Jerry Fischer, owner and president of Tools and Troubleshooting, Inc. (Hobart, OK)—a provider of thermoplastic and thermoset plastic and rubber molds for 30 years—has had a multifaceted career that includes mold design as well as the design of farm and aerospace machinery, hydraulic systems and electrical control systems. He also ventured into the classroom, becoming a CAD instructor to share his knowledge with future moldmakers. This winning combination undoubtedly led to him being honored with the Mold Designer of the Year 2005 Award from SPE Mold Making and Mold Design Division.
Fischer, also born in Hobart, was raised on a farm and started working with machinery as soon as he could hold a wrench. Fischer recalls driving in the fields and on the farm roads for short distances before he could even see over the dashboard without kneeling in the seat—with a foot-long extension on the tractor clutch to plow and cultivate crops.
Despite Fischer’s love for farm work, he suffered from severe hay fever. His father suggested engineering as an alternate profession to escape from the allergies. So, he attended Oklahoma University—graduating in 1957 with a Mechanical Engineering degree under the Design option. He then went to work for John Deere in Des Moines, IA for a short time before serving as a lieutenant in the Ordnance Corps. Back at John Deere after completing his military service, he became the resident hydraulics and ergonomics expert and also worked toward a master’s degree at Iowa State University (Ames, IA).
Approximately six years later, Fischer grew restless. “John Deere’s willingness to accept a farm boy’s suggestions for product improvement was less than enthusiastic, and the winters were a tad brisk for me,” he states. He started looking for a job in a warmer climate, accepting a position with Collins Radio (Dallas, TX). While there, he met a man named Lynn Elliot who was starting All Plastics Molding, Inc. (now in Addison, TX), a plastic molding operation that took a plastic product from conception to finished packaged product. Fischer did night and weekend engineering for him for several months.
After two years with Collins radio and six months after Elliott founded his operation, he asked Fischer to join the company full-time to “assist” the mold designer. “This resulted in an intense short course in ‘the School of Hard Knocks,’ helping me develop the knowledge and skills to provide tooling and troubleshoot problems at APM for 10 years.”
Once again, Fischer felt the time was right to move on. “My wife and I agreed that a move to a smaller community where I could have my own business and my kids could work with me was a good idea.”
A Booming Business
Encouraged by his father to invest in some land speculation, the resulting profits enabled Fischer to get most of the capital he needed to purchase machinery. Fischer and his wife decided to move back to Hobart and opened the doors of Tools and Troubleshooting, Inc. in 1975—specializing in injection, compression, transfer and rotational molds for plastics processors. Fischer designed and built molds with only his sons for help for several years.
“I have never had a desire to build a large company,” Fischer comments. “I always wanted to have my hand in the design and manufacture of the molds and offer a personal relationship with each of my customers. After my sons completed college, I took on one helper for several years. Eventually one of my sons, Phil, decided to commit himself to the furtherance of the company. We began to automate as much as possible with NC equipment.” Depending on the workload, Fischer never had more than a dozen employees.
The business continued to grow. “While building a family of small (less than 200 pounds) molds for circuit electronic board connectors for an East Texas company, it became economically feasible for me to become an instrument-rated pilot and deliver the molds to the company by air,” Fischer explains. “The company was about eight to 10 hours away by road. This required about a day each way to drive to deliver the molds, plus anywhere from four to eight hours to test and prove the molds on-site. We found that we could load a mold in a light aircraft and fly to the customer in about two to three hours each way. If we started early enough, we could deliver a mold by air, test it and fly back the same day. In that way, we could save from one to two days away from the shop.”
Some of Fischer’s additional accomplishments include simplifying the linkage on a cotton-picking machine from 50 pieces to seven, designing a hermaphrodite film case for the storage of bank records, and developing a two-cavity encapsulation mold that maintained concentricity of the encapsulated metal part while providing uniform wall thicknesses.
Exploring Other Avenues
Soon after investing in a state-of-the art drafting table and machine, Fischer began using DESIGN-CAD, a 2-D drafting program, and never drew another line using the drafting table. Soon after, a position opened at a nearby community college to teach CAD drafting, where he taught for several years as an adjunct professor in mechanical and CAD drafting at night and on weekends. It was then he decided to venture into the publishing world. “In developing the course syllabus, I saw a need for a textbook and proposed to the software publisher that I use the syllabus as a basis for the book,” Fischer recalls. “I wrote two versions of A B C DesignCAD for two releases of the program and one book for New Riders Publications titled Inside DesignCAD.”
In addition to this long list of accomplishments, Fischer has been a registered professional engineer and a member of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) since 1966—serving SPE as councilor for the Oklahoma City Section of SPE and on the board of directors of the Mold Making and Mold Design Division (MMMD) of the SPE. He also has presented papers at the Annual Technical Conference of the SPE and moderated technical sessions several times.
His association with the MMMD afforded him the opportunity to wear his author hat again. The Handbook of Molded Part Shrinkage and Warpage explained the concept of anticipating and controlling (to a degree) the shrink and warp in molded plastic parts. “The book was proposed by another author, who for his own reasons was unable to write the book,” Fischer explains. “So, William Andrew Publishing contacted me through the MMMD to undertake the book. The book was completed after two years of additional research and writing effort.”
Today, Fischer serves his local community as the chairman of the Hobart (the county seat of Kiowa County, OK) Zoning Board of Adjustments, a position he’s held for more than 10 years. He also was chairman of the Kiowa County Metropolitan Area Planning and Zoning Commission—responsible for planning and writing the county zoning ordinances. Tools and Troubleshooting, Inc. maintains the city maps, updates them as needed and prints maps as required for the city.
Words of Wisdom
Years of achievements in a varied, illustrious career has left Fischer with a constant thirst for knowledge. “Learning is a life-long activity,” he emphasizes. “I learned most of what I know about plastics from ‘Knocks’ College, and my computer and machining skills are mostly self-taught. When someone tells me something cannot be done, it becomes a challenge to figure out how it can be done. A person who sees only obstacles cannot succeed. A person who sees challenges and rises to overcome them cannot fail.”
This philosophy continues to sustain him as he enters the next phase of his life. “One of my sons joined me as a partner in 1993 and I recently turned the business over to him,” Fischer notes. “I still do most of the selling and design work and expect to stay active in the business and SPE as long as my health permits. I may consider full retirement when I reach 80. You’ll have to ask me then!”