In 2005, annual passenger vehicle sales in Mexico hit the 1 million milestone. It was the beginning of a new era, and José Blix, president of British Federal Mexico (BFMX) and executive vice president of CenterLine Mexico, remembers it well. Back then, there were only six major car manufacturers producing vehicles in the country, including Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen. Today, there are more than 40, propelling Mexico to be the sixth largest country in terms of motor vehicle production.
Leading up to the sale of Mexico’s millionth vehicle, Blix had been diversifying his company’s product mix to support the changing needs of the country’s automotive manufacturing industry.
“When I think about the industry back in ’93 and ’94, it was definitely a different market than it is now,” Blix explains. “Back then, the proportion of automation was exactly the opposite. About 70 percent of welding was manual, including the process of resistance welding. Now, about 90 percent is automated. A lot of that growth happened in the 1990s and early 2000s.”
During those transition years, many of the automotive plants in Mexico didn’t have access to the technology and training they needed. They were still working to establish a culture of carrying out resistance welding in the proper way. Blix recognized the need and began shaping his company to help meet the needs of the industry. To do so, he focused on training and education and service and support.
Blix’s story with the welding industry in Mexico began in 1993. Based on his machinery selling experience, British Federal Ltd., a newcomer to the country, hired him as its direct sales representative. British Federal was hardly a newcomer to the international market, however. It was founded in the 1930s, and by the time the company approached Blix, it was No. 1 in the European resistance welding market and was in the top 10 worldwide.
“By 1997, we had established a small office in Mexico City as a subsidiary of British Federal, going by the name British Federal Mexico (BFMX),” Blix says. “British Federal had this great vision about the international market; they had offices everywhere – in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, all over Europe and in Turkey and India. I handled all of the Latin America sales and strategies, including South America. During the first three or four years, we secured a few small contracts with Chrysler and some Tier 1 companies, but it wasn’t until 2001 or 2002 when things really took off.”
Around the same time, British Federal found itself struggling. Its leadership was nearing retirement, and the resistance welding market was evolving at a pace too fast for them to keep up with. In 2001, British Federal went into receivership, leading Blix to eventually acquire the subsidiary.
“Back then, the Mexican office had been No. 1 in overall British Federal sales overseas, contributing up to 15 percent of their global sales,” Blix says. “Leading up to the Chapter 11 filing, the British Federal CEO had said that I needed to do two things: find products that I could sell from other companies and become self-sufficient. So that’s what I did – with the help of Don DeCorte.”
Blix met DeCorte, the vice president of RoMan Mfg., a leader in industrial resistance welding components, at Fabtech in Chicago in 1999. During that initial meeting, DeCorte explained that his company had been selling transformers to British Federal, but that he was looking for a new partner in Mexico to do the same. Over the years, DeCorte – a lifelong member of the Society (AWS) – introduced Blix to some of the biggest resistance welding companies in North America, including Centerline, Welding Technology Corp. and Watteredge.
“In 2001, BFMX had sales of about $300,000, but by 2017, we had risen to almost $14 million in sales,” Blix says. “We multiplied our sales and, other than the downturn in 2008 and 2009, we have been growing. Today, for the equipment we sell – resistance welders, weld guns, cables and robot dress packs, transformers, welding caps and tip dressers – we have the largest amount of sales. For welding controls, I’m pretty sure we’re in the top two. In terms of engineers and technicians, I believe we are also No. 1 in Mexico. We’re one of the most integrated companies in the country. We’re incredibly happy with where we are today, but, of course, we’re always looking for new markets and opportunities.”
As Blix was growing BFMX to where it is today, the overall Mexican automotive industry was in a state of maturation. To aid in that process, Blix set out to establish his business as a go-to provider of not only equipment and consumables, but also training, education and support.
“When I first started selling to the auto industry, one of the things that I carried over from my experience with British Federal was their dedication to service,” Blix says. “The level of support and service that they provided their customers was extraordinary. They had a lot of knowledge to share. When we started competing against these large, established companies in Mexico, one of the things that I quickly discovered was that they were struggling to offer the right level of support to their customers. When they would ship their equipment here, they would only have one or two guys to make service calls. It was a problem.
“They didn’t realize that the companies in Mexico needed more support and training than what might have been needed in the United States back then,” he continues. “Currently, we are one of few companies in Mexico that supplies training and resistance welding courses. We also offer our customers online support and do preventative maintenance and weld certification.
Education and training have been essential in growing the Mexican welding industry, and that’s why Blix built his service department to have more service technicians than sales representatives. “That’s how we’ve done business the entire time and it’s how we’ll continue to do business,” he says.
In 2018, Blix applied for government funding to build the country’s first independent resistance welding lab at BFMX’s headquarters now located in Querétaro. The goal was to allow customers to bring in their parts to conduct welding coupons, samples and trials.
“One guy came in a few years ago with some aluminum pots and pans, saying that he had been having a hard time finding the right way to weld them,” Blix says. “Our welding trials were so successful that he almost offered us a contract to build them all.”
About 90 percent of Blix’s customers come from the automotive sector, but he is constantly looking for new markets, including appliances and aerospace, which have both been growing in Mexico. Overall, Blix says that his relationship with the AWS has and will continue to support the future success of BFMX.
“I’ve been a member of AWS since 1994 when I started working with British Federal,” he says. “A few years later, I enrolled the company as an AWS member, as well. Since then, I’ve attended several events hosted by AWS, such as Fabtech in the United States as well as in Mexico. Networking at those events has been so critical in our journey as a company. A great example of that is meeting people like Don DeCorte, who put me in touch with so many other resistance welders, weld guns, cables and robot dress packs, transformers, welding caps and tip dressers.”
Currently, AWS has two official chapters in Mexico: one in Monterrey and one in Chihuahua. There is also a student chapter located in Nuevo Leon. For companies that may be outside of those regions, AWS also has extensions of its chapters that are based in Texas and Florida.
As Blix further establishes the company’s training and service departments, AWS will yet again be integral to those efforts. In addition to the company’s welding lab, Blix plans to open a training facility in Querétaro.
“We really want to move to the next level with our training efforts, which is to get recognized from AWS as a certified resistance welding training facility,” he says. “That’s our goal for the next year. During the past 20-plus years, we have been laser focused on reaching our goals and growing the Mexican welding industry. We will continue to do so with the help of groups like AWS.”