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Swiss Expedition: Precision with Heart, Part II

Have you ever experienced hospitality that’s both precise and artistic? Visits to with Swissmem, Reishauer, and Bystronic uncover Switzerland’s rich manufacturing history, commitment to core values, and passion for accuracy, efficiency, and consideration.
Jun 14, 2023

I’m still basking in the afterglow of my Switzerland tour #SwissBoundPrecisionGround. It’s hard to believe my five-day trip unfolded precisely as planned – thanks to timely trains and considerate people. Granted, timeliness is a hallmark of Swiss life. Though, as I shared in my first article, I felt I made a kind of discovery: that the Swiss precision isn’t just an elusive quality put into a watch or machine but reflects a way of life that shows care and consideration. In this article, I want to share about my visits with Swissmem, Reishauer, and Bystronic.

In part one of this series I shared about the inspiring 17-hour press conference, tour, and Surprise Night event hosted by Fritz Studer AG, a member company of United Grinding. Meeting these Swiss manufacturers was just as energizing.

I was certainly charmed by their hospitality, but even more enthralled with their histories, the work they do, and their plans for the future. Talking with them felt very much like chatting with manufactures in the states. They were sincere, expressed can-do attitudes, and embodied genuine drive to increase efficiencies, prosper, and make the world a better place.

Stop 1 – Swissmem, Zurich

When you work for an association, perhaps the best place to start a visit in a foreign country is with that country’s counterpart association. In Switzerland, that is the Swiss Machine Tool Manufacturers located in Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city, a financial and IT center. I reached their offices near the Toni-Areal tram station, just a half dozen stops from Zurich’s central train station. Their secretary general, Christoph Blättler, greeted me with a fine cup of espresso and a few pieces of melt-in-your-mouth velvety chocolate.

Founded in 1883, Swissmem is comprised of 1,300 machinery, electrical, and metal industry companies, as well as related technology companies. It includes machine tool builders like Reishauer, creator of precision grinding machines, and Bystronic, a maker of laser-cutting and metal forming machines; OEM’s such as Schindler, which manufacturers elevators and escalators, and Stadler, maker of railway vehicles; and small and medium-sized enterprises, which make up the majority of members.

Like AMT, Swissmem advocates for a healthy manufacturing business environment ­– manufacturing is one of the top industries driving the economy, as in the United States. Swissmem also tracks machine tool orders to help members assess trends, just as AMT does (see AMT USMTO); promotes a skilled workforce and offers training; and hosts networking events. Unlike AMT, Swissmem offers a retirement fund for its small to medium-sized members and legal counsel on employment, contract, and IP law. As their website states, “Swissmem activities begin where individual companies reach their limits.” Swissmem works to help its members succeed and thrive.

I was delighted when Christoph suggested we have lunch at LaSalle, a traditional Swiss restaurant housed in a former propeller (a.k.a. screw — as true machinists would say) factory. It’s located on Schiffbaustrasse meaning “shipbuilding road.” Dining in this historic building seems to be the perfect metaphor for the excellence that Swissmem represents and world-renowned Swiss machine precision. (I could go on to describe every bite and sip, but I think my menu choices prove how scrumptious it was: appetizer: bergamot-infused hazelnut encrusted Jerusalem potato; entrée: Swiss meatloaf made of three meats with mashed potatoes and gravy; dessert: silky chocolate cake with crème de Gruyère on the side shaped like a heart.)

Stop 2 – Reishauer in Wallisellen (Just Outside Zurich)

For my second visit, I was eager to find out how the 238-year-old company, Reishauer, continues to be leading provider of precision grinding machines to the newest EV companies. I was also keen on riding a real Swiss train, not just a tram. I boarded an SBB – in German that is short for “Schweizerische Bundesbahnen” translated as Swiss Federal Railways – to Wallisellen, a 20-minute ride to a suburb of Zurich. It was on time, comfortable, and swift. I appreciated the digital screens showing the times and stops.

And right on the hour, Andy Speissegger, sales director, greeted me with a warm smile, espresso, and chocolate. We were joined by Marcus Setterberg, CEO. Founded in 1788, Reishauer is still a family-owned business with involvement from the eleventh and twelfth generations. As a history buff, I enjoyed hearing about their past and seeing pictures of their 19th century buildings with horse and buggies in the street. Headquartered in Zurich, they have been committed to manufacturing state-of-the-art machines and devoted to staying in the Zurich metropolitan area. They also pride themselves in making all of the parts for their machines under one roof.

