Uquifa Group Mexico – Meeting Tomorrow’s Challenges

Ensuring right first time product release amidst volatility in global supply chains and the rising regulatory expectations from a GMP manufacturer of pharmaceutical APIs are two of the challenges facing Uquifa Mexico, but the company is more than ready to address them.

The Uquifa Group is a Barcelona- headquartered independent API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients) business offering development and manufacturing capabilities to its global customer base across the USA, EU, Japan, and South America.  The Uquifa Group, founded in 1936, today has two GMP API sites in Barcelona and one small scale GMP & large scale non-GMP site in Hungary, in addition to the Group´s Mexican operations.

“Its foray in Mexico began through the acquisition of a local company Julian Laboratories which started its operations on a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility at Cuernavaca in 1972. Both the business and the facility were sold to Uquifa in 1997, starting the beginning of a lasting partnership.

“It is a Group that after so many changes right now is an independent company with headquarters in Barcelona, four plants like this, one in Hungary, two in Catalonia and this one in Mexico,” explains Miguel Angel Maceda, Managing Director at Uquifa Mexico. “We’ve been here for 49 years manufacturing APIs. Our only customers are the pharmaceutical industry. We’re exporting APIs for the pharmaceutical industry to over 50 countries around the world, with markets in South Africa, China, Europe, USA and in Mexico we sell 7% of our total volume.”

At the plant in Mexico Uquifa is staffed by a team of 260 people, running the facility 24/7 over four shifts on production, quality control, and maintenance.

“We are a very flexible operation here in Mexico,” Maceda explains. “We were at our highest volumes; we’re manufacturing 300 tons a year of just one API. We have another 17 APIs. We have found how to schedule these different APIs in two manufacturing plants across the year. We have achieved lead times of a matter of weeks, for the 3 main API’s manufacturing phases.”

These phases start using the specialised reactors that Uquifa plants have. Then, second phase is the filtration, using centrifuges. Final phase is the drying process, that converts wet API’s into powder, using different dryers technology.

“Innovation is part of our values, embedded in our DNA is the continuous improvement. At Uquifa Mexico we have a Business Improvement Project. Main objective is to optimize our processes to deliver our products on-time, fulfilling the quality specification,” Maceda tells us.

Supplying Demand

While the technology and techniques Uquifa uses have allowed it to forge a prominent place in the market.

“Right now, our biggest challenge is the broken supply chain, like too many other industries,” Maceda says. “Since a year ago we’ve seen the prices of raw materials and solvents increasing week on week. We imported 65% of our raw materials from different parts of the world but mainly from India and we’ve seen how ship freight rates have risen.”

Uquifa has investigated alternative options, but in the current economic climate, it can be difficult to find vessels for shipping, or even shipping containers.

“Right now, our challenge is to meet our production release plans while generating margins that will allow continuous investment,” Maceda says. “We have been discussing it with our customers, but in general they will not accept an increase in prices even as we show the reasons why it is happening. The vendors of raw materials have seen the same issue. This is our biggest challenge, maintaining continuity of the business through this perfect storm.”

In response to these difficult circumstances, Uquifa has relied on a culture of transparency and communication.

“Our leadership style and culture here in the company is very open and honest. All of our colleagues, 259 of them and myself, know what is happening,” Maceda tells us. “I share information every week about the demands of our customers, who have also been suffering from these raw material shortages and high prices. Every week we share our production plan, how to balance the challenges facing us and give the best service to our customers and financial impact.”

That the company continues to receive purchase orders from its regular customers is a testament to the success of that strategy. Uquifa continued to be driven by its open honest communication culture and its constant effort to find improved ways of doing things through teamwork.

“We look for new opportunities every day, just trying to look at the better options,” Maceda says. “We encourage teamwork. We’re executing several different projects right now, improving our processes and expediting the current & new products for more customers.”

Ready for the Future

Of course, all the communication in the world will not help unless the people communicating have the necessary skills and attributes to help steer the company through these challenging times, and Maceda has taken this as an opportunity to look at the open positions within the company, and whether the roles are fit for purpose.

“Things are changing so quickly, driven by the pandemic and right now we see the opportunity to review job descriptions,” he says. “We have included five different Lominger competencies for individual collaborators and nine for people leaders. One of them is communication, another is problem-solving, and customer trust and the last one that we have is related to the ethics and values of the person. We are looking for talent that has the same values as the company such as courage, respect, and transparency. We want the talent who has the kind of values that they can bring to the company.”

On top of that bedrock of values, there needs to be a foundation of technical competency. Depending on the kind of role the candidate is applying for Uquifa looks to match or exceed those technical requirements, and Maceda is impressed at the level of commitment and knowledge young candidates are bringing to the job market right now.

“It is amazing how these young people have been dedicated to studying (some of them have a PhD) and practice at the labs and we have great talent not only in research and development but also in quality control, production and other sectors of the company,” Maceda says.

These new recruits will take Uquifa towards a bright future, propelled by the company’s mission to meet customer requirements and adapt to a changing economy.

“I think that the future of the company is the one that is about responding fast to customer requirements and remaining flexible,” Maceda says. “We want to be a company that can supply the different APIs that customers need fulfilling their quality specifications.”

Indeed, increasingly stringent standards are another challenge facing the pharmaceutical sector, but this is one challenge Maceda is excited to rise to.

“This is another part of the perfect storm,” he says. “Agencies around the world are raising the bar. Quality and environmental standards are continuously increasing. Our priority is plant readiness. Readiness not only for audits but also for safety emergencies, for having to change the production and the business plan. Right now, we’re reviewing the strategic planning every six months because we can’t plan for the long-term five years while things are changing almost every day.”

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