WHEN will Filipino consumers venerate or even boast of the “Made in the Philippines” label? Or believe that the Filipino can? Perhaps a few years from now? Or a decade or two from now?
But in an industrial park in Cabuyao, Laguna, a manufacturing company has been demonstrating since 1992 that Filipinos can make world-class products.
The company, Roberts Automotive and Industrial Parts Manufacturing Corporation (Roberts AIMPC), also looks poised to cash in on the future growth of the domestic car market because its founder has been forward-looking.
Behind the establishment of the company is Robert Cheng, who was also behind the founding of Uratex Foam Philippines that is now the biggest foam and bed manufacturer not only in the Philippines but also in Southeast Asia. Robert is the chairman of AIMPC while Natividad Cheng is the president.
Obviously, Roberts AIMPC was named after Robert Cheng.
But everyday operations of Roberts AIMPC rest with its general manager Mike Gonzalez who happens to be a pioneer employee of the company. The company currently supplies parts for Toyota and Mitsubishi vehicles, and the mufflers of Kawasaki motorcycles. Since early last year, the company has started exporting catalytic converters.
Before Roberts AIMPC was founded, Uratex started supplying seats and paddings for Mitsubishi and Honda vehicles assembled in the Philippines.
“Because of the close ties Robert Cheng had with the automotive industry, he built his reputation on quality, reliability and dependability. So the car firms initiated the idea for Mr. Robert Cheng to go into automotive metal parts,” Gonzalez said.
So in 1993, Roberts Radiator Corporation was founded by Cheng to supply radiators to a few car firms. Gonzalez joined the company as a pioneer in what was his second job since graduating from the University of Santo Tomas.
“We started radiator manufacturing during those times, and even the parts of the radiator we fabricated. So we had stamping operations,” he said.
The company later changed its name to Roberts Automotive and Industrial Parts Manufacturing Corporation and widened its product line to include leaf springs, mufflers and body panels.
“So we went into diversification, not only radiators. We went into automotive leaf springs as well and then we went into the manufacturing of body parts,” Gonzalez said.
It was in 1998 that the company entered into a technical tie-up with Futaba of Japan so it can acquire the know-how to manufacture mufflers for Toyota vehicles, particularly the Vios and Innova.
“There was a need for a tie-up [for muffler manufacturing]because original equipment manufacturers [OEM] require a high level of quality,” Gonzalez said.
And in a show of foresight, Cheng purchased machines that made Roberts AIMPC well prepared to supply clients with various vehicle parts.
“Because of the vision of our chairman Robert Cheng, he started purchasing a lot of machinery like the 800-ton and 600-ton presses. He even went into OEM mufflers in 1998,” Gonzalez said.
“So when the opportunities are coming in already, the biggest edge Roberts has are the facilities. He [Cheng] was very forward-looking,” he added.
So when Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corporation started localization of its Adventure Asian utility vehicle, the presses to stamp body parts were already available at Roberts AIMPC.
And because it had acquired expertise in manufacturing mufflers, Roberts AIMPC was able to meet the muffler requirement for one of the motorcycles Suzuki manufactures in the Philippines.
“Suddenly came the requirement of Kawasaki for mufflers, so the opportunity came in. Now Roberts is the first Filipino company to manufacture OEM motorcycle mufflers,” Gonzalez said.
“We also do actually several fuel tanks of motorcycles,” he added.
And in February last year, Roberts AIMPC started exporting catalytic converters to the United States at a rate of 3,000 units per month.
“It’s still a developing project and our export customer is targeting 4,000 units a month,” Gonzalez said.
KEEPING UP WITH QUALITY
The general manager of Roberts AIMPC said dealing with car manufacturers requires consistency in quality and strict adherence to various standards.
“Since this is an OEM [business], we see to it that our performance with regard to quality, delivery and cost is met,” Gonzalez said.
He explained that car manufacturers continuously rate OEM suppliers like Roberts AIMPC and they would only consider manufacturers who are good performers.
“We always say in our [company]meetings we need to be consistent in meeting their [car firms]demands. So we do whatever it takes to meet their requirement. They [car firm’s]standards are very strict and they’re ever changing, the level of targets and all. Even in delivery, a lot of the OEMs are practicing JIT or just in time,” he added.
On JIT, suppliers of car parts are given a window to deliver the required inventory of parts daily that favors both the vehicle manufacturer and the parts supplier.
“It’s [JIT] a good thing, we can maintain low inventory at the factory,” Gonzalez said.
Although Roberts AIMPC has been supplying parts to vehicle manufacturers since its founding in 1993, it has also served the needs of the after-market for replacement parts.
“As a whole, the major business [of the company]is after-market and OEM. After-market is about 31 percent and OEM is about 41 percent of the business. We also have some furniture-making in support of Uratex. We manufacture seat frames [for the car and bus seats],” Gonzalez said.
“Before we go into full-blast manufacturing [of a vehicle part], we always consider our market, and honestly the products that we are producing started with the mindset that we should have an aftermarket always,” he added.
The strategy of considering an after-market for its products was proven in the success of the company’s Evercool Radiators and Tiger Leaf Springs. The major market of the radiators and leaf springs of Roberts AIMPC is the transport sector in the Philippines.
“When it comes to the after-market, we are the only manufacturer of radiators and leaf springs. Evercool and Tiger are No. 1 brands,” Gonzalez said.
He added the Evercool Radiators and Tiger Leaf Springs Roberts AIMPC supplied to the market have the same level of quality of the products the company supplies to car firms.
Since it has been busy supplying radiators and leaf springs for the after-market and OEM parts for car firms, Roberts AIMPC has expanded its operations in the past years and may even ramp up its facilities soon.
Gonzalez said one vacant building at the Roberts AIMPC compound in Laguna that was built a few years ago is now fully utilized because business has been good.
He added that expanding the company’s operations is also being discussed with higher management especially with the government’s Comprehensive Automotive Resurgence Strategy (CARS) program or Executive Order (EO) 182 that aims to develop the local car parts manufacturing industry.
“We just need support from the government. With regard to this new EO, that’s what we need actually,” Gonzalez said.
The CARS program stipulates fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to jumpstart revitalization of the country’s automotive industry, improve its competitiveness and elevate the country into an auto manufacturing hub in the region. It calls for new investments in manufacturing parts not currently available in the country, like large car body panels, bumpers, instrument panels, head lamps, shock absorbers, plastic fuel tanks, automotive fabric and others.
Gonzales said ramping up the output of Roberts AIMPC to meet the increased supply for car parts as an offshoot of the CARS program will need a lot of preparation and planning.
He added that the founder of the company, Robert Cheng, is still committed to putting the Philippines on the map of automotive parts manufacturing.
More important, Cheng and Gonzales and the rest of the AIMPC family want to show that the Philippines can manufacture automotive quality products.
“That’s what we are trying to send, the message we are trying to send to consumers, that the Filipino can,” Gonzalez said.