The best keeps getting better

No screwdrivers fit more snugly in your hand than those made by PB Swiss Tools in Wasen, Switzerland. The reason is that staff at this company in Emmental never cease to question how they can improve the tools they make and how to include even more innovative tools in the product range.

A guided tour through the PB Swiss Tools factory should trigger the same excitement in tradespeople as a trip to a chocolate factory for lovers of that culinary delight. Even if one is not involved on a daily basis in tightening and loosening screws, one senses that something great is being made here. The word “great” is not used here to describe the size and quantity of the tools but rather their quality and the fact that something new is being developed here – and, yes, it also applies to aesthetic qualities. The set of RainBow color-coded angled hex keys is, quite simply, beautiful.

However, that array of colors is not intended to appeal to the artistic leanings of the user but rather to boost their efficiency at the work site. Each color stands for a specific size, and that cuts out the time-consuming search for the right tool. That simple idea was, at the same time, revolutionary when the color-coded angled hex keys in the RainBow set were introduced in 2000. “Since then, that brilliant idea has been copied innumerable times across all continents”, explains CEO Eva Jaisli.

Listen and respond
The story behind that successful product is a typical example of the way innovation has been promoted throughout the 140-year history of PB Swiss Tools. The staff in R&D, Marketing and Sales form a team that communicates closely with end customers to work out improvements. The team invites end customers to participate in workshops and watches over the shoulders of professionals working in their factories on practical jobs. It was on just such an occasion that they overheard engineers at Toyota complaining that they lost so much time looking for the right sized tool. That triggered the idea for color coding angled hex keys. “Our products are the solution to a problem that our customer needs to solve and make that customer more successful”, summarizes Eva Jaisli.

The constant search for creative ideas and new solutions is so important in the eyes of our Management that they set aside 20 per cent of sales turnover for the resources to promote it. Thanks to this inherent innovative spirit, what was once a village smithy has developed, over four generations, to become a market leader in high-quality handtools and instruments, and these are supplied today to 80 different countries. Where, 140 years ago, the company’s main product was nose rings for oxen, today PB Swiss Tools manufactures brand name tools that are in demand as much in the aerospace industry as they are in the field of medical technology. It goes without saying that it is not only the product range that has experienced dramatic developments, but also the production processes. The factory in Emmental was, in fact, the fourth company in Switzerland to integrate the first industrial robots in 1982. PB Swiss Tools regularly enlists the help of experts and enters into cooperation agreements with institutes, polytechnics and universities to make sure it is well prepared for future challenges. The question today is not only what makes a screwdriver the perfect tool that fits snugly in the human user’s hand; we also have to consider how a tool that is used by a robot should be constructed.

Loyal employees, loyal employer
With the unceasing search for new products, increasing sales, advances in automation, the use of robots – the development of today’s state-of-the-art PB Swiss Tools company could not have happened without our flexible staff. “But I do not demand more adaptation of them than I can ensure continuity”, emphasizes Eva Jaisli. The low rate of staff turnover bears out that promise. For years, there has been a changeover of only about two to five per cent of the staff, where today's headcount is 164. Recently, the company took its leave of one employee who had been with the company for 48 years. He had been witness to the introduction of industrial robots for certain work processes and how demand for products spread out around the world. Two-thirds of the 12 million tools manufactured by PB Swiss Tools are exported. In 2013, this company from Emmental established a subsidiary in China. Now, a team of qualified Chinese employees is busy introducing quality tools from Emmental to the Chinese market.

But one point has not changed at all since the great-grandfather of Eva Jaisli’s husband (Max Baumann) founded the village smithy in 1878: PB Swiss Tools is one of very few export oriented Swiss enterprises that continues to develop and manufacture 100% of its products in Switzerland. The high standards of vocational training and close cooperation with Swiss universities and colleges are of such great importance. Max Baumann, CTO and Eva Jaisli, CEO want to be able to guarantee unmistakable innovation and quality, and that presupposes that raw materials, processes and results can be monitored on site and instant action taken if any adjustments are necessary. “That is easier if capabilities are bundled and communication routes short”, Eva Jaisli names additional reasons why even the strong Swiss Franc cannot jeopardize the company’s location in Emmental. 100% made in Switzerland is the one principle the management insists on. Otherwise, management is driven by the question as to what can be changed to make the company’s tools and instruments even better and to uphold the promise “work with the best”.