Not only did Andy’s slide show tell the progression of their precision grinding machines resulting in today’s fully embedded digitalization, and how efficiently it makes parts, but gracious managers gave me a thorough tour of their production line, which included a new glistening facility with light-filled bays — reminding me of the long central naves of European gothic cathedrals. I saw robots, automation, precision measurement equipment, and mega CNCs – many from AMT members. Even a train with carts to be dropped off at certain stations. Large cylinders and shiny metal parts looked like parts for rockets — but I was assured these are all parts for their high-end grinding machines that are used to make parts that help even American-made EVs run quietly. It was tremendous to see their various parts from the large internal cylinder to complex geometric pieces put all together.

As we toured, I noted a considerable presence of young people. Reischauer runs a special apprentice program, and many of the Reishauer folks I spoke to shared that they began as apprentices for the company. They were very proud to speak about their apprentice program.

I’m not sure if I saw the entire production as my gracious guides let me know I only had 30 minutes until my train left. They offered choices to round things up. I so appreciated their consideration in knowing and keeping in mind the time I needed to leave to catch the next train into Zurich. Upon returning to Andy and Marcus, they had ordered a healthy lunch for me with a beautiful Valentine-shaped cookie — which of course, both warmed my heart!

Stop 3 – Bystronic, Niederönz, 80-minute Scenic SBB Train Ride

Within a minute of departure, I made the train at Wallisellen, changed at the main Zurich train station, and boarded my next SBB train for an 80-minute ride through the picturesque Swiss countryside to the very small town of Herzogenbuchsee. From the station, I walked a mile or two through a delightful neighbourhood of traditional Swiss Style homes – all perfectly Swiss chalet looking – and then suddenly as I turned the corner, an impressive modern building grabbed my attention.

I knew without a doubt I was gazing at Bystronic’s headquarters, a sleek and well-designed, multi-level structure exuding modernity and high-tech sophistication. Its glassy exterior contrasted dramatically with the surrounding green lawn. One part rising six stories tall joined another part perhaps two stories and four times as long, adorned with a thick Bystronic’s signature red stripe. It occurred to me that the structure imitated the outline of one of the company’s sleek, state-of-the-art laser metal cutting and forming machines.

Once inside, Alex Waser, CEO, and Michael Präger, chief communications and environment, social and governance (ESG) officer, greeted me with warm hospitality, strong coffee, and chocolate – yes, for the third time dreamy silky chocolate. Founded in 1969, Bystronic strives to provide its customers with efficient and digitally enabled machines, the company offers sustainable solutions that reduce waste, among other EDG concerns.

They gave me a tour of their ultramodern customer show center full of natural light and sleek machines in action. In just a few minutes a Bystronic laser cutting machine automatically loaded an approximately 3’ x 4’ sheet of metal and cut some intricate designs. Farther into the production facility, I met a group of visitors from Jordan and found a large token of love – as in a metal laser-cut 1’ x 4’ long wedding banner featuring a perfectly scored heart adorned with a border of mountains, cows, flowers, and traditionally dressed Swiss men and women. The bride and groom’s names and wedding date completed the piece. (See picture and note we muted out the names and date to protect privacy.) Michael and Alex seemed especially surprised and touched to see such a tenderly designed cut of metal.

And there was even more to see: numerous examples made on their machines – a progressive-metal chair, unique business card holders, and other unusually shaped items to possibly prove the many ways their machines can cut and bend. I got a great view of the Bystronic production line, where their machines are assembled in just three days and a tour inside another facility where they make the parts for their machines using many AMT member company equipment including robots, CNC machines, inspection systems, lathes, and massive workholding. It was such a great feeling to recognize the brands and see the machines in action.

Swiss Mission Ends on Precise Note

This trip certainly cemented the fact that Switzerland is a country associated with precision. However, I discovered Swiss precision is not just about timeliness or technical prowess but reflects values of the heart: care and consideration.

Perhaps you noticed reading this article that a “heart” showed up in each of my visits and this seemed like the perfect metaphor for my trip. My meetings with Swissmem, Reishauer, and Bystronic were energizing and enlightening, showing how Swiss manufacturers are sincere, driven, and committed to increasing efficiencies, but also for creative positive change in manufacturing and the world as a whole. I left Switzerland inspired by its precision with heart.

More Swiss Stops to Read About

This was just two days of my five-day Switzerland tour, I named #SwissBoundPrecisionGround. In part one of this series, Swiss Expedition: Precision with Heart, discover how Swiss manufacturer Studer AG welcomed nearly 100 attendees to their campus to unveil new products and share some of the joys of Swiss life. It was quite an expedition that included stops to a castle, a mountaintop, the South Pole, a South American jungle, and the planet Mars. Every detail was meticulously crafted with heart and soul – uniting precision and art.

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Author
Kathy Keyes Webster
Managing Editor – Content
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