Festool Comes to Highland
and Highland Goes to Festool

by Phil Colson

We were fortunate to have Dan Durant of Festool on hand demonstrating the impressive line of Festool tools during the Highland Woodworking Spring Tool Sale on May 5th. Then recently on a trip to see my daughter who is studying in Germany, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the Festool factory. Festool is a world-renowned tool manufacturer known for its high quality, precision and reliability. The factory is located in Wendlingen, a beautiful small town south of Stuttgart. Mr. Raichle, a representative for Festool, greeted us and kindly gave us a complete tour of the factory.

First, we visited the manufacturing section where we found the heart of Festool, the motor. They cast their own motor housing and wind the armature after turning the shafts with zero tolerance. Festool feels that the motor is the most essential part of any of their tools, and therefore will never outsource its production.

We then proceeded to the assembly division. Every tool has its own U-shaped assembly line. Mr. Raichle explained that this was a new concept for Germany and Festool. Festool went to Japan to Toyota and studied their manufacturing techniques.  With the U-shaped assembly line, the workers stand inside the U and parts are loaded from the backside. The U-shaped assembly line has doubled their efficiency. Each position in the U has every tool the worker needs for the assembly of the part in that section. One worker can start the assemblage and continue it to the final run test. Depending on the demand, up to eight workers can work in the U. When a worker takes his break, another worker comes in and vacuums and cleans the U. The whole factory is very clean.

U-shaped assembly line

Along with the U-shaped assembly line, Festool started a "just in time" parts program. Mr. Raichle explained that the non-manufactured parts come into the factory four to eight times a day depending on demand. They stage the parts next to the U where they’re used. Workers replenish parts for the assembly line every thirty minute. The supplier supplies parts on consignment, paid only for each delivery. This way there is no need to warehouse parts. This new system has doubled Festool’s efficiency and improved the quality control. Festool is selling their knowledge about manufacturing, assemblage, and just in time parts programs to other manufacturers in Germany and England.

Another unique part of the assembly line is the demand cards system that dictates the workers' hours. Festool employs workers on a demand basis. Each section in the plant has a demand board, which tells the workers what specific tool needs assembling or parts manufactured. Depending on the quantity demand, one to eight technicians perform the necessary assemblage of any tool. When there are no cards on the board, the workers go home.

Festool has great respect for ideas offered by their employees and encourages their input.  In fact, workers receive extra money for their ideas.  We saw one idea that a worker had. He loaded six armatures in the winding machine. He had to load them two at a time to get their position correct. He then put together an electromagnet array of six magnets on the end of a drill. You pull the trigger to energize the magnets and pick up the six armatures. Once placed in the machine, you release the drill trigger and the armatures are sitting in place.

We were also introduced to several new tools that will be coming to the USA. One was a compound sliding miter saw with a dual laser. The dual lasers create a kerf line on both sides of the saw blade. This enables you to cut accurately on either side of the blade. It was very smooth running and built very strong and light. You are going to love the chop box when it gets here later this year. The other tool we saw was a portable tablesaw with the precision of a stationary saw. It would be perfect for the shop with limited space or the need to store the tools away until needed. It weighs about thirty pounds and has a gutsy little motor that offers a quality cut. As you might already know, all cutting tools from Festool attach to any of their vacuums to help control dust. They did not know when this tablesaw would get to the USA, but hopefully it will be soon.

We left the factory with a new appreciation of one of the world's great tools. Check ’em out in our new catalog or online on our website . As one customer of Highland Woodworking told me before I left for Germany, his fellow workers would drive to the jobsite in big new trucks with their cheaper tools, while he drove an old truck but had the best tools to do the job. He said while their tools would wear out from use, his Festool tools where always reliable. I guess it's true when they say, "The bitterness of poor quality lingers long after the sweetness of cheap price is forgotten".

Phil Colson began working at Highland Hardware in 1985. This article is being republished in 2017. After 32 years, Phil still works here fulltime, and also teaches many of Highland's weekend woodturning classes.

See Previous Newsletters Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Copyright © 2007 Highland Woodworking, Inc.

Highland Woodworking | 1045 N. Highland Avenue, NE | Atlanta | GA | 30306 | 404.872.4466