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WSA’s Global Team Creates a New State-of-the-Art Manufacturing Facility in Tijuana for Signia Hearing Aids

Marking a new chapter in hearing aid production for WSA and heralding a shift to near-shoring, the new facility is driven by sustainable practices, exceptional personnel and support, and a mission to help people regain the gift of sound.
Wsa Plant Factory External Photo

WS Audiology's Americas Manufacturing and Distribution Center (AMDC) in Tijuana, Mexico.

A sparkling white, giant cube has appeared on a hillside in Tijuana. It contains a sprawling 95,000-square-foot facility where 600 workers are now assembling and shipping Signia hearing aids to WS Audiology’s customers across the Americas, from Alaska to Argentina.

It’s a mammoth monument to shifting global supply chain patterns, and for WSA it represents a corporate commitment to being closer and more responsive to its customers.

Wsa Plant Rob Welesa

WSA Vice President of Operations Rob Walesa shows guests and media around the new high-tech AMDC manufacturing facility.

For Rob Walesa it’s also a matter of pride. The VP of Operations for WSA in the Americas says the Americas Manufacturing and Distribution Center (AMDC) represents a 3-year effort to design, engineer, and build something entirely new. It’s transformational for the company.

“There were huge challenges, including COVID, but to see it come to fruition and to see it all in action,” he says, “well, that’s something special.”  On a recent tour, Walesa proudly pointed out the state-of-the-art order processing systems, the 3D printers that make custom earmolds, the spotless workstations where the hearing aids are assembled, and the distribution system that delivers them to customers on two continents.

Wsa Plant Ite 3d Modeling

WSA technicians use 3D modeling to create custom in-the-ear hearing aids.

WSA is a Danish based, global company with over 12,000 employees that serves 125 countries, and so it’s no surprise that building AMDC brought together an international team. Walesa is a Canadian and his close colleague Ziad Mikati is Lebanese.

Mikati is WSA’s VP of Global Industrial Operations. He was educated in Italy and began his career working in the automotive industry, building components for Formula One race cars and some of the more exotic sports cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Bugatti. 

He was brought into WSA in 2017 to help implement the so-called SMART Lean manufacturing process which is based on the Toyota Production System. The company describes it as dedicated to “the overarching goal of achieving zero loss— which includes zero incidents and accidents; zero delays and breakdowns; zero stoppages; and zero defects.”

Mikati is a globe trotter to say the least. “I calculated that in just one year I had traveled enough to circle the world six times.” A true man of the world who speaks English, French, Italian, Arabic and Polish.

The multi-national approach to building AMDC is something he celebrates. “I love it because you bring together different cultures and different mentalities converging on a single target. In my opinion, you get the best of everybody to resolve problems together. It’s something to treasure.”

“It's amazing,” adds AMDC HR Manager Fabian Parada, “I remember people arriving from all over the world and I love that we are embracing the diversity.”  Parada hails from Sonora just south of Tijuana. He proudly points out that he was employee number one.

Wsa Plant Technicians At Stations

AMDC employees work on the production of Signia hearing aids.

Parada emphasizes that AMDC represents an opportunity for its employees. He points to the competitive wages and benefits. “For example, medical care. We have a doctor and two nurses on site who care for not just our employees but for their families too. We also have dental and life insurance for everyone.”

Additionally, the company runs a bus service to pick up employees and return them to their homes. That also reduces the company’s carbon footprint and reflects WSA’s commitment to sustainability and the environment, a growing trend within the hearing industry.

Wsa Plant Tijuana Workers

The company's highly trained workforce benefits from competitive wages, medical benefits and services, and transportation to and from the facility.

AMDC is a prime example of how Mexico benefits from “near-shoring,” the corporate trend of shortening supply chains to lessen the chances of disruption, lowering shipping costs and setting up manufacturing closer to their major markets. WSA’s biggest market is now right next door in the US, which was previously served by a plant in China.

The North American free trade agreements have made the transition easier, and Mexico is rolling out the welcome mat.

“There’s a lot of investment that is happening right now in Tijuana,” says Parada, “and near-shoring is having a big, positive impact on Mexico. “The government is investing heavily in infrastructure, and our education level is growing super fast so we can give more opportunity to more people.”

For WSA, AMDC means that Signia can better serve hearing care professionals and their clients. They can now offer “better order processing, distribution, manufacturing, shipping, and support in ways that were not possible before.”

Wsa Plant 3d Printer Earmolds

Hearing aid earmolds emerge from a 3D printer.

Like most people in the hearing industry, the “Three Amigos”—Walesa, Mikati, and Parada—all share the pride in producing something that makes people’s lives better.

“You know, many of my friends do great things and have successful careers,” notes Walesa, “but not all of them have the privilege of saying they help people get one of their senses back, help them connect with their family and friends, and generally improve their lives. That's a very distinct privilege that we have in this industry.” 

“All the workers here,” adds Parada, “know they are not only manufacturing a product, they are making something that really helps people, so they are pushing and striving to to get the best quality, the best product, for our customers. That's key and you can sense that in everyone here.”

Mikati concludes, “I am super proud of what we have built here in Mexico to bring our state-of-the-art hearing aids to people who will benefit greatly from them. Honestly, it’s been one of the most satisfying experiences in my career.”

Digby Cook

Contributor

Digby Cook is a veteran journalist with a wide range of experience in television news, documentaries and newspapers. His interest in the science of hearing is both professional and personal.