“Never leave the planet without one.” That’s what Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield once wrote about the Victorinox Swiss Army knife in his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. Lofty words for a nifty little tool.
But watch Carl Elsener, Jr., the CEO of Victorinox, reveal the production process and history behind the gadget in the latest episode of the Popular Mechanics series “MADE HERE” and you'll understand why that nifty little tool remains the world’s most popular pocket knife.
Elsener's great-grandfather, Karl, produced the first Swiss Army knife in 1891. (The tool's original name, the Schweizer Offiziers-und Sportsmesser, was understandably a bit of a mouthful for American soldiers.) Today, the Elsener family still owns and operates Victorinox out of Switzerland.
The first step in the the production process is to stamp the raw material to create the different parts of the knife. This is followed by a polishing process in which the metal blades are tossed into a container full of ceramic stones and then pulled out by a magnet. To harden, the metal sits on a conveyor belt and goes through an oven.
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“Inside we have a temperature of 1,050 degrees,” says Urs Wyss, the senior product marketing manager at Victorinox. “This heat changes the structure of the steel.” The metal then gets ground to ensure sharpness and assembly continues.
Victorinox prides itself on its green efforts. Elsener says the company has been using environmentally friendly practices to run the business since 1980.
“We have a system that allows us to take the energy—the heat that is created during the manufacturing—to heat the warm water and even heat the whole factory,” says Elsener. Victorinox also heats an additional 120 buildings with the heat byproduct that comes from the manufacturing process.
One of Elsener's favorite parts about producing such an iconic tool is hearing stories from people all over the world—from Boy Scouts to astronauts—who share the adventures they've had with their "little red knife."
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