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Pelikan Hanover Factory Visit
On Monday 6th July 2009, Ross and I flew to Hanover, the historic headquarters of Pelikan and capital of the federal region of Lower Saxony in Northern Germany. We were given a very comprehensive program of activities for the following day which was kindly arranged by a Pelikan representative from the United Kingdom and the director of European Marketing at Pelikan.
Our hotel was the Pelikan Sheraton, a very interesting place indeed, being located within the original Pelikan manufacturing factory in Hanover. There were clues everywhere which hinted at the history of the building, from the Pelikan manhole covers to the intricately carved limestone friese around the top of the front of the building (below) which has been replicated on the Pelikan Majesty pens. It seems in the early 1900s when the factory was built by Fritz Beindorff, no expense was spared. We learned that the Hanover factory was outgrown in the 1970s necessitating the need for a move to a new plant, which would be our first port of call on Tuesday.
Our day began at 8.15am with a short minibus trip to the Pelikan manufacturing plant at Vöhrum, around 32km from the centre of Hanover and the old Pelikan factory. This factory was originally a shoe manufacturing plant and was taken over by Pelikan in 1973 when they needed more space. We were told that the plant is relatively close to the old East/West German border in an area which was targeted for regeneration. Many products of Pelikan's collection are manufactured at this factory and all of the fine writing instruments are produced at Vöhrum. The other factories are located in Scotland, the Czech Republic, China, Mexico & Malaysia.
We were welcomed to the Vohrum factory by Helmut Broischer, the head of Mould Design and tool manufacture. He gave a short presentation about the factory and the staff that are employed there. Some 300 people work on the Vöhrum site, with around 1/3 working in administrative positions. Our tour began in the mould design and tool manufacture section of the factory where the steel moulds are made for everything from Souveran pen barrels to the ink cartridges.
We were stood at the automated ink cartridge mould machine for a couple of minutes talking to Helmut about the process and were informed that in those two minutes several thousand cartridges had been produced. This was a difficult statistic to fathom, although it did help explain how Pelikan manage to produce millions of ink cartridges each year. This is to compliment the millions of school pens, eradicators and ink bottles that are also produced here. The mould design sections of the factory were a pleasant blast from the past for me, having done my apprenticeship at 16 in tool-making at a car parts plant in South Wales.
Most of the sections of the factory are high automated with each machine under the control of one person who checks the consistency of the products and can halt the machine at any point to resolve any issues. Items such as the nib feeds are checked individually by one woman who then boxes them by their position in the mould so that any issues can be directly located to a defect in the individual mould. Helmut told us that women tend to be better at this job than men because of their superior dexterity.
The next part of the factory was far less automated because it produces products Pelikan feel requires more human input. The fountain pen nibs, right up from the M150 to the M1000 are produced in an efficient system which starts with sheets of metal being cut, embossed with the Pelikan logo and shaped. The cutting of the slit in the nib was particularly interesting, being executed with precision using an extremely thin paper circular saw blade which spins are unthinkable revolutions. To see the immense attention to detail shown to each nib was very impressive.
We also saw the sheets, as large as bath sheets, made of cellulose acetate which are later cut, bent, and polished in order to become the striated sleeves of the Souverän range. The stripes which later show black are actually transparent and each sheet is different, therefore the writing instruments are never 100% the same.
The next part of the factory which was more obviously sectioned off from the rest, and was probably the most impressive for us as sellers of Pelikan's more expensive pens. The high quality writing instrument section sat behind a glass wall with glass doors and housed around a dozen work stations which could be used for the assembly and quality control of any of the high quality pens. Thus when a special edition is being produced a number of the work stations can be used for them. There are locked glass cabinets which house the pens as they are produced and the entire room can be locked to keep it separated from the rest of the factory for security and to ensure consistency. When we had our tour, the new limited edition Hanging Gardens of Babylon were sat in one of the glass cabinets in trays and covered in plastic to keep dust at bay.
Probably the most exciting part of the tour for us however, was the collection of limited and special edition pens which we were shown in the high quality writing section. Pelikan do not keep them here all of the time, they are under lock and key, and were brought out for our enthusiastic inspection. Even though we are the largest seller of Pelikan's high quality pens in the United Kingdom, there were several pens which we had only ever seen in pictures. The San Francisco and Athens 'Cities Series' special edition fountain pens were just a couple that we were never able to get hold of when they were released. The Limited Editions were all impressive and we had never handled most of them, having only seen them in brochures and on Pelikan's website. Ross was particularly impressed with the Pyramids of Giza and the Spirit of Gaudi limited editions the former of which had an almost fill length gold cap with Egyptian hieroglyphics covering it. I was also impressed with some of the American market limited editions, like the Wall Street, Concerto and Golf.
