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Technical aid

For seven years now, an IPT program has been attending to micro and small companies

MIGUEL BOYAYANOne of the serious problems confronted by micro and small technology based companies is their lack of resources to invest in the development of new products and in the improvement of their processes. Some seven years ago these obstacles, which impede the growth of businesses and entrepreneurial expansion, began to receive the attention of the Mobile Project Units (Prumo) of the Technology Research Institute (IPT) of São Paulo. The program, a type of technological first aid, takes a mobile laboratory to the industrial company, within a van, with instruments and equipment for tests, analyses and the realization of experiments useful to the company. Operated by a specialist and assistant in the company’s area, the mobile units identify and implement solutions at the company’s location for problems related to raw material, production processes and even to the finished product. From the time that it was established, in March of 1999, the Prumo program has attended to around 1,600 companies.

This transfer of technical knowledge, says the engineer Vicente Mazzarella, from IPT, the mentor and general coordinator of the Prumo Program, has brought many benefits to the Brazilian industrial parks. “As well as improving the quality of products and reducing manufacturing costs, there are even cases of companies managing to increase their productivity by as much as 200%”, he explains. The Project attends to companies within five industrial sectors: plastics, surface treatment, leather and shoe manufacturing, rubber and woods as well as furniture.

The fruit of a partnership between the IPT and the Brazilian Service of Support for Micro and Small Companies in the State of Sao Paulo (Sebrae-SP), the program has the support of FAPESP, which funded the acquisition of 10 of the project’s 13 vans. The other three were purchased with resources from the Financier of Studies and Projects (Finep) of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT). Sebrae is responsible for an 80 % subsidy of each service provided, which costs R$ 3,000. The remaining 20%, equivalent to R$ 600, is paid for by the company. However, by way of a partnership with the State of São  Paulo Science and Technology Secretariat, the first encounter is totally free and the remaining 20% is paid for by the state government. “The companies only pay for the outstanding 20 % if they require the service a second time”,  explains  Mazzarella. “With the current structure of the program, it’s possible to attend to 120 companies per month.”

The Project’s methodology is relatively simple. After the entrepreneur requests the service, a specialist visits the factory and diagnoses the problem. On average, a week later the technicians go to the company with a mobile unit in order to carry out the visit. “During this visit, which can last up to two days, they solve technical problems related to the manufacture of the product, the efficiency of the process, the operation of equipment or the choice of raw materials, among others”, explains engineer Silas Derenzo, the coordinator of the plastics and rubber sectors.

Plastics market
The companies that make use of plastics were the first to be able to count upon the Prumo services and are those that make the most number of requests for the IPT technicians. Only during 2005 there were some 325 requests –  almost half of the annual total of 670. The five mobile units equipped to deal with companies in this market sector are able to count upon carrying out 13 different types of experiments and tests. Because of their elevated cost, many of these tests are inaccessible to companies of small size. In the sector of the rubber transformation, another with a strong demand for the service (144 companies during 2005), the technicians look to detect problems such as raw material mixing, formulae, etc.

It was in an attempt to recover the leftovers in the production of rubber parts for industrial sealing, that Robinson Campos, the owner of  Meritor, in São Paulo, requested the aid of Prumo. “After the rubber has been vulcanized, the trim was discarded generating a large quantity of leftovers”, points out Campos. The IPT technicians presented a methodology for the re-use of part of the leftovers, which returned to the productive process. This represented an economy of 20% in the acquisition of raw material, which costs US$ 60 per kilogram, and a gain to the environment with the reduction of the discarded leftovers.

A total of 450 visits carried out between August of 2005 and March of this year gives one an idea of the dimension of the spread and the results from the Prumo Project. Almost 95% of the company owners declared that their technical problems had been solved with the assistance of the program and 61% managed to improve their product. Around one third increased their production and 28% reduced the losses that occurred in the process. With so many advantages, more than half of the companies attended to (52%) widened their slice of the market share, conquering new clients, and 94% declared that they would call for the Prumo service again if it were to become necessary.

A thermometer as to the acceptance of the program is the fact that it has gone beyond the frontiers of the State of São Paulo. The project has already been taken to small businesses in the states of Paraná, Ceará, Paraiba, Pernambuco and Bahia. This was a pilot scheme with resources from Finep and, in the states of the northeast, with counterbalancing finance from the Banco do Nordeste, as well as the Secretariat for Science and Technology of the State of Parana. Now with the support of the MCT, the Prumo Project is turning itself into a national program.

The Project
Prumo – Mobile Units Project for technological attention to micro and small businesses in the plastics transformation industrial sector (nº 00/06445-4); Modality Technological Innovation Partnership Program (PITE); Coordinator Silas Derenzo –  IPT; Investment R$ 709,066.39 (FAPESP)