High-tech Swiss tool hits the half-century
If you think of useful tools from Switzerland, the obvious one that springs to mind is the Swiss Army Knife… but wait.
Tucked away in the small village of Wasen in the picturesque Emmental region, renowned for its cheese, is a pleasant surprise. This is the home of the PB 100, a screwdriver with a difference.
At first sight, it has one obvious distinguishing feature – its red transparent ridged handle.
The fact that it is comfortable to hold and has a high calibre blade has earned it a lasting reputation. In fact, the PB 100 has reached a major milestone this year.
“The PB 100 is a great screwdriver of high quality and we’ve been producing it for 50 years,” explained Eva Jaisli, who together with her husband Max Baumann runs the PB Baumann company.
“It’s still one of the most sold hand tools in the world for our factory,” she added enthusiastically.
The red handle, the first of its kind in the world, is manufactured from an organic material called Cellulose Acetate Butyrate.
The PB 100 has played no small part in the success of the company, which today employs 130 people at factories in Wasen and in nearby Sumiswald.
“It was a great invention of my father-in-law in 1953. Later in the 1950s, we also started to produce hand tools for export, so the red transparent handle gave the image to our factory,” Jaisli told swissinfo.
“We have a very special alloy and the way we produce the hand tools is also special. We can guarantee to our customers that every piece is made here in Wasen from A to Z,” she added.
It’s perhaps tempting for anyone who sees the words “special” and “high quality” to ask if these are not just used for good public relations.
However, a look around the Baumann factory, known to the locals quite simply as PB, shows that the choice of words is justified.
The company’s quality assurance and environmental management systems both have international certification (ISO 9001and ISO 14001), guaranteeing environmental friendly production and responsible use of raw materials.
“No other hand tool factory in the world has this kind of certification. Our clients worldwide know that we produce with high quality, and are really saving water, energy and chemical substances,” Jaisli commented.
“It really guarantees that we try to do everything for the environment and give them a competitive price at the end,” she added.
The roots of the company can be traced back to the First World War when travelling journeyman blacksmith Paul Baumann came to work in the village metal works.
Products for agriculture were in demand, including mousetraps and nose rings for bulls.
As a result of the closure of Switzerland’s frontiers during the Second World War, the Swiss army looked for domestic suppliers for kitchen whisks, wire chains and other items of ironware.
The standing army order resulted in more work than ever for Baumann, who had taken over the metal works in 1916. It encouraged him and his son, Max, to make innovations and in 1941/42, the firm began specialising in tools.
PB, which now boasts the latest in automated robotic assembly, makes more than just screwdrivers these days. It has a product range of 1,700 articles, including hexagon tools, striking tools, bits and custom models.
Some eight million tools are made every year, with 56 per cent going for export. The main markets are Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Italy, Thailand and Denmark.
Among the unusual items the company produces are rainbow-coloured, and even genuine gold-plated hexagon sets, which are particularly popular on the Japanese market.
However, one of the latest tools – a horse hoof cleaner – is perhaps a good reminder of the company’s origins. It is almost as if the wheel has turned full circle.
swissinfo, Robert Brookes in Wasen
The roots of the Baumann company go back to the First World War when Paul Baumann arrived in Wasen to work as a blacksmith.
Among the first products made were mousetraps and nose rings for bulls.
The company now has a product range of 1,700 articles. Some eight million tools are produced every year.
A five-digit serial number on the blade enables the company to trace production from the raw material stage.
The family firm offers a lifetime guarantee on all its hand tools.
The PB 100 screwdriver, with its distinctive red transparent handle, is 50 years old.
The blade is made of a special alloy and the handle of an organic material called Cellulose Acetate Butyrate.
It has made the company’s image and is exported all over the world.
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