Visiting Fein and Festool Power Tools in Germany
Day 5 of my trip to visit German tool manufacturers brought me to Stuttgart to see Fein Power Tools, makers of high-quality products like the Multi-Master, random orbit sanders, cordless drill/drivers, and dust extractors. Many of you probably don't know it, but Fein is the world's original power tool company, founded in 1867 by brothers Carl and Emil Fein. The Fein family still owns the company to this day. Fein has recorded approximately 500 patents over the years, but some of those (fire alarms, electric generators, walk-around telephones, etc.) occurred before the decision in 1908 to specialize in only power tools. The Fein electric hand drill invented in 1895 opened the door to what you and I now know as the wonderful world of power tools.
Although 80% of Fein's business is in metalworking tools, the company still puts a great deal of research into developing newer and better woodworking power tools, like those listed earlier. But it was the invention of the Multi-Master in 1986 that changed their fortune in the United States. Since then, Fein has sold millions of this do-all oscillating tool (sanding, cutting, grinding, scraping), refining it and improving it along the way. Fein will launch its latest in this line, the Super Cut, in mid-summer 2007. The Super Cut has a 4mm stroke and 400 watts of power, compared to 3.2mm and 180 watts for the newest Multi-Master. The Super Cut also has sturdy springs on each side of the tool arm, just in front of the bearing that allows it to oscillate. These springs greatly absorb the vibration generated. And, Fein will also sell gel-lined leather gloves that, when worn while using the Super Cut or Multi-Master, also absorb vibration. I tried this, and it really does work. Both machines create vibration, and it's not too bad unless you're using it for long periods of time. You'll pay probably $300 more for the Super Cut than the Multi-Master, so you'll probably want to find a lot of uses for it.
In the afternoon I traveled with Fein's product manager, Hartmut Speidel, and marketing manager, Nadine Stumpp, from the Stuttgart headquarters to the manufacturing and assembly plant in Bargau, about 40 miles to the southeast. There we saw the new building under construction that will be Fein's headquarters by Jan. 1, 2008. This move-coupled with the closing and relocation of another manufacturing plant-will help production, Hartmut said, because everyone will be in the same location. No more traveling, conference calls, or e-mail trains. Fein manufactures about 80% of its parts, buying only things like switches, electrical components, screws, and ball bearings.
I saw workers manufacturing armatures, and I was astounded at the detail and precision that went into these, and it's also cool to see them wind 200 meters of thread-thin copper wire in and around the armature. Some armatures require larger wire that has to be wrapped by hand, and that was impressive, too. I followed the first armatures through the plant to assembly, where they were placed at the heart of Multi-Masters. Assembly for some machines, like the Multi-Master, takes place on a conveyor belt as workers add their parts then send them on. But for others, like the Super Cut and the newest grinders, workers build a tool completely by themselves, adding each piece at a station, then moving with the tool to the next stop. Harmut said the two methods prove equally productive.
Fein's patent expired this year on the Multi-Master, so you can expect to see knock-off products soon—and likely for less money. But be aware that you might have to sacrifice quality when you pay that lower price. Also, Fein is motivated to sell: 30% of their sales from 2005-06 came from the United States. America is their wilderness, and they're ready to expand.
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