New research facilities in pipeline to ensure technological innovation in Nuevo Leon

Nuevo León’s government, private sector and universities are working to build up the state’s reputation as one of Mexico’s leading centres for innovation. The transition towards Industry 4.0 is in its initial stages, but many sector players in Nuevo León see the potential for success. “Mexico has the foundations to be a world leader in research and development (R&D),” Rafael Almanza, CEO of innovative solutions provider Industronic, told OBG.

As Mexican states work to adjust to the new realities of global production chains, the state of Nuevo León has certain advantages over the others. “R&D centres have to be close to the factory; if not, it becomes complicated to innovate due to logistical problems,” Almanza said. In this regard, Nuevo León is well positioned to make strides in technology-driven innovation, as there are over 100 R&D centres in the industry-driven state. In addition, university researchers and manufacturing companies are also working together on ways to add value to production and design processes.

Driving Technological Innovation

Since 2008 Nuevo León’s government has worked proactively, in collaboration with the federal government, to help develop the state as a hub for advanced manufacturing and technology-driven innovation. In 2009 the state government passed the Law to Promote Knowledge and Technological Innovation for the Development of the State of Nuevo León, which mandated that the state allocate 1% of its budget to science, technology and innovation through government programmes in order to support the development of a knowledge-based economy.

Though Nuevo León has yet to meet its 1% budget allocation target, unlike other states in Mexico, it contributes a higher-than-average percentage of its GDP to the fields of science, technology and innovation, at 0.8% compared to 0.4% at the national level, according to the State Development Plan 2016-21.

R&D

Nuevo León is well positioned to emerge as one of Latin America’s main hubs for technical innovation. Each year 5000 engineers graduate from its universities. The state has nearly 100 industrial parks and is working to develop new centres for R&D, which will play a key role in ensuring that Nuevo León remains a leader of industrial innovation.

In 2008 the Autonomous University of Nuevo León (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, UANL) opened its Centre for Innovation, Research and Development in Engineering and Technology ( Investigación y Desarrollo en Ingeniería y Tecnología CIIDIT) inside the Technological Research and Innovation Park (Parque de Investigación e Innovación Tecnológica, PIIT). CIIDIT brings together students, post-graduate researchers and engineers from the industrial sector. The centre is part of a new group of government-funded laboratories and public and private R&D centres that are working to turn Nuevo León into a major hub for innovation.

In 2016 steel producer Ternium collaborated with the National College of Technical Professional Education, the UANL and the Centre for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute to create a new technical high school in Pesquería, a neighbourhood surrounding Monterrey.

Also in the same year the Automotive Cluster of Nuevo León (Clúster Automotriz de Nuevo León, CLAUT), in collaboration with the state secretary of economy, the UANL and local manufacturers Metalsa (auto parts) and Nemak (automotives), as well as US companies Caterpillar and John Deere, opened the Automotive Centre for Technology and Talent Development. Also known as DRIVEN CLAUT Innovation Centre, it is located inside the UANL’s CIIDIT facility within the PIIT park. At the public opening of the 180-sq-m, MXN30m ($1.6m) DRIVEN facility in March 2016, Leopoldo Cedillo Villarreal, chairman of CLAUT, said, “What we want is for Nuevo León to be the region that generates the most added value in the automotives industry.” The centre was built in order to provide small and medium-sized enterprises with access to the most advanced product design software and technology, and encourage new investment in companies looking to engage in research and design work. “We want to keep attracting companies from other countries who will build engineering centres here and strengthen the ecosystem,” Cedillo Villarreal said. Nuevo León’s Ministry of Economy and Labour provided half of the funding for the project, while CLAUT member companies financed the rest.

In March 2017 the UANL announced the establishment of a new certificate programme to provide ongoing technical and management training to 200 employees from 50 small and medium-sized enterprises that operate as suppliers for Nuevo León’s biggest metallurgical companies.

Close Collaboration & Competition

In addition to the many R&D centres in Nuevo León, another advantage is the close collaboration between the state’s industrial companies and universities, a partnership that is already yielding positive results. One of the state’s most important projects is the Centre for Technological Outreach, which is located inside the PIIT. The MXN27m ($1.5m) centre opened in March 2013, and was partially funded by the Chamber of Industry of Nuevo León (Camara de la Industria de Transformacion de Nuevo León, CAINTRA), the state’s primary industrial association and lobby.

Mario Parga, economic analysis and legislative affairs officer at CAINTRA, told OBG that as Nuevo León works to stay competitive, the industrial sector will have to embrace more advanced manufacturing techniques. “At CAINTRA we are dedicated to promoting Industry 4.0 among our members. We have to prepare ourselves. There’s still a lot to be done, but we are further ahead than other states,” Parga said.

Future Plans

Therefore, to maintain its lead over other states, Nuevo León has plans to launch more R&D centres. The state government’s ambitious agenda includes the creation of five new labs, including a facility at Regiomontana University ( Universidad Regiomontana, U-ERRE), which will be the first Industry 4.0 university lab in Mexico, and is expected to be operational by the start of 2019. The facility will focus on machine-to-machine communication, big data, the internet of things and other technologies that have direct industrial applications, which will help companies to expand their offerings. “Businesses are starting to use big data and innovative communication methods to offer and deliver new products and services,” Edgar Castillo, director-general of auto-parts company Grupo Avante, told OBG. Leveraging these technologies will not only boost business operations, but also enhance customer experiences. “The government has yet to develop a coordinated and integrated approach to online services, and there is still room to boost efficiency with new technologies such as big data and cloud computing,” Adrián Martínez, director-general at construction firm Grupo Maiz, told OBG.

In early 2018 the state government also announced the construction of a new digital technology laboratory called the Fab Lab. It is expected to receive investment of MXN100m ($5.4m) and will be established in the PIIT. These new centres will complement the existing panorama of research facilities in the state. Martha Leal-González, director of planning at the Institute for Innovation and Technology Transfer, told OBG, “The presence of universities and R&D centres is definitely an advantage for Nuevo León’s industrial cluster. It helps businesses become more competitive, and form alliances on projects that make use of the available labour force and infrastructure.”

Mexico’s federal government is also adding to the effort to foment advanced research in Nuevo León, through the National Council on Science and Technology and federally funded laboratories. Meanwhile, Nuevo León’s publicly funded labs and R&D centres will bring industry-leading technology and equipment to a broader array of small and medium-sized enterprises. The proximity to advanced facilities and well-qualified researchers is a big advantage for Nuevo León’s industrial companies.

Martin Subiria, CEO of Weir Minerals México, a company that manufactures equipment for the mining and oil and gas sectors, told OBG, “Investing in new technology is becoming cheaper. Companies need to look not only into automatisation systems, but also into artificial intelligence, data analytics and big data to help them take decisions faster and with fewer mistakes. Companies that integrated artificial intelligence into their process will have a competitive advantage.” As Nuevo León’s industrial ecosystem continues to evolve its manufacturing processes, the state is well on the way to establishing its position as a tech-driven innovation hub.

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