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A meeting with Eberhard Faber, the manufacturers of Fimo
As you may be aware the formula of Fimo Classic Polymer clay (my favourite brand) was changed. I thought you might be interested to hear about my discussions and meetings with Eberhard Faber, the manufacturers of Fimo Classic.
Many people have expressed their dissatisfaction with the new formula, primarily because it was proving less suitable for fine modelling. I contacted Staedtler (UK) Ltd. the UK distributors to express my concerns. This resulted in a meeting with Duncan Savage, Director of Sales. He then instigated a meeting with Eberhard Faber which happened in September 2007. Pat Goodall-McIntosh (a member of the British Polymer Clay Guild who is a skilled miniaturist and teacher) and Angie Scarr (caner extraordinaire) were invited to attend that meeting as well. We met with Nils Henssen (Director Marketing) and Kerstin Humplmair (Product Manager) in Birmingham where we discussed our concerns about the formula changes in Fimo Classic polymer clay.
The three of us then travelled to Germany in December 2207, at the invitation of Eberhard Faber, so we could participate in a series of workshops they were planning.
It was very gratifying how seriously Eberhard Faber were taking our concerns. Not only had the three of us come from England but three professional German makers – a miniaturist and two jewellery makers – had also been invited. The plan was that we would take part in workshops where we could demonstrate our difficulties concerning the new formula Fimo Classic. The workshops were over two days and many of their staff were involved. What with Eberhard Faber chemists, quality controllers and creative people, plus three of their senior directors, there were eighteen of us taking part in the workshop.
It was explained that the changes in the formulation of Fimo Classic had been dictated by changes in the European Law concerning the uses of Phthalates (a constituent of the plasticizer used in polymer clay) in items classified as a toy. Any item that will be used by children under 14 has to comply with these standards. What’s more, European law defines all clay-like materials that can be baked in a home oven as toys, and this of course includes Fimo Classic. It is therefore not possible for the “old” formula to be produced anymore. Curiously, American law is the exact opposite; Polymer clays must be described as “art and craft materials”, not as toys, but their manufacture is controlled by equally stringent regulations. The changes in colour (especially in Bordeaux Red) are due to changes in the availability of certain pigments.
Eberhard Faber had taken advantage of the opportunity afforded by the necessity to change the formula to address complaints (especially from American artists) concerning the firmness of Fimo Classic. They therefore designed a clay that does not harden off as it ages, that is consistent in its manufacturing process and is softer and therefore easier to condition
However I think it came as a surprise to them that the very properties they were trying to resolve (i.e. the firmness of the clay and its tendency to become firmer as it aged) had been the very properties that the fine scale modellers and some caners and jewellery makers looked for, and why Fimo Classic had been their clay of choice.
The opportunity to actually demonstrate our concerns was invaluable to all parties. It is difficult to describe in words why, for example, a cabbage leaf modelled in the “old” formulation works and the one from the new formulation does not. In this case, it was certainly true that a picture is worth a thousand words. Similarly the complaint “the clay is too soft” is not very helpful when that is all the information they are given.
Angie and the jewellery makers demonstrated their difficulties with the caning properties of the new formula Fimo Classic, and the difficulties associated with Fimo Translucent (now in the “Effects” range). Pat and I concentrated on the difficulties when using Fimo Classic for fine scale modelling.
We also expressed concerns about the reduction in the baking temperature of Fimo classic (from 130º C to 110º C) with the resulting incompatibility with Liquid Fimo that has a baking temperature of 130º C. We were reassured that, whilst the scientific instruments show that the optimum baking temperature for Fimo Classic is 110º C, it is entirely safe to bake it at 130º C.
Where do we go from here? The folk at Eberhard Faber were attentive to our concerns, and now have a much clearer idea as to what our complaints mean and what we wish for in polymer clay. Whether they can accommodate the requirements of what is a niche market (i.e. the fine scale modellers and caners) we will have to see.
Currently I work with my remaining stocks of the old formula and a mixture of the new formula Fimo classic, Premo and Kato Clay, depending upon what I am making.
We would like to thank Nils and Kerstin for making our stay such fun. Not only did they take us to the famous Christmas market in Nuremburg, but they wined and dined us and added a serenade or two. Thanks also to Herman Bauer, International Sales Director, for his generous hospitality. Our thanks to Dr. Gunther Pabst who not only listened to our concerns but showed us round the factory (watching pencils being made is, I admit, much more fun than watching Fimo being mixed!) Our thanks also go to Rachael Woolley, Brand Manager, Staedtler (UK) Ltd. who escorted us with such grace and charm.