Portu has served as senior vice president, global purchasing, at Freudenberg-NOK since July 2013 and will retain that role as president. Prior to joining the firm, he was the associate director of purchasing at Visteon Corp. from 1999-05. He brings an extensive background in supply chain management, strategic purchasing and supplier quality for large automotive original equipment manufacturers and big Tier 1 suppliers.
He has worked in the automotive industry for 22 years, beginning in Ford Motor Co.'s purchasing department in 1994.
“I know how the buyers and the engineers operate at the OE level,” Portu said. “I know how demanding they can be, but traditionally they're fair too. When we get requests for new technologies, when we get requests for quick turnarounds and when we get pushed for cost reductions, we're prepared for that. It doesn't surprise me because I've been on that side of the table.”
Portu said the firm's combination between two diverse backgrounds—German engineering mixed with Japanese quality and lean principles—is one of the firm's strongest advantages in the North American market.
The venture is headquartered in Plymouth and operates more than 20 facilities across the Americas focused on manufacturing advanced sealing technologies for a variety of automotive and commercial markets.
“If you think about it, we're a German-Japanese joint venture operating in the Americas, and this is very unique,” Portu said. “We can keep our fingers on the pulse of global markets and technologies better than most. But we also have this unique capacity to blend the strongest attributes that are so often associated with these cultures.”
The executive wants to take this culture and push it beyond developing breakthrough ideas. That doesn't mean those new innovations will go away; in fact he said in the last four years, 35 percent of the firm's sales have come from new products that it has introduced to the market. But Portu wants to make sure Freudenberg-NOK also is excellent at focusing on the recurring details—such as establishing lean systems, reducing waste, accelerating processes and optimizing inventory.
He wants Freudenberg-NOK to remain focused on the things that set it apart from the competition.
“When you take these efforts and combine them together, that's where Freudenberg can take a position above the competition,” Portu said.
Automotive is a big industry for Freudenberg-NOK, but it's not the only focus. The venture competes in about 30 market segments. Portu wants to spread the sealing gospel beyond that of automotive as many other industries it serves—specifically aerospace, agriculture, construction, industry, pharmaceutical and health care, and power transmission—are battling the same trends and challenges that Freudenberg-NOK sees in automotive.
In those industries, the firm receives similar requests for seals that need to perform in extreme high and low temperatures; lower friction to reduce energy loss, wear and extend life; zero leakage; and lower warranty claims.
“A commitment to excellence in technology, innovation and the ultimate quality of our product is making our customers very successful,” Portu said. “I'd like to grow that success across a wider portfolio of customers. It allows us to leverage our technology across these industries quite well. We can use one to grow another and vice versa.”
But automotive isn't going anywhere. Portu knows he will have to continue to guide Freudenberg-NOK as it continues to work with OEMs on a number of issues—lowering emissions, providing better fuel economy and developing products that support many different powertrain options.
Another focus is new products that are developed from renewable resources whenever possible. This means the firm's seals need to be made from lightweight materials, handle higher heat, higher pressure and more aggressive chemicals. All while driving toward a frictionless system.
Freudenberg-NOK's Levitex seal has helped these causes. The frictionless seal reduces carbon dioxide emissions to near zero, compared to about 1 gram using a traditional seal. Levitex consists of two rings; its primary ring interacts with a mating ring to form a cushion of air upon which the primary ring floats independently.
Freudenberg-NOK claims air lubrication produces less friction than oil, reducing frictional losses to a minimum, thus lowering fuel consumption and adding durability.
The firm has secured business to provide the seal to a major European-based original equipment automotive manufacturer for use on an engine for a global platform in 2017.
To prepare for the increased business, Freudenberg-NOK will add production capacity to various North American sites to manufacture Levitex in the US.
“We've been doing a lot of work behind the scenes to meet these demands for not only automotive, but non-automotive customers,” Portu said. “We really are pushing the envelope on new ideas and new technologies.”
New opportunities such as Levitex have led to expansions within the joint venture. Freudenberg-NOK began expanding two facilities in 2015—a 43,000-sq.-ft. addition to its Findlay, Ohio, plant and a 20,000-sq.-ft. addition to its Morristown, Ind., facility.
The $10 million Findlay project is expected to add about 25 jobs. Portu said Morristown is progressing well and is on track to be complete in the spring, with product running in about three to four months. The firm earlier confirmed that the investment in Morristown was about $20 million and is projected to create 75 more jobs.