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From garage company to global player
Feig Electronic serves customers all around the world with its highly specialised products
Control systems for traffic lights, industrial doors and even parking barriers. Identification systems for books in libraries, payment systems on transport ticket machines and charging stations - we encounter products from Feig Electronic nearly every day, usually without realising it. In this respect, the company - which was started more than 50 years ago in a garage by entrepreneur Wolfgang Feig - is a “hidden champion”, one of the top firms in its sector internationally. It is based in the city of Weilburg, in Hesse, Germany.
Today, Feig employs 400 people and generates an annual turnover of around 65 million euros. The company’s customers are to be found all over the world, including in Europe, India, the USA and Australia. But the corona crisis and the computer chip shortage it has caused have also been a challenge for this high-tech Weilburg company.
A medium-sized manufacturer from Germany being able to assert itself on the global market with the production of electronic equipment is already remarkable in itself. The explanation, however, is as simple as it is plausible: “We are not a manufacturer of cheap mass goods”, says Wolfgang Feig, who, despite his advanced age, still checks every day that “things are in order” in his company - in addition to him, two more managing directors are responsible for operational activities. The strength of his company, he says, lies in producing highly specialised series - occasionally of a few thousand or tens of thousands of pieces. And: “Very often we offer solutions that are tailored to special customer requirements”, he says. For this, products from superficially very different business areas are increasingly used in combination. “At some parking sites”, explains Andreas Löw, responsible for Marketing and Corporate Communication at Feig, “the whole spectrum of Feig technology is being used, from the identification of authorised vehicles to the opening and stopping of the barrier to payment at the ticket machine.”
It is really quite amazing how many things in our everyday lives are fully automated. Parking site barriers are raised when a car fitted with a transponder drives up to them. Traffic lights switch to green or red when vehicles drive over the induction loop in the ground. Payment for a bus ticket at the vending machine and its validation on board take place without contact. And intelligent control systems open and close high-speed doors as fast as possible, in order, for example, to maintain existing temperature differences between working areas or sales and storage rooms. Applications for which Feig Electronic has the right hardware.
One current example illustrates how versatile this RFID technology is. Feig supplies a manufacturer of ventilator systems in which radio wave identification enables the tubes to recognise their respective correspondent parts “by themselves”, so to speak. Another example: in modern libraries, Feig equips loan systems with RFID reading devices. “Intelligent shelves”, explains Andreas Löw, “recognise on their own which book should be where.” Even airlines are increasingly equipping their luggage handling with RFID systems. “This makes it easier to find lost luggage”, say Wolfgang Feig and Andreas Löw. One other application, which everybody has already experienced in practice, seems almost banal: there is RFID technology in clothing security tags to make life difficult for department store thieves - and it is often the basis for access control and time-recording systems.
Miniaturisation still in its early stages
When Wolfgang Feig went self-employed at the start of the 70s - he had previously studied communications engineering and worked as an employee in the industry - such sophisticated applications were still a long way off. Miniaturisation in electronics was still in its infancy, and fingernail-sized computer chips covered in millions of transistors were science fiction. Wolfgang Feig ventured into self-employment “in a haphazard way”, as he recalls. His first customers came predominantly from the steel industry, including famous names such as Mannesmann Demag and Gute-Hoffnungs-Hütte.
Wolfgang Feig’s self-developed regulating and monitoring systems for arc furnaces were in demand, laying the foundation stone for the further rise of what was originally a one-man company. As demand waned in the 80s, the inventive engineer had long since tapped two new fields of business: traffic management and parking technology, and the controlling of industrial doors.
Door control systems: what sounds simple is actually highly complex due to elaborate safety technology. Because it is not enough for a door to open quickly and yet gently after an opening signal is received. One also needs to prevent the door from lowering again if, for example, a vehicle is driving through.
Difficult procurement of chips
Control technology has for years been the company’s strongest-selling area of business. Alongside this, all the other areas have also been showing continuous growth, such as the company’s newest field - payment applications: contactless payment terminals allow cashless, safe and convenient payment on public transport, at vending machines, when parking, and currently in the course of the expansion of electromobility.
Although Feig Electronic is one of the leading companies on the technical front, it cannot escape the current global supply shortages in computer chips. “80 percent of our purchasing capacity is currently occupied with the procurement of chips”, says Wolfgang Feig, who speaks of a “dramatic situation”. But other simple parts such as terminals, for example, are also affected by this scarcity, he says. On top of this there have been almost irrational price rises. There are chips that used to cost a few euros that are now on sale for 600 euros, says Feig.
Feig Electronic is facing this situation with skill and pragmatism. “We are coping with this crisis, because we are providing the devices severely affected by the parts shortage with new layouts and equipping them with components that are currently available - the strengths of our development and our purchasing departments are equally important in this”, says Wolfgang Feig. “Despite the currently difficult conditions on the procurement market we are able to satisfy the requirements of most of our customers. Sometimes, however, orders have to be postponed because not enough material is available.”
As well as materials, the company also constantly requires new employees. The company has made it through the present pandemic without redundancies or short time, and new employees are wanted in all areas. There is a particular need for software and hardware engineers, but these are also being looked for by other industries and are difficult to get. Wolfgang Feig is confident about the current and future challenges and proud of what has been achieved in 50 years: “As a multi-fielder, we are in a position to assert ourselves against the big specialists in many application areas.”
Source (text and photo): Rolf Goeckel, Nassauische Neue Presse