My whirlwind tour of Bosch’s corporate offices and manufacturing facilities in Europe continued from Germany into Switzerland.
Like most large companies in the world, the Robert Bosch Company has grown not only through innovation and development of its own product lines, but also through acquisitions of existing companies. For example, in recent years Bosch has acquired Sia Abrasives, a Swiss-based company making sandpaper and other abrasives for many industries, and also Freud, the Italian business that makes cutting tools (saw blades, router bits, shaper cutters, etc.) and produces its own carbide.
My next stop was the former Scintilla company headquarters in Solothurn, Switzerland. At this facility Bosch makes jigsaws, sanders, electric drills, 55mm circular saws, and oscillating mulit-tools. I was able to see Bosch’s newest oscillating multi-tool, which will have a tool-free quick-change head, so you won’t need a tool to remove the tiny screw to change out accessories. This tool will be available by March 2012. I also got to see a new high-end jigsaw that will be on the market by summer 2012 and will have improved blade guides, LED lights, a plastic-infused foot plate, and a swivel-mounted power cord. Here’s a photo timeline of Bosch’s jigsaw history:
I got a thorough walk-through of the production and assembly lines, but, as proved the case at every stop, I was not allowed to take photos. (Companies worry that published photos could give away proprietary manufacturing secrets. And since I’m no James Bond, I was not able to secretly take any photos.) Like the other Bosch plants I’ve seen, this one was clean, reasonably quiet, and laid out for efficient work flow. Many of the tools are now being packaged in the newer system containers, made for stacking and locking together for easier storage and transport. (Think of them as very similar to Festool’s Systainer boxes, but colored Bosch blue, and you get the idea.)
I learned a great deal at this stop about the world power tool market. According to our host, about 20.3 billion dollars is spent each year on power tools and accessories. Bosch’s share of that figure is about 4.8 billion dollars, tops in the world. Bosch ranks No. 1 worldwide in total sales of portable electric tools, total accessories, and measuring tools, and ranks No. 1 for accessories in masonry drilling and demolition, jigsaw and reciprocating saw blades, circular saw blades and router bits (including Freud), and mixed drilling and driving sets. Globally, Europe ranks No. 1 in tool sales, with North America second, Asia third, and Latin America/South America fourth, but also the fastest growing.
Here’s a ranking of accessories (regardless of brand) sold in 2010 throughout the world:
- Coated abrasives (sandpaper, for example)
- Bonded abrasives (chop saw blades, for example)
- Circular saw blades
- Diamond cutting tools
- Metal-cutting bits
- Industrial cutting tools
- Non-woven abrasives (Scotch-Brite or foam pads, for example)
- Small concrete hammer chisels
- Reciprocating saw blades
- Mixed sets of drill and driver bits
- Hole saws
- Impact/rotary bits
- Wood-drilling bits
- Screwdriving bits
- Large concrete hammer chisels
**—Jigsaw blades, router bits, and oscillating multi-tool accessories ranked 17th through 19th.
The next stop was St. Niklaus, a tiny village in the Alps near the Italian border. The only way to get to this village is by train, so even the trucks carrying supplies to Bosch’s plant hitch a ride on the “ferry” train through (and by that I mean through tunnels) the towering mountains. Each day this truck brings in a load of raw materials and leaves with a load of blades and other accessories. Why this remote location? According to our host, following World War II there was a shortage of manpower throughout northern Switzerland, but this quaint Alpine area had workers, so that’s where Scintilla set up shop. And Bosch has left it in place since acquiring it in the late 1940s.
At the St. Niklaus plant Bosch makes all its linear-edge accessories: jigsaw blades, reciprocating saw blades, stepped drill bits, and oscillating multi-tool blades and attachments. They make 752 types of cutting tools in 5,217 different packaged versions—about 200 million products per year. Bosch ranks No. 1 in the world in sales of jigsaw blades and recip blades. While touring the production floors I learned that nearly all the world’s jigsaw and recip blades are made here, including for most competitive brands. So if your blade says “made in Switzerland,” it was made by Bosch at this plant.
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