Fecken-Kirfel has, like any company that has been in existence for more than 140 years, had many product focuses. Starting off as a steam powered machinery company for the woollen and textile industries, the business has found its niche in developing cutting machines for polyurethane foam blocks.
It has also held a strong patent position, which enabled it to protect its inventions from other companies.
The company, which expects sales to top EUR 40m in 2017, has a well-appointed factory on the outskirts of the pretty town, and recently invested around EUR 2.5m in a new building and a state of the art powder coating line for its metal components.
The company invests around E1m each year in plant, buildings or development, explained vice-president Francis Pinckers. It produces horizontal and vertical foam cutting machines which, with one exception, are knife based.
Using knifes allows for little waste and very fine cuts, said head of marketing Lars Nelles. The company showed off some rigid foam, which Utech-polyurethane.com/Urethanes Technology International saw being cut at a thickness of 1.1 – 1.2 mm on a machine that was ready for delivery.
The company, which was running a 9-month delivery backlog when visited in the early autumn, produces almost all its components in house, except for castings, controllers and motors.
It retains details of most of the parts that have gone into each of its machines. More recent parts lists, complete with component serial numbers, are stored electronically, Pinckers said. This gives allows each part to be traced through production and into use. It can be used to make replicas of parts on older machines which have failed, he added. Fecken-Kirfel also makes a determined effort to provide service and spare parts for very old machines. ‘We had a customer, who bought a machine from us in the 1960s, call us up recently and ask for a duplicate machine. We could have made one, but technology has moved on since then,’ Pinckers said.
Making a blade make the grade
F-K buys steel coil in different grades at the right width and depth to make the cutting blades, and welds them to length before chamfering them to a slightly sharper edge.
After chamfering, the blades are nearly ready for installation. They are installed between knife guides to help prevent any deviation while cutting to achieve perfect results, Nelles explained.
The chamfered, or partially shaped, blades are shipped, and the final sharpening happens on the cutting machine before its first use.
Pinckers also showed the company’s CNC-controlled metal bending machine. This enables sheets of metal to be folded into shape rather than welding or riveting individual pieces, which is time consuming, more prone to errors and expensive, he added. The folded metal is used for hollow components such as lightweight housings.
F-K has recently installed an electrostatic powder coating system. It is more efficient than traditional spray painting, because parts can be used within half an hour of coating, compared with half a day to allow for traditional paint to dry, Pinckers said. Additionally, there are no emissions to consider. This is important because, although originally on the edge of town, the factory on Prager Ring is now surrounded by housing.
Pinckers said that innovations like these, and its regular investments, have enabled the company to stay ahead of the competition. Recent investments include two MAZAK CNC milling centre, including a robotised automation system.
‘The future direction of the company is to develop machines needed in the market, and to keep innovating. We are a machinery manufacturer, but we also realised that machinery is not enough. We needed to expand before and behind the cutting process as well as with appropriate software,’ Pinckers said. ‘We have to think about the need to improve the engagement of our machine with our customers who need a better yield, efficiency and to save costs.’
Cutting machines don’t operate in isolation, however: product has to be handled before and after the cutting process, and this is one area where F-K’s high level of specialisation may have been a drawback. To counteract this, the company has formed a close but informal relationship with Spain’s IPF, another family-owned firm, which allows it to quote for jobs from the end of the foam machine to the block store.
‘Before the agreement with IPF, we were sometimes not approached by foamers who want to buy all of the downstream equipment behind the foaming unit from a single source. Now we can supply that equipment, and compete with other firms which offer the same service,’ Pinckers explained. ‘The industry appreciates this.’