Behind the Scenes

erfi has been setting standards with its workstation systems for more than 60 years. After a major fire, managing director Andreas Fischer once again managed to fundamentally revolutionize the family business. Andreas Fischer has talked about the past year with the magazine "Kalkül". Here are some excerpts from the conversation.

According to the myth, the phoenix is a bird-like mythical creature that deliberately burns itself to ashes by the sun. Because the ashes produce an egg, which it hatches from like newly born. A rejuvenation cure, with the help of which the being becomes centuries old. ... who rises from the ashes according to today's understanding like phoenix, has freed himself from a seemingly hopeless situation and emerged from it even stronger.

When talking about erfi, the Baden-Württemberg market leader in the field of workstation systems, the analogy is not too far-fetched - literally. For in the early morning of January 8, 2016, a major fire that had been triggered by a disappointed temporary worker put a whole production hall in ruins. Several woodworking machines went up in flames. It came to a trial in the district court Rottweil. The damage was estimated according to the indictment to more than ten million euros. erfi would not be the first company to fall on the brink of insolvency as a result.

After all, in addition to the direct fire damage and the immense economic losses in such cases, there are usually incalculable consequential damages that are rarely or never covered by insurance. Is your own image damaged? How does the public react? What do employees and customers do? Are they loyal to the company? These questions were also asked by erfi's Managing Director Andreas Fischer and he came to the conclusion: "You have to seize the opportunities. The fire was not the end, but the beginning of a new era. "Just two years later erfi is considered a pioneer in the matter of Industry 4.0.

Developers culture

Andreas Fischer's unwavering entrepreneurial spirit was brought to life by his father Ernst Fischer (whom the company was named after) from childhood on. ... Ernst Fischer gradually turned a classic industrial workbench construction into a highly specialized manufacturer of integrated workplace systems.

His customers were interested in built-in electronic measuring and testing devices? Fischer did it. "Our electronic laboratory tables have triggered a real revolution," enthuses Andreas Fischer today. Electrical engineers, microsystems and communications engineers joined the team. erfi began to serve the automotive industry and expanded its business. "Every part has to be electrically safety-tested." So Fischer had test systems developed and built for electrical safety and functional testing. "Suddenly we realized that this requires the right software." So the company patriarch founded his own software department.

A new era

When his health allows it, the meanwhile 91-year-old Ernst Fischer keeps watch and checks if everything is fine. But the helm has long been taken over by his son Andreas. ... "Up to that point, it was our concept to make devices more intelligent based on what already existed," says Fischer. "But at some point we realized that that was no longer enough." A new market revolution had to come. "Why shouldn't we do what Apple does, we thought: capacitive surfaces. Finally, Steve Jobs carried out the market test himself. "... Fischer reactivated an old acquaintance: Gerd Flohr, Professor of Product Design at the Dresden University of Applied Sciences ... Flohr's task: to develop a completely new device surface for workstation systems. This resulted in what Fischer today praises as a "visionary new development": the electronics system elneos five. The technology is used in the workplace system elneos connect. "It's the iPhone of metrology," says Fischer.

Thanks to its clean, capacitive surface, the device can be intuitively operated with gestures and communicatively linked with every imaginable device via various connections. Among other things, there was the coveted Red Dot Design Award in 2013. Almost half of all devices are exported worldwide: to France, Switzerland, Holland or Belgium, India, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the USA.

The workstation systems are produced completely in-house in the completely refurbished machine room. When you enter the newly renovated production hall, everything shines and shines bright white and metallic silver. ... The machines have the upper hand here. The heart of the production are small computers with touch screens. These are the control centers of the new production hall. Industry 4.0 at its best. Only five specialized carpenters and wood mechanics operate these high-tech machines. ... Over the monitors, the machine operators can make individual fine adjustments. A table top, for example, moves from the warehouse to the fully automatic cutter, via a sorting system into the edge processing area, from the hole and milling area to the free-form edging section. Suction cups fix the tabletops in place, everything else is also completely autonomous. Piece by piece, a state-of-the-art workstation system is created. The final steps are the vertical and horizontal dowels. Done.

Like phoenix from the ashes

Right next door, a completely new building is being built. Huge gray concrete walls already tower here in the sky. A staircase with colorful scaffolding leads to the roof of the building shell. The panoramic view over the Black Forest is unbelievable, especially during clear weather. "Below, we will install a new corpus press line and integrate a new high-bay warehouse," says Fischer. "Up here is our new showpiece: an exclusive, new showroom. We call it Customer Center. Soon there will be a lift. The front is completely glazed." Standing up here, one quickly realizes: Here, someone has done everything right. Like a phoenix from the ashes.

An excellent partnership

Due to the dynamic development of the company, erfi has also sought a professional partner in the field of legal advice and has found it in the law firm KRAUSS-LAW. The lawyers Krauss and dr. Wertheimer are able to understand erfi's high-tech products. This guarantees that the rights of the company are always respected in public contracts. In the recent past, intensive cooperation with the law firm has successfully defended erfi's leading market position and secured large public contracts.

Download the article "Behind the Scenes" as a PDF

Magazine Calculus: Issue 1 | 2017
Editor: Florian Künstle, Patrick Reisch, dr. Stefan Krauss, dr. Frank Wertheimer
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Photo: Tietge Publishing