Blog - Pelikan Pens Factory Visit

From Pelikan Pens Website...

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.

Pelikan Factory Freise

Pelikan Factory Visit

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.

Sheraton Pelikan Hotel

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.

Sheraton Pelikan Hotel

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.

Pelikan Stationery Offices

Pelikan Administrative Offices, Hanover

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.