company, as well as by the lack of experience of the employees. A rookie in plastics, Nanci and her family discovered Prumo through Sebrae.  She signed herself up, and within 48 hours the  problem cause with the product was identified.  “It was the quality of the raw material”, she says.

Some of the solutions indicated for Plásticos Bom Pastor were the addition of 10% of resin, to give stability to the plastic compound, and to make an adjustment to the method for injection.  “We managed to reduce by 18% the use of raw material, and to increase productivity by 20%”, tells Nanci, a graduate in Literature. For her, going to the IPT was a watershed.  Besides solving the technical problems, they gave training to all the workers in the company, which now employs ten people and makes toys, and parts for the automobile industry and other sectors.

Last year, the company grossed R$ 350,000, and, this year, the expectation is for an increase of 30%. To do this, they also made an investment of R$ 100,000 in the purchase of another three second hand injecting machines. “We feel sure enough to take bigger steps after Prumo’s visit”, says Nanci.

Mazzarella tells that, in this its first year, the project has proved to be viable and produced fine fruit.  “Our big surprise is that the practical results have surpassed all our original expectations.”

Vicente Mazzarella is a metallurgical engineer, a graduate of USP’s Polytechnic School.  He is a post-graduate in Physical Metallurgy from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, in Pittsburgh, United States, and in Business Administration from the Getúlio Vargas Foundation.

Prumo – the Project of Mobile Units for Technological Assistance to Mini and Small Companies; Modality Research Partnership for Technological Innovation – PITE; Coordinator Vicente Mazzarella; Investment: R$ 94,847.00 and US$ 253,992.00, from FAPESP, and R$ 1,182,000.00, from Sebrae, by means of Patme, the Technological Support Program for Mini and Small Companies, the IPT and the INP.