Albert Clarence Filger was a well-regarded machinist for Bertea in the early 50’s, but he saw opportunity elsewhere. The lure of making his own way, and building his own legacy drew him to self-employment. In 1953 he set up shop in Pasadena as A.C. Filger Mfg., delivering quality machined parts to the aerospace industry. His son, Albert Charles Filger, started working for his Dad at the age of 10 and 23 years later ended up buying the company and transforming it into a CNC machine shop. Today, this San Clemente, CA. based operation is helmed by Al Filger and his children Lane Filger and Casandra Filger-Robinson. Together they are upholding the traditions of quality that the business was built on so many decades ago.
Filger Manufacturing is known primarily as a precision machining manufacturer specializing in high precision/ close tolerance components. Their Star Swiss turning machines share the spotlight with Hardinge, Hyundai-Wia, Haas and Milltronics. All in all the 20,000 sq.ft. manufacturing facility houses twenty one CNC turning and milling centers. “We pride ourselves on being able to master intricate and difficult parts that our competitors are unable to machine.” tells Lane Filger, president and part-owner of Filger Manufacturing. “Most of what we do is under 1” in size, we run up to 6” in diameter on some parts. Aerospace has always been a large part of our business model. Our grandfather was good friends with the owner of Bertea which was bought out by Parker Hanifin. “We’ve partnered with Parker Hannifin for nearly 70 years,” adds owner and COO Casandra Filger-Robinson. “Those kinds of relationships are hard to come by these days. We have other customers and even our own employees who have been here for decades. Our Foreman is celebrating 40 years with the company in 2020, that’s amazing.”
Al has overseen the company for 45 years and named Lane President about 12 years ago. Lane started in the trade at an early age and has been with the company for more than 30 years. Casandra started with the business 7 years ago as COO. “I graduated from SFSU in Business,” details Casandra. “I stayed up there and was a Sales Manager for a Fortune 500 company before returning home to San Clemente.” Lane now oversees the shop while Casandra handles all customer communication, HR, and oversees quality. With her father and brother’s help she taught herself about manufacturing. Keeping up with the company’s AS9100 and ISO9001 certifications has been a big part of her education. She touts that even after seven years she still learns something new every day. “It made sense to bring Casandra in to handle operations,” explains Lane. “Her experience outside of the family business is a great asset. She brings a different and fresh perspective to things. She’s really a smart cookie and transitioned into the position really well.”
Aerospace, defense, medical and even parts that go into space are all part of a day’s work at Filger Manufacturing. “We are very good at doing very small, high precision, high quantity, high quality parts,” tells Lane. “Many industries benefit from our experience, but we are best known by the airplane manufacturers for our hydraulic valve components.” The owners consider Filger Manufacturing to be a Swiss turning house with traditional turning, milling, and one-off capabilities. The Swiss machines are a recent addition at Filger Manufacturing, installing their first Star SW20 in 2017. Casandra, Lane and their production head met with Chris De Revere, of West Coast CNC Inc. at the Westec tradeshow and were impressed with how far the Swiss style machines had come in the last few years. “Capabilities had progressed leaps and bounds,” tells Casandra. “We felt it was the time to make the jump to Swiss turning. They offered a lot of advantages over how we were currently manufacturing.” “Our parts didn’t change,” continues Lane. “But how we make them did. It was not uncommon for a part to be run on three, four, even five different machines before getting our first Star SW20. Now that same part comes off a single Star complete. We machine the parts faster without sacrificing quality. Adding Swiss to our roster allowed us to grow the business by maximizing our floor space. On time deliveries have improved since adding the Star machines. We are at over 99% for on time delivery with less than a 1% return rate. The big aerospace companies really care about seeing super low return rates and parts delivered as promised.”
“Dad is semi-retired but comes in day to day and is a part of the major decision making,” says Casandra. “He brought CNC machining to the shop back in 1978. It was the first CNC machine in San Clemente, an Okuma LC10 lathe.” “We ran that machine from day one until the day it left the shop,” adds Lane. “We value machines that are an investment not just in today, but in the future of the company. Having a great machine is nothing if you don’t have the people to run them. We are fortunate enough to have both.” Filger Manufacturing is in the business of making small complicated components holding tolerances of up to +/- .0002 in production. Their 67 years of experience producing parts to this level give them an advantage over others. Lane touts the quality of employees as the single biggest reason that Filger has been successful for all these years. “Filger Mfg. is successful due to the quality of the employees we have developed over the years. Our team is talented, educated, smart, creative and hardworking. There is no challenge that they are not up for. When we added the first Star to our shop, we had to upgrade to all new programming software as well due to the complex capabilities of the machine. We bought Esprit and it has been doing the trick for us.”
Until you put a machine tool into production you never know if it will live up to the hype and admittedly the Filger team were a little skeptical at first. “Before we purchased our first Star SW20 we sent some examples of parts over to them,” explains Lane. “We asked for a time study to show us what it will take to manufacture the required specs. They supplied us with cost analysis, and we were like wow, that can really save us some time if the information is accurate. Lo and behold we bought the machine and began the process of on-boarding it. It takes a very skilled machinist/ programmer to run the parts we run on these machines and our Lead STAR Machinist is constantly finding ways he can improve the output and quality. The machines have been very reliable. We handle all the maintenance, but if there is a problem service is down here right away to handle any issue. Put it this way, we bought our first Star in 2017, then got the next one in 2018, then 2019 we added two more. To say we like them is an understatement.”
Statistics show that a large number of 3rd generation businesses fail for various reasons, but 2019 was Filger Manufacturing’s best year ever. Although 2020 hasn’t been great for anyone they will survive it and come out the other side better than before. “Before the outbreak we really stepped up our efforts diversify/expand within our current customers portfolios,” details Casandra. “Now having the issues with the 737 Max and the grounding of so many planes we are glad we did. More diversification was the plan before Covid and it will be a primary focus after Covid.” “Normally we would be booked out 6 months to a year with contracts,” adds Lane. “With the world grinding to a halt, orders are being shifted around. We are not at capacity and have spindle time available if any of your readers out there are in need of our level of quality and service. We’ve seen a slowing of course, but we began 2020 in a great position and will weather this storm the same way we have for 67 years. When the world is back running more normally again, we will be right there with everyone traveling, surfing and ramping up production.” “There is a photo of our Grandpa in the office and it is inspiring to all of us,” concludes Casandra. “We are proud of the company that our Grandfather started, and our father built with him. We are excited to continue on with their legacy for years to come.”
Article by Sean Buur Photos Supplied by Filger Manufacturing