We next saw Pelikan's in house staff shop which sold their products to staff where we came across a product which Pelikan have been selling in the UK for a little while which was most revolutionary. The Pelikan Power-Pad is a system of refilling ink printer cartridges by simply sitting the empty cartridge on a dock for 20 minutes or so and you are ready to reuse it, with no inky mess. It was most unusual to see a shop which was completely full of stationery which was exclusively Pelikan branded.
A question and answer session followed the tour where we were able to put some of the questions posted by our customers and get some answers and feedback from the Senior Product Manager Fine Writing for Europe. Some of the more common questions have been put at the bottom of this page.
After the tour of the factory, we were taken to Pelikan's administrative headquarters (above) which was back in the centre of Hanover, next to the Mittelland Canal. Within the reception of this building lays the brilliant M1000 model which we used for the basis of our caption competition. We were shown into a conference room with yet more of the Pelikan limited edition pens on display in some of Pelikan's new range of display units aimed at retailers. We were shown a couple of presentations on the history of the brand detailing Pelikan's rise from exclusively an ink producer to a company producing all manner of stationery and high quality pens. With 175 years of history, two world wars and one bankruptcy in 1982, Pelikan has gone through many ups and downs. In 1996, Hooi Keat Loo from Malaysia became the major shareholder and ever since, the company has gained strength again.
We were next shown some new products such as the new M205 demonstrator which is now on sale and the next pen in the 'Phenomenon's of Nature' special edition series, the Indian Summer, which will be released later this year.
To follow this, we were taken on a very comprehensive tour of Hanover arranged by Pelikan with an enthusiastic retired town tour guide who insisted we call her 'Gurty' and acted as if she had known us for years. We learned about the considerable links between Hanover and the United Kingdom and the sobering second world war events that occurred in Hanover. We were whisked back to the Pelikan Sheraton Hotel at 7.50pm where we were informed that we had a meal booked at 8 with another of Pelikan's directors, where we had a very pleasant Italian meal enthusiastically discussing Pelikan's products until we could not stay awake any longer, when we retired to bed ready for an early morning flight back to Britain. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and educational visit which we are very thankful to Chris Livesey, Beate Böker, Helmut Broischer and 'Gurty' for making it such a success.
QuestionsWill silver trim will become available for the M600 in the future?
Will the 405 and 805 ranges become available with the other colours (i.e. Red and Green Striated)?
Pelikan stated that there is already a fairly broad range of products available and that they feel the M405 and M805 ranges facilitate the needs of their customers and that their product range would become very complicated if all of the product ranges become available in all colours and with both trims. The 405 and 805 are more modern looking products and the black and blue striated colours are more suited to the silver trim than the 'tradition' green and red.
Will the tortoiseshell colour become available again, either as a permanent product or a limited edition?
Pelikan stated that they are aware the tortoiseshell colour was very popular and that they have considered producing it again. They stated that the material used to produce the tortoiseshell is especially made for Pelikan and that this results in extremely large minimum order quantities. Therefore, at the moment, it would not be economically viable to produce a run of pens which are able to be sold at a reasonable cost. They will reassess this often.
Will the M900 Toledo be produced again with silver trim (M910)?
Pelikan stated that if there was sufficient interest in this model again, they would do a production run of it on a relatively limited basis. We shall keep you updated.
Why is the new Ductus fountain pen only available with internal ink cartridges and not Pelikan's tradition piston fill system?
Pelikan were aiming for a new audience with the new Ductus, much as with the epoch pens brought out in 2004, and they felt that their younger customer preferred the basic simplicity of the cartridges. (This is a point which does have some weight as my son, aged 21, is particularly taken with the Ductus and appreciates that many of his university peers would prefer the simplicity of the cartridge refills to the piston fill)
One of our customers wished us to congratulate Pelikan on their products and they were very flattered with this comment, one which we of course share.
Caption CompetitionWhilst in Hanover, we took the following photograph in Pelikan's headquarters and ran a caption competition to win a new ceramic Pelikan desk stand.
There were dozens and dozens of brilliant entries but we managed to narrow them down to a top ten. The top ten are listed below, however the overall winner was decided on as Jenny Hayward, who entered the following caption:
Ray might be smiling now, but it's hardly hand luggage!!
Well done to Jenny, a large Pelikan pen stand is flying its way to you as I type.
The other captions are listed below
Holds enough ink to draw a continuous line around the Equator and still has enough left over to write Sir Fred Goodwin's pension cheque - Billy Rubins
I have great reservations that the new M1,000,000 will sell - Chris Livesey
The ornamental fountain in reception wasn't quite the water feature staff were expecting - Graham Eyre
That's nothing, wait until you see the ink bottle! - Bob Strutton
Deciding to first try the cream on a Souveran 300, Tom was delighted by the results and thrilled with anticipation... - Benjamin Beasley-Murray
Ray demonstrating the new MP's expenses model - Julie Matko
Ray comes to terms with Pelikan's answer to qantitative easing! - Sarah Nicoll
Ray at large in Hanover - Gary Phillips
Wait 'til you see my chequebook! - Geoff Noble