Issue Vol18 Iss1
Born inside the minds of engineers at the Fisher Barton Technology Center, the new LaserEdge EverSharp self-sharpening lawn mover blade is the first of its kind. Since the hardened steel blade literally sharpens itself while in use, it eliminates the need for end-users to spend time sharpening it – shaving away costs associated with downtime.
“It’s been under development for a couple of years and this year we are ready to launch,” Fisher Barton Group President Igor Zelenovskiy says. “We will soon start shipping to selective OEMs for the product launch.”
The new line of LaserEdge EverSharp blades is being launched by Fisher Barton Blades, a leading producer of lawn mower blades worldwide, which is owned by Fisher Barton Group. The blades are designed to solve many of the issues industrial lawn mower users experience, mainly frequent downtime spent sharpening dull blades.
“This is a very important feature for our commercial users,” Zelenovskiy says. “Depending on the mowing conditions, operators sharpen blades up to once every day. For them, sharpening mower blades is lost productivity and a necessary evil, required to maintain a high-quality cut.”
LaserEdge blades use Fisher Barton’s EverSharp technology that involves a special coating method. The company calls it “the mower blade that cuts itself sharp.”
“By applying coating in a specific location on the blade, we create a surface with a different wear characteristic than the blade’s base material,” Zelenovskiy adds. “This creates a very unique self-sharpening effect. So as people use the LaserEdge mower blade, it self sharpens. It’s a very unique product and we are the only company offering it.” LaserEdge EverSharp blades are available through OEM channels.
“This is the most significant innovation to lawnmower blades since Fisher Barton’s introduction of Marbain,” said Andy Strupp, vice president of sales and marketing, in a prepared statement.
House of Innovation
Since founding the company’s first metallurgical lab in 1985, Fisher Barton CEO Dick Wilkey has always stressed materials research and innovation. He believed that “knowing why” leads to better products and processes.
In 2011, the company opened a corporate materials laboratory at its Specialty Products division in Watertown, Wis. In 2015, it renovated its historic Village Blacksmith building and opened a research and development facility at its state-of-the-art Fisher Barton Technology Center. The center is dedicated to designing new and innovative products, such as the LaserEdge EverSharp.
“Its main focus is on research and process development,” Zelenovskiy says. “The idea was that we would take our best and brightest talent, place them in the technology center, give them the best equipment and we would get results. This level of commitment is unparalleled in our industries and is our latest investment in driving success for our customers through continual product innovation.”
The facility serves all of Fisher Barton’s divisions and houses a range of the most up-to-date instruments for the microscopic, chemical and mechanical analysis of metals and other materials.
“Our expertise is material science,” Zelenovskiy adds. “The Fisher Barton Technology Center makes our customer’s product problem-solving easier, less time-consuming and more cost effective. We are a company that changes material property to achieve exceptional, advanced performance.”
Zelenovskiy joined Fisher Barton in 2014 as the president of the Fisher Barton Technology Center. During his tenure, he helped establish the center – a long-term vision for Fisher Barton Group. Under his leadership, the company engaged in the development of new products and processes to accelerate the company’s growth.
“Fisher Barton has always been invested in innovation,” he says. “But I was brought in to help spin it off.” In addition to materials research, the center has developed laser technology to enhance its materials’ characteristics. It also provides full mechanical testing of its innovations and develops prototype manufacturing cells for new product lines before going into full production.
Fisher Barton companies use the center to serve their customers by helping them develop new, cost-effective and better products through unique, comprehensive-testing capabilities.
The equipment at the center’s materials testing lab include an SEM microscope with energy dispersive spectrometry for high-magnification imaging and elemental and chemical characterization. It features X-ray fluorescence and diffraction for analyzing complex and unknown bulk samples to identify a sample’s various elements and crystallographic structures. The center also offers drop-weight impact testing that produces a highly sensitive time history of applied force and deformation during a test.
Family of Companies
Fisher Barton is made up of a group of eight independent companies. Fisher Barton Blades, Fisher Barton Specialty Products and the Fisher Barton Technology Center are located in Watertown. The parent company also owns
Thermal Spray Technologies in Sun Prairie, Wis., Zenith Cutter in Rockford, Ill., Accurate Specialties in Pewaukee, Wis., and Lineage Alloys in Houston, where it makes specialized powders used in thermally applied coatings. In addition, Fisher Barton owns Metkraft in Vietnam that makes a variety of manufactured parts.
