Team Sky, the British Cycling team, is known for its perfectionism, as only the best is good enough for its champions like Chris Froome, a four-time winner of the Tour de France. Team Sky's mechanics thus use specialized tools developed in Slovenia by the bike tools department of Unior, a toolmaker from small town of Zreče. Unior is the official partner of four leading World Tour professional cycling teams, including Team Sky –clear proof of Slovenian expertise in tool making.
Of course, Unior doesn't make only cycling tools, and this is just a small part of the work the company does, developing and manufacturing various tools for advanced industrial use, ranging from hand tools to turnkey solutions for complete product lines. The company was formed back in 1919, and now employs around 2,000 people, with its 2016 sales reaching 178 million euros.
Tool-making in Slovenia has a long tradition going back to medieval times. Nowadays, 386 companies in the industry (cutlery, tools and general hardware) employ over 4,400 people, with a combined turnover of over 420 million euros. At least, this is that’s what the official statistics show. Yet many of the advanced Slovenian toolmakers do not “officially” belong to the tool-making industry at all, as many companies develop their own tools and machinery, and then sell the related solutions and know-how to outside partners. Take, for example, Gorenje Orodjarna, a subsidiary of the Slovenian home appliances producer Gorenje. The toolmaking part of Gorenje developed tools primarily for the company’s own home appliances manufacturing lines, but now it sells its sophisticated solutions to many firms, primarily in the automotive industry. Among Gorenje Orodjarna’s customers are brands like Audi, BMW, Daimler, Opel, Renault, PSA and Magna. LTH Casting is an aluminum die cast producer: 230 of its 1,556 employees work in the company’s tool and machinery department, specialized in die casting tools for aluminum, trimming tools and complex clamping devices. Kovinoplastika Lož, one of the largest European producers of building fittings and kitchen sinks, develops tools for use in the automotive, furniture and household appliances industries: it also offers turnkey projects for automated product lines, including tools, technical equipment and systems for monitoring and visualization of the items being produced. Emo Orodjarna is the tool-making part of the company Emo, which has produced enameled cookware since 1894. Its tools for transforming sheet metal are used by the producers of Mercedes, Porsche and Audi cars. The tool workshop of the packaging company Sibo G employs 44 experts developing molds for the production pharmaceutical, medical and technical components. The agricultural technology producer Tehnos also develops injection molding and cold sheet metal forming tools for use in the automotive and aircraft industries, among others.
Unior (ranked 39th on this year’s TOP300) or LTH Castings (ranked 24th) are two of the largest Slovenian companies, but many local toolmakers are small family businesses. Thanks to the high level of know-how and narrow specialization found in such firms, some of these family businesses rank among the fastest growing companies in Slovenia. A clear example of this is Oro Met, one of the main suppliers to the tool industry, manufacturing all types of tool plates. Another “gazelle” is Orodjarstvo Gorjak, developing all kinds of advanced casts, injection molding and gravity casting tools, while Tomplast makes thermoplastic injection molding tools. The metal tools for injection molding of polymer products developed by the family company Orodjarstvo Knific are used by firms like Jaguar, Audi, Renault, Odelo, BSH and Hella. Another family-owned and run producer of injection molding tools for thermoplastics is IMAS, while The Family-firm of Kern started its operations back in 1969, and continues to make parts for punching, forming, injection molding and die casting tools.
These companies are just a few examples of the many in Slovenia strong local tool-making industry. Slovenian toolmakers joined forces back in the 1990’s, and with the help and participation of the government, city of Celje and the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, established the TECOS technology center, offering research and development services not only to its members, but also to production companies in the wider region.