Source: TOOLS OF THE TRADE Magazine
Publication date: May 15, 2012
Accessories have a higher profit margin than power tools and are consumable – so it's no wonder that tool companies are keen to sell us bits and blades. During my tour of Bosch's plants in Switzerland my hosts told me they have 13% of the global market and are #1 in power tool accessory sales. According to them, the top five power tool accessories (by sales) worldwide are:
Coated abrasives (sandpaper)
- Bonded abrasives (grinding wheels and disks)
- Circular cutting blades
- Diamond blades
- Metal drill bits
Reciprocating saw (called saber saws in Europe) blades are #9 on the list and jigsaw blades are #17.
Bosch is the largest producer of recip saw blades, jigsaw blades, and drill bits for chisels and rotary hammers. Many of these accessories are sold under competing brand labels because Bosch is an OEM provider to other companies. If you combine the output of Bosch with that of its subsidiary company, Freud, you'd have the world's largest manufacturer of circular saw blades and router bits.
As for new products, oscillating multi-tool (OMT) blades and related attachments represent a growing market for the brand, while the most interesting new accessory has to be the diamond-coated impact driver bits sold exclusively in Europe.
The Blade Factory
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During my trip I visited St. Niklaus, a small village in the Matteral Valley. In spite of the town's sleepy look, the Bosch plant there has 450 employees and runs three shifts to produce 200 million power tool accessories per year.
The factory primarily makes linear edge (recip and jigsaw) blades, but it also produces some OMT blades, step drill bits, and toothed edge strips for hole saws. 752 different types of linear edge blades are created here and between the 70 different companies this plant manufactures for, these blades leave the plant in no less than 5,217 variations. Regardless of the brand name painted on your recip or jigsaw blades, if it says "Swiss Made", then it comes from this little factory in the Alps. In 2010, the St. Niklaus plant produced 56% of the world's jigsaw blades and 29% of its recip saw blades.
Walking among the giant rolls of steel and whirring machinery, it was still hard to believe that this factory would crank out 860,000 pieces of finished inventory that day alone, especially considering the number of steps required to make something as small as a jigsaw or recip blade. Starting with one of 30 different bands of steel the width and thickness of the blade, the steel was straightened, stamped to shape, and flattened before the teeth were milled and then set. After heat treatment in a vacuum chamber ending with a quench in nitrogen gas, the blades are painted and/or ink stamped or digitally printed with brand labeling and then packaged. All bimetal blade stock gets welded together here before this process starts. Carbide grit and carbide toothed blades are made a little differently; the grit is brazed on or melted into the steel blank, and the teeth are welded on individually or ground out of a welded carbide strip for the finer teeth.
And if you've ever wondered what the little concave nib at the end of some recip and jigsaw blades is for, here's the answer. It allows pins on robotic "hands" to pick up stacks of blades on some of the mechanized production equipment as well as providing a solid registration point for the blade's printing process.
At the time of the visit I was in the middle of testing recip saw blades for the Winter 2012 issue of Tools of the Trade so one of the highlights of the factory tour was getting to peek into the blade testing lab. There I witnessed a burly-armed guy running timed blade-life tests with the same saw I had chosen, and using nearly the same amount of weight I was using on my test rig. It was a pleasing affirmation of my test methodology was similar to that of the world's largest manufacturer of recip saw blades. I spent all of my lunch time getting facts and figures on the exact diameter and grade of steel they embedded into their laminated test boards and other such minutiae. And from some of the looks I got, I imagine I might well have been the first journalist visiting there to excitedly ask these specific questions.
After visiting Bosch I stayed in Europe another 10 days to meet with other tool companies. Stay tuned for future entries on those visits.