Behind the scenes: Developing the fischer products of the future10. June 2020
fischer achieved a breakthrough on the fixings market with the grey S-plug, which was patented in 1958. The classic expansion plug has proven to be successful in its field to this day. But modern fastening technology has since gone much further, and fischer provides a fitting solution for any user, construction material or requirement. And if there isn’t a solution, then fischer will find one. The question is how?
Rainer Fischer is the Head of the Plastics Business Unit, where fischer’s development experts tackle this question on a daily basis. During our interview he told us how fischer develops the products of tomorrow.
Rainer Fischer (aged 51) has worked for the fixings specialist fischer for over 25 years. After writing his thesis on mechatronics/precision engineering in the early 90s, he began working at fischer as a developer. He has since worked with fixing solutions made of plastic. In 2000 he began managing the plastic plug development department and in 2013 he became Senior Manager for the plastic plug development and technical service departments as well as the test field at the Tumlingen site. He has since been involved in more than 170 projects that fischer has implemented. He has been Head of the Plastics Business Unit since October 2019.
“Creativity is essential”
Mr Fischer, please describe your department. Can your co-workers be compared to the “inventor” Gyro Gearloose, who tinkers away in a little workshop?
Rainer Fischer: No, our department is very diverse. There are various different age groups, personalities and professions: engineers, civil engineers, mechatronics engineers, mechanical engineers, civil engineers and designers. Creativity is just as important as training and the ability to work as a team. Our high proportion of patents confirms that this is the right approach, as it is ten times higher than the industry average.
And what about the “little workshop”?
Rainer Fischer: Well, it isn’t all that little. Our Business Unit consists of the product management, test field, development and technical service departments with a total of around 40 employees. The developer sits side by side with the Product Manager in our open-plan office. This allows market requirements or developer feedback to be communicated directly without detours. The same building contains the workshop, the laboratory and the testing hall with more than 30 different testing machines which allow us to test our prototypes.
But how are new ideas generated to begin with?
Rainer Fischer: Essentially there are four different inputs for the development department. Our company owner, Professor Klaus Fischer, mostly initiates important strategic projects. Other ideas come from the intention of further expanding our market leadership. Further additions and updates to our existing product portfolio are another development branch. And last but not least, customer projects require our creativity and expertise and lead us to develop custom and tailor-made solutions to meet customer’s requirements.
The 4 Idea Inputs
- From a management perspective: Professor Klaus Fischer has been the head of our company as the owner for over 40 years and knows the ins and outs of the industry. He initiates important strategic projects necessary for the corporate future and for new business divisions.
- From a market leader perspective: As a fixings expert, fischer has precise knowledge of the market while focusing on questions including where is development headed? What is happening in the construction material industry and how is it changing? This allows the Plastics Business Unit to continuously develop in-house product ideas such as the successful DUOPOWER products.
- From a portfolio perspective: fischer’s product range is immense. If a product has reached a certain age or is no longer suitable from a functional perspective then it requires a facelift. This is often initiated by a changing competitive environment, altered trade practices or new construction materials. Global customer and market input via fischer’s subsidiaries is also an important aspect.
- From a customer perspective: fischer is renowned for finding the right solution to any problem, which makes the company so successful when it comes to customised product development: Many major clients approach fischer with specific fastening issues in order to receive custom solutions.
From an idea to series production
What do the developers do once an idea or problem has been specified?
Rainer Fischer: Our team’s approaches are as diverse as the team itself. Some prefer to mull things over on their own, others prefer a group brainstorming session or a similar approach. The developers then start the three-dimensional development process using the CAD programme, where the corresponding parts can be designed before being sent directly to the 3D printer.
And what happens next?
Rainer Fischer: There are five phases to our product development process: the preparation phase, fundamental investigation phase, development phase, implementation phase and market introduction phase. There are various milestones between these phases. These milestones are approved by the board of management over the course of a regular Product Policy Board.
How long does an entire development process take?
Rainer Fischer: That depends on the product and can take between six months to two years or longer.
The 5-phase process
- Preparation Phase: The Product Management department surveys the market according to the idea input in order to determine whether an idea has global potential, as not all good ideas are immediately accepted on the market.
- Fundamental Investigation Phase: All of the information on the product’s performance is compiled in the product requirement document, which provides a detailed work order for the development department. The developers then use this for orientation purposes while developing various product and/or solution options that are repeatedly tested by an in-house team. The fundamental investigation phase is supported by three to five additional subsidiaries.
- Development Phase: The prototype is prepared for series production during this phase. This mostly involves the scope of the product range, such as various sizes. This phase is completed once all data and properties have been defined to allow everything to be captured in a 3D model.
- Implementation Phase: The finished 3D model is transferred to the tool making and production departments ready for series production to begin.
- Market Introduction Phase: The products go on sale.
Products that provide a margin for almost any error
What makes the development of fischer products so special?
Rainer Fischer: Quality is of the topmost priority at fischer: Before launching a product on the market it has to work and offer a secure hold. Our products are used by a wide range of customers, which is why they must provide a margin for as many types of installation errors as possible, no matter whether the drill hole is too big or the screw is too small or hasn’t been fully inserted, etc. That’s why we have a high safety concept to ensure our products are “everlasting” in their applications.
How are you able to guarantee this high level of quality?
Rainer Fischer: We invest a lot to be able to attain this standard, but it’s worth it. Our long-term test room is an excellent example. It’s where we install our anchors and test them under permanent load. The oldest anchor in it is 43 years old and has since held 160 kilogrammes. This is a unique feature that only exists here at fischer. No other competitor can boast such history. That’s why we can promise with certainty that we guarantee a secure hold for a minimum of 50 years.
What does the future of fastening technology have in store?
Rainer Fischer: Digitalisation is influencing our working methods and processes. The question is how can we use new technologies and opportunities for our products? When it comes to the anchors, our aim is to make them even more intelligent, similar to our DUO-Line products which self-activate their function depending on the construction material. This also depends on further construction material developments. Hybrid solutions such as plastic and steel solutions will be an interesting field, for instance.
And what will the focus be?
Rainer Fischer: I think it will mostly be about products becoming even easier to use, as fewer and fewer people will presumably learn a trade and there will be a growing number of do-it-yourselfers mounting their own installations, including heavy components. Safety is therefore an utmost priority to allow even inexperienced users to work with the product without issue.