The family of companies leverages expertise and process innovations to manufacture components for a variety of markets that include agricultural equipment, converting equipment, outdoor power equipment, medical device, recycling equipment and solar power. Business unit products consist of industrial knives and accessories, lawn mower blades, agricultural knives, power transmission components, stampings, engineered thermal spray coating solutions and heat-treated weldments.
Fisher Barton is a privately owned company that brings more than 40 years of collective experience with materials and processes to every customer interaction. The company has experienced healthy growth in recent years and expects that trend to continue. “We have very ambitious growth plans and 2018 looks very promising,” Zelenovskiy says. “We anticipate double-digit growth.”
What started as a metal stamping and fabrication business branched out into a broad range of manufacturing services. With start-to-finish expertise and technology at each of its divisions, Fisher Barton prides itself on being a one-stop solution for customized manufacturing.
“I think we are very unique,” Zelenovskiy says. “If an OEM comes to us with a problem, we have the knowledge, expertise and a deep enough tool box to help them and recommend specific processes and application solutions.”
A Growing Segment
The majority of Fisher Barton’s customers come from the agricultural, lawn care and turf care industries. But the company also has a significant presence in the oil and gas industry. “It’s a growing segment for us,” Zelenovskiy says. “We provide highly engineered coatings to the oil and gas industry. When you’re pumping oil under high pressure and abrasive fluids, the wear is unbelievable. So we apply coatings to their high-wear components to make them last longer.”
The company’s ability to understand the physical and chemical behavior of metals and raw materials enables it to develop customized coating applications for a variety of industries. “Let’s say you have a plow,” Zelenovskiy says. “You drag it through dirt and it suffers abrasion. So we work with our customers. We take their part and develop an abrasion-resistant coating. Now you have a plow that resists wear and will last longer.”
Through surface research and engineering, Fisher Barton can improve the chemistry of materials and offer unique and customized solutions. “This can be done through coating, heat treatment, the way we form and stamp products and various other processes,” Zelenovskiy adds.
Fisher Barton is recognized as an industry leader in materials and surface engineering. Over the years, it has received numerous awards and rankings.
In 2015, the company’s founder, Dick Wilkey, received the Distinguished Life Member award from ASM International, the world’s largest association of metals-centric materials engineers and scientists. It is awarded to industry leaders who have devoted their time, knowledge and abilities to the advancement of the material science and engineering industries.
Fisher Barton prides also itself on its long-term relationships with OEMs. For example, the company has been doing business with John Deere since 1982. Today, Fisher Barton is the supplier of high-wear components for John Deere Agricultural Harvesting and Turf Care equipment worldwide. “Our relationship with our OEMs is more than just a supplier relationship,” Zelenovskiy says. “It’s a partnership. We work very closely with them.”
In addition, the Fisher Barton Group was named John Deere Agriculture and Turf Division’s Supplier of the Year in the John Deere Achieving Excellence Program in 2015. “The supplier of the year award is a really big deal for us,” Zelenovskiy says. “John Deere has thousands of suppliers and some of them are much bigger than we are. So for them to recognize us as supplier of the year, it’s a huge recognition of our efforts.”
John Deere also recognized Fisher Barton as a partner-level supplier from 2014 to 2017. Partner-level status is Deere & Company’s highest supplier rating. Fisher Barton was honored for its dedication to providing products and service of outstanding quality as well as its commitment to continuous improvement.
Fisher Barton Group divisions Fisher Barton Blades, Fisher Barton Specialty Products and Thermal Spray Technologies are direct materials suppliers to John Deere operations in North America, France and Germany. Suppliers that participate in the Achieving Excellence program are evaluated annually in several key performance categories, including quality, cost management, delivery, technical support and wavelength, which is a measure of responsiveness. John Deere Supply Management created the program in 1991 to provide a supplier evaluation and feedback process that promotes continuous improvement.
While Fisher Barton has only been in business since 1973, the company’s Village Blacksmith location has had roots in Watertown since the early 1900s. Although Fisher Barton has always been a privately held company, its founder intends to continue influencing the company’s operations even after his succession.
Dick Wilkey’s succession plan calls for the company to continue operating with his vision in mind, specifically focusing on technology and innovation and its commitment to employees, customers and the communities in which it operates.
Fisher Barton’s commitment to manufacturing calls for employees to characterize, research and develop high-wear solutions and processes to deliver superior and quality products that perform better and longer.
Its commitment to customers involves providing high quality, competitively priced products by continuing to invest in the company’s facilities, equipment, training and processes. Finally, Fisher Barton’s commitment to its employees is to remain as strong as it has always been in the past to ensure the company’s legacy.