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July 22, 1998

7 Min Read
Small Runs Mean Success in a Niche Market


Only 9,000 of the 25,000-sq.-m Fried company complex
has been built so far, and expansions are already planned.

Even before the Fried company started to manufacture furniture components in plastics, it enjoyed an eminent reputation in the furniture and kitchen furnishings sector as suppliers of wooden parts. The company's first plastic parts were made of polyurethane, and a short time later the company switched to injection moulding of thermoplastics.

Fried forged ahead with its plastics processing, and a number of applications were pinpointed outside the furniture sector as the company acquired other know-how. In order to make its traditional woodworking and its new plastics technology more independent and afford the company greater opportunity for development, the Fried family divided the company into Fried Holztechnik GmbH and Fried Kunststofftechnik GmbH, both of which are now in their third generation of family ownership.


Fried decides whether
the finished products
will be moulded all at
once or in smaller runs.

Fried Kunststofftechnik is located in Urbach, to the east of Stuttgart in southern Germany, and specializes in the production of complex technical plastics parts for all sectors of industry. With a staff of 120, the company achieves annual sales in excess of DM 25 million (US$ 14 million). The "1AA2" rating given to the company's commercial performance reflects its success, Detlef Holzwarth, assistant to the management, told IMI.

Fried produces both structural foam mouldings and conventional injection mouldings, which are used primarily as cladding or housings for medical, office, or industrial equipment, as well as in furniture and automobiles. The finishing processes offered by the company to give ready-to-assemble mouldings include painting, flame spraying, metallizing, galvanizing, screen printing, film decoration, and ultrasonic welding. One surprising feature is the large number of production runs that form an integral part of the company's day-to-day business.


The mouldbuilding department conducts
servicing and maintenance work and builds
moulds weighing up to 10,000 kg.

Finishes and Flexibility

While many injection moulding companies of similar size have the know-how for producing structural foam mouldings, Fried has built a leading position in Germany by virtue of not only its structural foam expertise, but also its broad range of finishing processes and flexibility in order processing. The mix of markets supplied smoothes out economic fluctuations and helps the company keep abreast of technical developments in and requirements of end user markets.

The large number of sectors to deal with can create difficulties, however. How does Fried sell its competence to different customer sectors? A fair proportion is done by word-of-mouth from existing customers. And in what type of active customer acquisition does Fried engage? A stand at the K exhibition is a must, and Fried will be in Dusseldorf this October. Also, big customers are looked after on an individual basis, and visits are made to key user trade fairs (Medica, Analytica, Hanover Trade Fair). An increasing number of product designers are replacing sheet metal housings with plastics; the cost benefits of parts integration and minimized assembly constantly attract new customers.

Quality Certification

ISO 9001 certification, which is scheduled for midway through 1998, and the certification of the environmental management system are key areas coming up this year. "A large number of customers simply demand quality today, whether the supplier has an ISO certificate or not," explains Andreas Tewald, in charge of certification at Fried.

Adds Detlef Holzwarth: "We have only lost one order during the past 10 years because we were unable to produce a certificate. These people came back to us two months later, however, because they were dissatisfied with another partner--who had a certificate."

Many customers firmly believe that certification was not necessary, "but we want to organize ourselves better internally, especially with regard to custom-made articles, which will be for the benefit of the customer too," says Holzwarth, "and certification will help in this."


The precision of the finished parts can be
checked with 3-D coordinate
measuring technology.

Product Development Services

Housing components and claddings are visible parts that have a decisive impact on a product's appearance. As the manufacturer of the individual components, Fried cooperates with the designer and the customer in product development, since not all designers are familiar with the possibilities and limitations of injection moulding technology. The earlier the parties get together, the better the subsequent costs can be mastered.

Even after a moulding has been successfully developed and has entered production, there may still be a need for alterations to the product. In some cases, regional requirements and prevailing fashion trends necessitate a new colour, which can be readily achieved by modifying the paint that is applied. Batch sizes that are already small often require special moulded part design needs to be addressed. To keep mould costs low with small series, slight differences between models (fastening holes, handle depressions, and other recesses) are either produced by slides and inserts in the mould or are implemented mechanically afterwards through drilling, milling, and manual machining. Major design updates usually require a new mould.


Fried now orders
stereolithography parts
to conduct initial
functional or fitting tests.

Product development involves more than just shape and colour, however, and Fried is in contact with raw material suppliers and small-sized compounders who make special materials to order. Chemical resistance, paintability, and thermal stability are key quality criteria in plastics selection.

The development of a recently completed defibrillator showed how worthwhile it can be to employ methodical product development involving external prototyping services. Following the use of polystyrene and cardboard models, Fried now orders stereolithography parts to conduct initial functional or fitting tests. These parts are made in two to three days. Only after assembly tests and further optimization does mouldmaking begin.

Mouldbuilding Services

Mould engineering and design are generally performed at Fried for all parts, ensuring that the customer can contact a member of the staff specifically responsible for the project. The 20-strong mould development and mouldmaking department concentrates on building smaller moulds (up to 10,000 kg) in-house, while peak loads and very big moulds are outsourced to specialized mouldbuilders. Mouldmakers also operate in a service mode. If problems arise anywhere, the experts are to be found in the production department or servicing moulds in the workshop.


Next to the mouldbuilding department
is the fireproof mould storage area with
adjustable shelves.

Inventory Management

Small production runs are the standard at Fried, and you may be surprised to learn just how small--frequently only 20 to 50 articles. Production batches of 300 to 400 are standard, although in some cases, only 100 articles are produced; and in others 50,000.

If a customer places an order for a quantity of products to be supplied over a certain period of time, Fried decides whether these finished products will be moulded all at once and supplied from the warehouse or will be produced in smaller production runs. Some of the company's customers plan ahead with Fried's assistance, essentially renting surface area in the high-rack warehouse for finished-part storage. After the final production run, the moulds are stored for two to five years at Fried, as agreed with the customer, and are maintained so they can be fitted for subsequent orders. Fried will also keep moulds beyond this deadline, or scrap them, at the customer's request. Moulds are expensive and are stored free-of-charge for customers in a fireproof storage area on one edge of the work complex.

Future Prospects

Expansion plans have already been drawn up for all areas of the company. First on the list are the paint shop and the upstream deflashing shop. Fried still focuses primarily on customers in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, but its business is continuing to spread further afield. Deliveries are already being made to Scandinavian and Eastern European customers, as well as to a number of customers in Asia. National borders are no longer an obstacle.

Contact Information
Fried Kunststofftechnik GmbH
Mr. Detlef Holzwarth
P.O. Box 1240
D-73657 Urbach
Tel: +49 (7181) 8000 11
Fax: +49 (7181) 8000 15

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