OPIA Advanced Engineering Services
San Jose, Costa Rica
The Central American Group: Welcome to another episode of the Central American Group’s podcast. These recordings aim to have conversations with people with various expertise in doing business in Central America. In this episode, we have the pleasure of speaking with Luis Chinchilla. Luis is the head of a Costa Rican company called OPIA. The acronym in Spanish means Advance Advanced Engineering Operations. OPIA is a company that offers specialized engineering services in Costa Rica First, we’d like to learn a little bit about you, Luis. Could you tell us about yourself and then maybe about your organization?
Luis Chinchilla: Absolutely; thank you very much for having us today. It’s a great opportunity to interact with you and with the rest of the people who can hear this podcast. I’m a chemical engineer by degree. I’ve been in the industry for close to 40 years, working in different areas ranging from facilities to start-up facilities operation, clean room certification, commissioning, and advanced engineering studies. It just happened that my professional career has been hand in hand with the development of advanced industries in Costa Rica, such as medical device manufacturing, pharma manufacturing, semiconductor manufacturing, and optical manufacturing. But I also had the opportunity to interact with other business segments, such as the banking industry, software development, and engineering services in Costa Rica and their applications. The organization we’ve developed originated with the arrival of certain companies in Costa Rica. I happened to be on the customer side for a few years of my professional career. Being on that side, it was just something that caught our attention: there wasn’t a supplier of advanced engineering services in Costa Rica that could fulfill certain needs we were experiencing. We couldn’t identify a quick and easy solution to those engineering needs.
And that’s when OPIA, a provider of advanced engineering services in Costa Rica, was born and delivered to the market. We started with two disciplines, and now we offer ten different services to the market in Costa Rica, Central America, as you mentioned, and beyond throughout Central America. We have provided advanced engineering services in 15 different countries. So we try to bring that engineering hub concept to the market and to our customers. We’re an organization with seven departments right now.
The Central American Group: I’ve had a little opportunity to look at your website, and I’m impressed by your company’s wide range of services. But given the makeup of the manufacturing industry in Costa Rica, what are the most utilized services your company provides to people in Costa Rica doing manufacturing?
Luis Chinchilla: Okay. It varies, Steven. It varies depending on the nature of the customer’s business. For highly advanced manufacturing, meaning medical devices and or pharmaceuticals, I would say the engineering services in Costa Rica center around clean room peripheral equipment such as film hoods, biosafety cabinetry, laminar hoods, compressed air, and certain advanced engineering such as computational fluid dynamics are the most demanded services. Whereas other business segments, such as software development and the banking industry, are commissioning services related to the primary demand that we experience. So, it varies depending on the business segment and the nature of the business. Some engineering services in Costa Rica are not the same services required for a startup as for an operation that is already ongoing operation. Or even if you’re ramping down and you’re transitioning your production line to a different set of lines, you might need to decommission your facility to ensure it is safe to turn the equipment down and make it safe for the upcoming line of equipment. So it will depend upon the nature and the business segment.
The Central American Group: This is a quick question that is a little bit peripheral to what you just spoke about over the course of time that you’ve been in business. What changes have you seen in the industry in Costa Rica, and what engineering services in Costa Rica are in demand?
Luis Chinchilla: I will categorize the changes in three areas: The first has to do with paradigm changes and the perfect example, and this has been widely used by us and, in general, by the industry. There are certain companies that have marked a milestone in the country’s history. And the first analogy on paradigm change is before Intel and after Intel. Before Intel, it was fairly common to see construction workers wearing sleeveless shirts, boots, shorts, and just a hat. Now you can see all the construction workers with all the proper PPE, which means a hard hat, steel toe shoes, safety vests, and protective lenses. They have dressed adequately for the function they are performing. If it is a welder, he will be fully protected. If a person is doing elevated work, he will wear his harness. So, the first change has been paradigm change. The second has been the proliferation of engineering services in Costa Rica. There are several elements from engineering practices that can range from data analysis, structured problem solving, analytical data processing, and inductive thinking. Inductive thinking is you have several pieces that you put together for whole deductive thinking.
You have a whole that you have to segregate in pieces. Okay? And it takes different approaches and different ways of thinking. So I would say the proliferation of engineering services in Costa Rica has been the second one. And the third area is technology adoption. Technology came to not only revolutionize our world but to, in good theory, make our world and life easier and sometimes make it more complex. And technology adoption across several business segments is taking place. It’s the third change I’ve seen over the years in which we’ve been involved in offering advanced engineering services in Costa Rica.
The Central American Group: Now, companies that are scouting locations for another facility, what would you advise them to pay particular attention to when looking at Costa Rica?
Luis Chinchilla: Okay, I would say, and I will build upon my answer on the three areas I just shared with you. It is a business ecosystem that contains different elements, okay? It contains the customer. It contains a robust base of suppliers. It contains a good business environment. It contains very good practices. I would also say that Costa Rica has developed itself within the segment niche of medical devices and high-tech advanced industry throughout the many years. The country has learned and has managed to develop a robust, stable, and good ecosystem for industries to come to the country. That’s what I would say. It’s one of our key advantages, and many companies continue to look at it.
