The fischer group (the branding is always lower case) started in 1969 when Hans Fischer began to manufacture metal components in his shop in Seebach, Germany. A literal garage start-up that now has a worldwide footprint with more than 2700 employees in nine countries on four continents, fischer’s first overseas branch took root in Canada.
“My dad, Rudy Prell, and I were approached by Hans in 1987 about starting up the business here because he didn’t want to rely just on the German market,” says Tom Prell, Vice President. This was way back before globalization became the “go-to” market strategy it is today; fischer Canada went on to become the largest manufacturer of stainless steel tubing in Canada, with an annual production of about 20,000 tons.
In 2012, Prell took over management of fischer USA. The number of employees grew from 20 to about 300 (roughly the same as the number of employees in fischer Canada); its Manchester, Tenn. manufacturing facility focuses on thin-walled stainless steel exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) tubes and tubing for the automotive and bus industry.
“Our primary market has historically been automotive,” Prell says. “We make over 16,000 tons of stainless steel tubing primarily used in exhaust systems. Of course, now that the automotive industry is moving towards electric, which eliminates the need for exhaust systems, we’re looking to diversify into other industries, such as oil and gas, where there is need for tubing with special geometries.” He adds, however, “We’re not abandoning the auto industry by any means. Even with electric vehicles there are still applications for stainless steel tubing. The special qualities of stainless steel – its rigidity and resistance to corrosion even at consistently high temperatures – have made stainless steel tubes and components the preferred component parts in many fields of industry.”
The competitive differentiator for fischer is its ability to manufacture tubing in extreme wall thickness from 0.028 inches to 0.250 inches. Tubing is made in a wide variety of materials including stainless steel, titanium and nickel-based-alloys in round, square, rectangular, or customized geometries. Straight tubes are made up to 40 feet.
Tubes are longitudinally laser and high frequency welded. “We use our own proprietary technology to roll tubes,” Prell says. “Which allows us to provide superior product. Our hydroforming process enables us to perform complex three-dimensional forming not possible using conventional production methods. In hydroforming, hollow bodies are expanded from the inside into a mold using high water pressure of up to 3,000 bars (43,500 psi) within seconds. it significantly expands the possibilities for forming tubes and sheet metal.”
High Tolerance, High Quality
“Automotive suppliers need to meet stringent tolerance requirements for components, subassemblies, and parts,” Prell points out. “Each tube has to be exactly the same as the next one. One of the most important factors is ensuring a high degree of repeatability, together with a short cycle time, as the industry is focused on efficiency and speed.”
In addition to exhaust systems, fischer stainless steel components are currently used for filter housings, tank filler necks, safety components such as those used in airbags, hand rails and grab bars. “We are working on a number of interesting new industrial applications that we think offer higher quality and durability where high grade materials are required,” Prell says.
ISO 9001:2015 certified for Quality Management, fischer USA prides itself on providing first-class quality in all its products and processes. Prell notes that, “Quality is part of the fischer DNA. Our goal is always Zero Defects with Zero Late Deliveries. It’s been the fundamental conviction of the company since its inception. A comprehensive net of quality checks—from raw materials to finished products—spans the manufacturing processes. Extensive analysis in the testing laboratory go hand in hand with quality checks during production. We are constantly working on the optimization of internal and external processes and the improvement of our products. Continual improvement of our operations to achieve these goals achieves the highest customer satisfaction, and satisfied customers are repeat customers.”
Family Management Style
Equally part of the company DNS is a family-style management structure. “Hans and his sons are still involved in the business,” Prell says. “Employees are part of that family. We understand the need for a proper work-life balance and the need to develop workers by offering challenging and rewarding careers.”
He does note that, like most manufacturers these days, recruiting and retaining talent is a challenge. “People have more choices these days,” Prell says. “The problem isn’t quite the same in Canada as it is in the U.S., but the situation is there are always going to be other companies making better offers to try to get the people they need. It’s not just an issue with unskilled labor, but across the board with skilled jobs in maintenance, accounting, quality control. We think we offer an environment where there are challenges that offer opportunities for growth in strong and connected teams.”
Prell emphasizes the company’s high-level commitment towards adding value to customer services. “Customers are the reason for our existence and our primary motivation,” Prell says. “Here at fischer we all look forward to providing solutions to customer challenges. We aren’t the least expensive. But we are a high-quality producer, a technology leader, and highly responsive to customer requests. Our partnership with customers, suppliers and service providers is based on fairness and mutual respect.”
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