The History of Flesher Corporation

Jerry Flesher, founder of Flesher Corporation, has had an interest in electronics from a very young age. As a teenager he built radios in his bedroom; in the army he operated a communications station overseas. And in 1975, Jerry founded Flesher Corporation in Topeka, Kansas to supply mail order electronics in kit form to ham radio operators. Soon Jerry was designing and building his own products for sale to the end-user. Early products included a very successful terminal unit for radio teletype communications: the TU-170 (pictured left). Several other products followed, all aimed at ham radio operators. Flesher's early success was largely due to these ham radio products.

Then everything changed. By the mid 1970's, affordable microprocessors had begun to appear on the market (it's no coincidence that Microsoft was founded in 1975, and Apple Computer in 1976). Jerry understood how powerful the new technology could be, and it wasn't long before he began to experiment with it himself. Within a few years, Flesher Corporation had developed new capabilities and moved far beyond the ham radio market. Flesher's new focus became the design and manufacture of microprocessor-based electronics.

As a small company working with the still new technology, Jerry realized the risks of the business he was in: he would never be able to compete with large electronics manufacturers, so instead of building consumer electronics, he looked for unique projects that were too small or obscure for larger companies. Jerry developed a reputation for being good at solving problems. Flesher Corporation established a close relationship with the local Goodyear tire plant, building a series of measuring and control devices for their passenger tire production line. Flesher built radio equipment for the Kansas Bureau of Investigations and the Nebraska Highway Patrol, test equipment measuring rail fatigue for the Santa Fe railroad, drilling equipment used in the manufacture of circuit boards (a sort of early CNC), line testing equipment for the Cable Spinning Equipment Company of Kansas City, and "a little bit of work" for Dupont's Topeka plant. The list of Flesher Corp's various obscure and one-off projects goes on.

Then, in the late 1970's, Flesher Corporation entered the print industry. At that time, American Bindery operated a plant in Topeka, and they had a problem with their Automark foil stamping machine. The machine used a heated print-wheel and a simple keyboard to foil stamp a single line of text onto a product. It worked much like an IBM Selectric typewriter. The concept was sound, but the machine's control system was complicated and unreliable. Moreover, it was no longer being made, and maintenance was becoming a real problem. The people at American needed a solution, so Jerry was called in to look at the machine. Within three months he had designed and built a retrofit control system that was grafted onto the machine. The new controls included a simple display and computer keyboard that allowed the operator to input a complete line of text before stamping.

The retrofit kit breathed new life into the machine, and over the next year Flesher Corp sold more than thirty of the units to bookbinderies nationwide. It was in these binderies around the country that Jerry came to better understand the bookbinding industry. As he installed his Automark retrofit, he listened and learned, and he finally decided that he could build a better machine. Over the course of 13 months, Jerry and his team developed the System2, which was the very first purpose-built, microprocessor-controlled, hot-foil lettering machine. It was first demonstrated at the LBI meeting in Long Boat Key, Florida in 1979, and it was an unqualified success. Jerry took one order on the spot. The System2 created a small revolution in the industry. For the first time ever foil stamping was not a bottleneck in the bookbinding process. Flesher Corp shipped 85 System2 machines to bookbinderies around the country and around the world from 1979 to 1992, at which time the machine was superseded by the faster and more capable System3.

The System3 represented another small revolution for the bookbinding industry. Instead of hand-feeding each piece, the System3 used an automatic feeder to load cover cloth into the stamping machine. Now a bindery could stamp cloth without anyone present, even after everyone had gone home. With eight axes of motion control, the System3 was groundbreaking 20 years ago, and with modern updates, it's still the industry standard today.

However, having watched the print industry evolve for 20 years, Jerry anticipated its changing needs. Beginning in 1999, Flesher Corporation began shipping its third generation of hot foil lettering machines -- the Premere. The Premere proved to be a versatile platform for the continued development of Flesher's stamping machines, allowing for more than a dozen variations on the basic design, according to our clients' specific needs. And the Premere has been more successful than all of Flesher's previous machines combined, with over 400 in service worldwide.

As our machines have evolved, so have our methods and capabilities. Where once a circuit board layout was done on by hand on a light-table, it's now done almost automatically in software. Similarly, the mechanical design of our machines is now done by modeling the entire assembly in 3D. We support our equipment via web-cam and remote log-in so we can quickly and painlessly fix any problems that may arise. And with a new generation of technology comes a new generation of Flesher Corporation: Ian Flesher, Jerry's youngest son, now manages Flesher's day-to-day operations and strategic planning. We try to stay true to our roots: we've always been a small company; we continue to look for ways to innovate; we're problem-solvers. And solving problems means forging lasting relationships with our customers -- relationships that go beyond business.

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