ForestAndArb Hosted by Stihl in Switzerland & Germany17th Feb 2020
Last week we were lucky to be invited on a week-long trip to Switzerland and Germany by Stihl GB, to visit the Stihl HQ and some of their production lines. Along with some of our colleagues in the Stihl Dealer Network from across the UK, this was a great experience to learn some more about the production of everything Stihl do, as well as share some knowledge of our own and meet some new people.
Our first day in Wil, Switzerland, just outside of St. Gallen, we were taken on a tour around the chainsaw chain production factory, which although most of us take for granted, is the integral part of any Stihl saw we sell, so it was great to see behind the scenes on how Stihl produce their own chain. Honestly, we've never heard the term "Quality Control" spoken so often during just a few hours. Right from the deliveries of the raw material, through to the final boxing of individual loops, every stage of production is checked and double checked by both the human eye and by machines measuring down to hundredths of millimetres. It really brough to the front of our minds the standard of chain that you get from Stihl, both on new machines and as spares, and although you will always be able to get hold of cheaper saw chains, by buying Stihl you get supreme quality every single time.
Although numbers weren't allowed to be discussed, the scale of industry here was truly mind-blowing. We visited warehouses with almost endless pallet spaces for completed 100ft reels of chain really to be shipped across the world - Stihl supply over 160 countries worldwide - and enough stock is produced to keep supply available to every location. Even the reels of raw material that the chains are produced from are kept in massive storage warehouses ready to be sent to the start of the production line via train carraiges, less than 150m away, purely because they are so heavy and need to be added to the line so often.
Inside the factory, the human factor of Stihl is just as important as the Dalek-like wifi-enabled automatic forklifts and automatic movement of stock across the floor. With a 24 hour day broken down into 3 shifts, the factory is constantly kept going by an army of highly trained technicians, most of whom have been working for Stihl for years, such is the way they are looked after and value the brand. As we made our way through the site, we saw someone being presesnted with a 25 years of service certificate, in a section of the plant where every single cutting tooth produced is checked by eye before making its way to be assebled into loops. This sort of dedication is part of what makes Stihl the top-selling brand of chainsaw in the world.
Over the next couple of days we were taken to Waiblingen in Germany, just outside of Stuttgart, and shown around Stihl HQ, their polymer production and injection moulding, thechainsaw bar production facility and the assembly line for two-stroke machines. Again the production here is off the scale, and although its exciting to see the polymers being moulded by huge machines into the hard-wearing casings for all of Stihls machines, they also mould all the plastics for their parts here too, with the most commonly manufactured part being the plastic around the small peice of rope that holds the fuel caps in on the petrol machines.
It was striking just how many processes the metal goes through to be produced into Stihls various types of bars, from Duromatic to their newer ES Light bars for the MS500i. Again they are punched into shape off of a huge reel of raw material, then refined, spot welded together from their 3 parts, heated, hardened, painted and engraved before being packed and sent. Things like the welding also go through severe testing to make sure they are suitable for the intense use the bars get every single day when out at work.
Quality Control is always the focus, and as we moved into the assembly lines for some of the two-stroke machines a combination of human knowledge and 21st century technology ensures that every machine that leaves the factory is produced to the exact same measurements and specification, as well as being given a run before being put in the box.
It always the best part however seeing machines in use. Felix from Stihl gave us a product demo on some battery & petrol machines, and covered the newer machines onto the market including the MS400 which has more power than the MS362, but 14% less weight making it easier to handle day-to-day. We also got a look at the new for 2020 GTA 26, an impressive bit of kit with a 4" bar and 1/4" chain ideal for small pruning work.
The highlight for us here however has to be the STIHL Carbon Concept Chain Saw. 1 of only 3 ever produced, and the only one ever to be run, it’s the weight size of an MS 362, but even more power than a MS 661. The Concept Chain Saw also accelerates quicker and delivers consistent power in a variety of working conditions thanks to fuel injection technology, as seen on the MS500i. You can see that the things learnt from this project have influenced the manufacturing of the more recent saws. However, at an estimated cost of around £30'000 to produce, these won't be hitting the market unfortuantely!
We'd like to thank Stihl for hosting us for the week, and big thanks to the teams at Stihl GB and Stihl Germany for making the trip possible for us.
The Stihl range is available across our website and in-store, so please have a browse or pop in and see us to stay up to date with all the best kit from Stihl!
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