An Established Wisconsin Company Continues its Leading Edge Fluid Power Innovation

Written by Nate Hendley

Fluid System Components’ (FSC) products range from motors to pumps, air regulators, gear boxes, cylinders, valves and compressors. The company also offers engineering support and in-house and on-site repairs, among other services. Industrial markets served include food and beverage, heavy industry, machine tools, medical and paper machinery. Mobile sectors served include aerial devices, defense, snow and ice removal, truck equipment, fire/airport/emergency, construction and agriculture.
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It is a busy time for Fluid System Components (FSC), a leading manufacturer and distributor of fluid power products and solutions for the industrial and mobile equipment sectors in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. On September 14, the firm held an open house at its De Pere, Wisconsin headquarters. Officially called Power & Control – Technology Day, the event allowed the growing company to show off its products and services for clients and the public alike. “We want our customers to actually see what our technical capabilities are, and to have them on-site is always beneficial to them and to us,” states President Len Boerboom.

“We cover every mobile and industrial segment in the market. It’s a very diversified marketplace that we handle … We’re probably about sixty percent servicing the mobile market and forty percent servicing the industrial market,” says Boerboom.

Distribution is done in De Pere and another location in New Berlin, Wisconsin. FSC uses the New Berlin location to put together small sub-assemblies as well. Distribution covers pneumatic and hydraulic components and systems, electronics and hydraulic power units from companies such as Bosch-Rexroth, Hydac, HydraForce, Gast and Bridgestone Flextral.

Manufacturing, which takes place at a 50,000-square-foot plant in De Pere, primarily consists of fabrication and assembly work. FSC does not generally make products from scratch, but takes existing fluid power products and equipment and integrates these into manifold assemblies and customized hydraulic power units and systems.

“Our engineers will work with our salespeople – who are also very technically [minded] – and the customer’s engineering department, to figure out the best solution that will make their machines efficient, run faster or solve a problem they’re having. Then we will design and build this system. It could be anything from a small sub-assembly to half-million dollar assemblies that we build here and then integrate into the customer’s machines,” says Boerboom.

“That’s really a differentiator for FSC. We have on-site certified welders, we create our own systems and find solutions for our customers,” adds Vice-President Chad Trinkner.

FSC’s service division consists of two segments. “We have an in-house service where we rebuild and repair hydraulic components – one hundred percent repaired to new specs and tested before they go out the door, with a new warranty. Then we have a separate area that’s called our field service department. That service is done at the customer’s site. We would provide a variety of functions, including preventative maintenance, system installations and machine trouble-shooting,” states Boerboom.

FSC is an authorized service center for many of the brands it carries.

There are also technical sales staff sprinkled throughout Wisconsin who are able to provide local regional support for customers in their areas.

The company has come a very long way from its humble beginnings. The firm was founded in 1970 by Bill Sulzmann, working out of the basement of his home. In the early days, FSC was entirely focused on distribution. The company expanded into new fields, while earning a reputation for being on the cutting edge of industry technology. Sulzmann sold the firm in the late 1990s.

“We’ve maintained the culture of our company as a technology leader. We have competitors that are technical as well, but we’ve surpassed them in the area of providing innovative solutions to meet customer needs. Over the years we started doing more value added small assemblies …This has evolved to the point where over half of our sales now actually go through our manufacturing division. The other half would be distribution, but even the distribution part of it has a heavy engineering component to it. Even if we aren’t necessarily building it here, there’s a heavy emphasis and involvement on the engineering part of it,” says Boerboom.

The company has eighty-five employees altogether, up from eighty-two last year at this time. FSC counts roughly a dozen engineers who are experts in the field of fluid power and associated electronic controls.

Asked to identify the secret of FSC’s success, Boerboom says, “first of all, we’ve got very good people. We’ve been fortunate in hiring good, strong successful employees … We are not family owned any more, but we’ve kept the [family] culture. We’ve got a lot of longevity with our people. A lot of people have been here twenty-five – thirty – forty years. People that were with us in the early years, we expected a lot of hard work out of them and in turn treated them fairly.”

He sums up the company’s appeal as “people, products, and a focus on technology which I think is continuing. Companies that haven’t gotten into the value-add as much as us, companies that haven’t gotten into the technology as much as us, are the ones more vulnerable to e-commerce, the Internet and commoditization of products.”

In terms of what the company looks for in new employees, Trinkner says, “fluid power experience is harder and harder to find, so we’re more on aptitude now. If you have a sharp mind, if you have some mechanical aptitude or overall business aptitude, that’s fabulous. We also want a positive attitude.”

This leads to a further discussion about FSC’s corporate culture. “The industry is picking up as a whole. There are growth opportunities. The model we’re trying to instill is to make all our employees better business people. We want them thinking, ‘Will this decision have an impact on the business?’ If we can influence a culture of better business people, the better off we’re going to be,” notes Trinkner.

FSC is ISO 9001 certified and is proud of its reputation for quality. “We’ve always been a quality company and are now preparing ourselves to expand into ISO 9001-2015 in the next calendar year 2018,” says Trinkner.

ISO certification helped solidify this commitment, in part through documentation requirements. Procedures are carefully documented, and data is recorded, so the firm has a complete picture of the areas in which it is doing well and what areas need improvement. The company maintains internal checks to ensure accountability. Manifolds, for example, receive a serial number “so if there’s an issue in the field, we can go back to when it was produced and look at a batch instead of just one,” explains Trinkner.

Safety is also strongly stressed through a safety coordinator, training and internal procedures.

In terms of noteworthy projects with which the company has been involved, Trinkner points to recent work FSC did for a series of bridges in Green Bay, Wisconsin. A preventative maintenance plan had not been in place for the bridges for some time and the city engineers called in FSC for service work. As it turned out, the assignment drew in FSC’s other divisions as well.

“The whole of FSC was [used] for the bridge project in Green Bay. I believe we started with two bridges, and there’s opportunity for six more as they see our worth. In that instance, we’re not talking about a large customer, but it really was a showcase of our capabilities because it started as a field service call, and it became a complete solution to them,” says Trinkner.

As for new services and products for the future, both the president and vice president stress the growing importance of electronics.

“The integration of electronics into our system solutions and introduction to e-commerce for our customers is something we are going to continue. Today’s buyers want cutting edge technology and instant gratification,” says Trinkner.

“We have a couple of electronics engineers. That’s a major, major focus of ours now and going forward. Electronics is challenging. The capabilities of hydraulics and fluid power are expanding greatly by the integration of electronics. We are designing turnkey electronics solutions. We’ve got a team of electronic people and want to continue to add on. One other thing we are looking at, and probably expanding at some point in the near future, is the industrial automation area,” adds Boerboom.

Further expansion might be achieved through a combination of garnering new customers, acquiring other companies or through the use of mobile service vehicles to spread the company’s presence.

“I think in five years, ideally we’re going to grow each of the business segments: distribution, manufacturing, service repair and field service,” states Trinkner. Within these segments, the company would like to develop deeper penetration in areas such as pneumatics, hydraulics and hose and fittings.

Staying on top of technology, in terms of Internet sales and the changing features of products it carries and solutions it devises, is one of FSC’s biggest challenges, says Trinkner.

“We want to make sure we’re on the front-end of the emerging technologies with hydraulics … Everyone is in Amazon mode to get the lowest price and get it in two days. That is going to continue to be a challenge. We have to arm our sales force with the right tools and make sure our manufacturing can increase efficiencies so we can deliver faster. With engineering, making sure we’re on the cutting edge of new processes, new materials and new capabilities. We want to continue to be the premier fluid power and electronic system solution provider for Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,” he states.

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