The Central American Group: What role do you see OPIA playing in the ecosystem that you just referred to?
Luis Chinchilla: We have established our vision to be a vertically integrated supplier of advanced engineering services in Costa Rica. Being a vertically integrated supplier takes a good, solid quality system. Because of this, we’re certified ISO 9001 2015. We also carry a certification that is issued in the US. But it’s a worldwide recognized certification in three different disciplines. So that will bring a robust quality system for a supplier. But we have also evolved to be a solutions supplier to the customer. Sometimes we come to measure the data, and the data is telling me that what we did was correct, yet the customer’s problem hasn’t been solved. So, we got one step beyond. We interact with customers to provide engineering services in Costa Rica. We see the impact that the customer experienced, and then we work with them on fishbone analysis, additional data, and trending reviews. It is fairly common, for example, on this vertical integration that I’m speaking about, that when customers contact us for a particular issue they’re experiencing, we ask them if they can share their building management system data for the past three months. And then, we do trend analysis, and then we got back to the customer. There could be something that could be happening.
Not now, but it could have happened two weeks ago that is causing a particular issue. So that’s the added value that we have tried to bring to the table when offering our engineering services in Costa Rica. Not just a robust, quality, qualified supplier but someone that can look into the customer’s operation and become a technical ally of the customer in the problem-solving process.
The Central American Group: So, what do you see in the future for Costa Rica, and what do you see your company’s role in its continued development?
Luis Chinchilla: Regarding the future of Costa Rica, I always like to be positive. I see it bright, but I also see it as challenging. I see it as challenging because of the demand for good labor. Skilled people are something that is required at all levels. No matter your company, you are in a pool to compete for those skilled and well-talented people. So, on the positive side, it’s good that we have such a demand on the challenging side, on the opportunities we need to fulfill that demand. So as the country, that’s what I see. How do we see our role as a supplier of engineering services in Costa Rica? We have to continue to add further certifications to our portfolio. The more that customers add, for example, biological safety devices and biological safety equipment, there are additional certifications. So we’re adding an additional certification so that we can bring those services with a certification that is worldwide recognized on the local level. So we’ve continued to look where the world is. Where are the trends of the standards, and where is this particular requirement going? And we’ve been trying to anticipate those needs so that we’re already prepared by the time those new requirements hit the Costa Rican market. We have conducted the analysis and we know what it takes to bring that requirement to our customers.
The Central American Group: With regard to what you just mentioned, obviously, that requires a lot of forward-thinking and innovation. How do you foster innovation in your company?
Luis Chinchilla: We have two mechanisms to foster innovation. We’ve done a certain effort every single year. In it, we have two to three graduate engineering students from the University of Costa Rica, the Institute of Technological of Costa Rica, or any other of the largest, either private or public universities, doing research for their graduation projects at OPIA. We have done research on static pressure control of buildings and temperature certification in a clean room. We’re currently having one student by whom we’re doing a feasibility analysis of an artificial intelligence algorithm for testing and balancing. So we’ve tried to foster people that are coming from the academic world to start developing their professional experiences in the workplace. They view what we do in offering engineering services in Costa Rica. We challenge them to come up with new ways of doing things. That’s perhaps the best way that we have found to motivate innovation. And the second way we try to be on top of things and foster creativity and professionalism is to keep our engagement with recognized organizations. We’re part of the NEVV, which is the entity that certifies us in the US. We’re part of Astray. We’re part of the IST, which is the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology of the US.
We’re part of the ISP, which is the International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineering. We have established contacts with the Particle Technology Institute in Zurich. So whenever we found an issue in which we might not have a good answer or we don’t have an answer at all, we knock the different doors. We find someone who will hint at an issue or an answer. So those are the two ways that we have implemented our office to foster thinking and innovation when offering our engineering services in Costa Rica.
The Central American Group: Because our discussions are wide-ranging but limited in time, we have many visitors to our website, www.centralamericangroup.com, that when listening to podcasts, realize questions that they have that go beyond the scope of the discussions that we have with folks like you. Could you tell our listeners how they can engage with you with their questions on available engineering services in Costa Rica? Is there an email address? Is there a phone number they can call? Can they fill out a form on your website? How can they get in touch with you?
Luis Chinchilla: All of them. They can fill out a form on our website. There is an email on our website which is firstname.lastname@example.org they can touch with Betsy Ballesteros, who is our commercial supervisor. And we still, because we’re a multi-generation company, still pick up the phone if people call us. We still pick up the phone.
The Central American Group: That’s nice to hear. The personal touch is always good. Well, listen, I want to thank you for taking the time to join me in this discussion. It was very interesting, very interesting to hear information about your company as well as your perspectives on future development in Costa Rica. Maybe we can have another discussion in the future to have an update on what your company and its programs are doing. That would be very nice.
Luis Chinchilla: Steven, you’re always welcome, and we do appreciate the opportunity you have given us to speak about the technical world and our advanced engineering services in Costa Rica.