Andreas Stihl has a strong relationship with his hometown Wiechs am Randen. That’s why he built an entire plant here. STIHL plant 3 has now been around for more than 50 years.
At a family-owned company like STIHL, not all business decisions are made solely on the basis of hard, cold economic facts. Sometimes, the STIHL family’s sense of connection to a certain region and its people plays a greater role. That’s also how the story of plant 3 in Wiechs am Randen, Germany began – the first production site outside of Waiblingen, Germany.
How it all began
In 1960, Andreas Stihl promised Pastor Eugen Weiler that he would build a plant in Wiechs to stop people from having to move away to look for work. Andreas Stihl felt a deep connection with the town. He spent part of his childhood in this idyllic place located directly along the Swiss border. As an adult, he spent much of his free time here. Andreas Stihl’s father was born in this village, which is now part of the small town of Tengen.
Things started by choosing eight employees. Andreas Stihl sent them for training to Waiblingen, where they stayed at the Ochsen in Bittenfeld. “We took the bus to Neustadt every day,” Josef Ritzi, one of the original employees, recalls. Ritzi would later go on to become the manager of plant 3. “Originally, we were supposed to spend a few weeks there. But those weeks turned into months.” Andreas Stihl had bought the schoolhouse in Wiechs am Randen with the intent of using it as a small factory. However, the building was so dilapidated that it had to be torn down.
Changing with the times
The town’s pastor, Eugen Weiler, came to the rescue and offered Andreas Stihl the use of the St. Josef parish hall – known as Josefshaus (Josef House). Production got off to a slightly delayed start on 1 January 1961. “Things were particularly tough in winter,” Ritzi recalls. “That’s because we only had one potbelly stove – and it needed a while to get warm. I always had to start heating the place on Sunday evening so that we could even work on Monday.”
A lot has changed at the plant in Wiechs. By 1966, the plant had already outgrown the parish hall, and part of the production activities had to be moved back to Waiblingen. “It can’t go on like this!” Hans Peter Stihl said in 1974, according to Ritzi, and decided to build a new plant, which opened in 1976. “Hans Peter Stihl still pays special attention to this plant today. He usually pops in to take a tour of production every time when he’s on holiday,” the plant manager adds.
In 1985, the plant was expanded from 1,800 square metres to a total of nearly 2,800 – and expanded by another 1,700 square metres in 2008. As a result of STIHL’s global growth, handlebar production and the assembly of cut-off machine guards doubled in Wiechs starting in the late 1990s, testing capacities and bringing the plant to its limits. This led STIHL’s management to approve an expansion in 2007. “Since then, we have optimised our processes and material flows and have again cut throughput times significantly. We are able to react quickly and flexibly to what customers want,” the plant manager says.
Automation is steadily increasing in importance. The building construction from 2008 is now well filled and meanwhile leads the production of brush knives – representing the second pillar besides the bending at plant 3.
Ritzi joins the other three still-living members of the first STIHL team in Wiechs to check out the hall. An impressive experience indeed: “It’s incredible what has changed here over the past 50 years.”