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March 8, 1999

6 Min Read
Fischer-Tech & the Univac Group: 'Co-Makership' in Action

Fischer-Tech Pte. Ltd. is a new custom moulding company that has been in business in Singapore for 16 years. New? In business 16 years? Please, let us explain: Fischer-Tech started operations in Singapore in June 1994, but it started out from the first day as part of the Univac Group of companies.

"Co-makership" is the saying in Singapore for concurrent engineering. Co-makership also best describes the partnering of five autonomous custom moulders and mouldmakers specializing in high-volume production of small precision moulded parts. All operate under the umbrella of Singapore's Univac Precision Engineering Pte. Ltd. And, Co-makership is key to the vision of the progressive entrepreneur that heads the group, mouldmaker Sandy Oh, managing director. Co-makership made it relatively easy for Fischer-Tech to start-up. And, Co-makership has been a key reason for the remarkable growth of the company. In only two years, its average annual sales are SD$ 12 million (about US$ 8.2 million). Turnover is expected to increase about 20 percent yearly.

Peter Tan, managing director of Fischer-Tech, tells IMI that he named the company after the famous chess player, Bobby Fischer. "Bobby Fischer used to demonstrate his skill by playing against several opponents at the same time. We feel like we're playing with about 20 competitors at once. Besides, Fischer is a more Western-sounding name, and we have European and American customers. As part of our quality policy, we service our customers' requirements seriously, but with a polite approach," he explains.

We will discuss how Univac helped Fischer-Tech get started and what the future holds, but first we have a world-class, computer-controlled, highly automated plant to look at. So please, accept our polite invitation. Join us and tour.

Success Through Quality

Stepping through Fischer-Tech's modern and immaculate office area, we enter the company's two-colour/ two-material moulding room on the plant's second floor. Peter Tan, who has been involved in the moulding and mouldmaking business for some 20 years, tells us he gained exposure to two-colour moulding at companies he visited in Taiwan and Japan. "I saw that I would have little competition in two-colour moulding back home. It still is not that popular in Singapore. Also, I was attracted to the process because I felt it would be an interesting challenge."

Working with Univac and a local subcontractor, Tan designed the first two-colour moulds in Singapore. The company uses six model DC 100/200 twin-barrel injection moulding machines from Nissin. These mould parts like two-colour key clusters and back-lit buttons for telephones in ABS and PC. The moulding machines are aligned end-to-end against the wall, all feeding a central parts conveyor with Autotex programmable traverse robots.

Fischer-Tech has just started moulding two-material parts in PMMA and PC. But Peter Tan sees a bright future ahead with ABS and TPE materials, like Santoprene. "It is a very hot trend today in hand-held products. You can mould the softer material along the edges of the part so that when you close it, it seals, and it is waterproof. Softer materials also give products a softer touch and better tactile spring-back," he says. "Cameras, scanners, and portable disk drives are other products that could benefit from waterproofing through the application of two-material moulding."

Downstairs is an area dedicated to more general purpose high-precision moulding, mostly with Nissei machines. The presses are arranged with clamp ends facing away from the walls, and with ample aisle space. The machines all have robots with either pick-and-place or programmable traverse Autotex robots. Most of the dryers are from Piovan. Where necessary, Fischer-Tech designs and builds its own automation accessories, like parts holders for robots. And it uses Plus-C video-scanning mould protection and monitoring systems. Like any other manufacturing area at Fischer-Tech, this one is bright and air-conditioned, and it is clean enough to eat off the floor.

Also downstairs is an area that could be the pride and joy of any plant, anywhere. The company has five highly automated two-machine manufacturing cells in operation. Each cell is dedicated to the production of parts in two different materials—one component of the part is produced in one machine and one in the other machine. There are two computer-controlled, closed loop

Engels in each cell, and each of the two machines is equipped with a programmable robot, mostly Conair Sepro servorobots. Work has al-ready begun to develop automated

inspection and packaging systems. Fischer-Tech has a nondisclosure agreement with its multinational customer for this project, and of course, this agreement is observed, politely.

Fischer-Tech's quality assurance program is as impressive as its manufacturing operations. But quality means more at Fischer-Tech than merely testing and measuring, certifications, and control charts. Quality means customer service.

Fischer-Tech assigns a program engineer to each customer. He is responsible for following a project through to completion. And, he is always accessible by pager, fax, and phone. Customers know whom to call, and know someone will answer. Also, Fischer-Tech has a monthly executive review. Top managers interacts with customers on transactions and gather feedback on how they perceive the quality of service.

United They Stand

"Before we started in 1994, we set up a small pilot plant with six machines to train our engineers and technicians," Peter Tan recalls. "That helped us reduce our start-up costs and made start-up much easier. But all of our original jobs came from Univac. I had met Sandy Oh about 16 years ago. He approached me right around the time I was thinking of starting my own company. Our relationship with Univac was a stepping stone and it continues to impress our customers to this day."

Why are they impressed? The group consists of Univac Precision Engineering, SEB Plastic, Western Univac, Avaplas, and Fischer-Tech—five plants in Singapore, three in the same industrial park, with affiliates in Indonesia and Malaysia. Combined average annual sales are SD$ 100 million (about US$ 68 million). Twelve percent of the business is in moulds. Together, the group operates more than 100 moulding machines, Nisseis mostly, and employs 400, including 60 mouldmakers.

"On its own, a company like Univac is capacity limited in Singapore," Peter Tan continues. "Expansion, on its own, would have made it run out of control." However, through joint ventures with other moulders—all potential competitors in high-volume, small parts precision moulding—Univac could grow. group membership is of mutual benefit. Peter Tan explains, "It doesn't matter who gets the business, as long as the business is in the group. If a new job comes in that I cannot handle, I can recommend to the customer another member of the group."

On its own, though, Fischer-Tech has plans for future growth, as do other member companies in the group. Fischer-Tech presently does not build tools. Support for new tooling comes through Univac. "It is possible that Fischer-Tech might expand into mouldmaking in about three years." Subassembly and globalization also may be in Fischer-Tech's future.

Univac presently is the design engineering center of the group, with Pro/Engineer, AutoCAD, and Solid Design CAD/CAM software running at 10 seats. Fischer-Tech has its own AutoCAD system to receive customer files via modem. Peter Tan is mindful that competitors eventually will catch up to Fischer-Tech's lead in specialties like two-colour/two-material moulding.

Therefore, with expansions into design and toolmaking, he looks forward to entering into joint development projects with customers through concurrent engineering. "This is how we want to deal with our customers. It simplifies production start-ups, it reduces assembly, and it reduces costs." If things all go according to plan, Fischer-Tech, part of a Co-makership group, will enter into mutually beneficial Co-makerships with its customers.

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