A True Breakthrough
The rumble grows louder. First cracks are showing in the high wall of concrete towering over the onlookers. Among the onlookers stands Adrian Ryf, holding his breath for Sissi to break through the concrete-covered rock. The crowd starts cheering as the first pieces fall and crumble, the dust and debris calmed by water jets. Sissi’s large, 10-meter face, shining with 58 hard steel cutters, starts to show.
Sissi, the tunnel boring machine (TBM), has made it through the last 1.5 meters of rock with a force of 26 tons, creating the longest tunnel in the world. Fireworks go off, flags are waved and a little statue of St. Barbara, protector of miners, is held up high into the air. This is Ryf’s moment – and that of his colleagues.
“Only when the final breakthrough of the tunnel takes place, you will learn if what you measured was truly accurate – and if all the hard work of the last 15 years has paid off.” It did for Ryf and his team of about 100 experts, who have been working on the precise surveying of the most ambitious tunnel project in the world: the Gotthard Base Tunnel.
With more than 20,000 steps in the work process and 2,500 workers, building the Gotthard Base Tunnel over 15 years has been a complex project, and one that required precision and close collaboration from all sides. Continuous adjustments to the process were essential to creating one of the greatest tunnels in history.
A Sum of Secrets
This approach was also well-known to Carl Elsener senior, who was CEO of Victorinox from 1950 until 2007. Asked about the secret of his success, he said that it was not defined by one secret, but the sum of experience, paying attention to detail and constantly adjusting processes to improve quality.
Just like Sissi was specially made to grind through the solid rock of the Gotthard mountains, Victorinox has built its own machines to be more efficient in production: Over 30 percent of the production machines used are custom-made. And just like the Swiss have continuously evolved their tunnel-building skills over hundreds of years, the knowledge for creating high-quality knives has been acquired and developed over a long period of time – for more than 130 years at Victorinox.
Testing for Excellence
Knowing exactly which high-quality alloys are needed and putting high measures on quality control are two results of this continuous process. For example, the imported alloys are tested with spectral analysis for quality and rust resistance. A test of continuous oscillation for springs ensures that these parts meet the requirements, and metallography and edge retention receive special attention. All Victorinox suppliers are certified and clear tolerances have been set, creating a good foundation from the beginning.
The Ultimate Precision
The same is true for the Gotthard Base Tunnel: Built to last at least 100 years, the planning and surveying had to be precise from the beginning. With a decimal place accuracy of up to 5 digits, the surveyors had to create a route that would not deviate from the original planned location by more than 25 cm in width and 12 cm in height.
How do you reduce the risk of ending up with a larger difference? The answer for Ryf was a simple one: “You just have to be more precise than required.”
This principle has worked out. Much to the pride of Ryf, the difference lay well below the mark at Sissi’s final breakthrough: It differed by only 1 cm in height, and a palm’s length of 8 cm in width. In over four million hours of concentrated labor, the workers performed an outstanding act of precision by creating a double tube tunnel of 57 km, running straight through the massive Gotthard mountain range, with up to 2,300 meters of solid rock above it.
The Deciding Factor
Just like the surveyors of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, Victorinox quality is reached by being even more precise than required. Requirements such as the grind tolerance of the blade, which should not surpass 0.02 mm, is often met with a much lower number. This also happens when testing the endurance of the blade after the hardening process – only 1-1.5 of variation in HRC, which describes the hardness of a blade, is allowed. These results are achieved with constant adjustment: Up to five times a day, the punch press parts are replaced to produce the best result. The final product is checked with highly trained eyes – able to identify faults that an untrained eye would fail to notice. After every step in the production process, there is a test that ensures that everything was done correctly, and often whole series are tested – an achievement with a production of 60,000 pocket knives a day, or 1.5 pocket knives per second.
As with the Gotthard Base Tunnel, it is only the strong combination of committed humans and custom machinery working in unison that will achieve maximum precision in creating great products that connect Europe and people around the world.
A Life’s Work
Be it the tunnel or the pocket knife – for Adrian Ryf and Carl Elsener senior, creating quality through experience and constant adjustment is a life’s work. In celebration of the commitment to precision and the achievements that come with it, Victorinox has created the limited edition Gottardo pocket knife. At 91 mm long, its blade shows the Gotthard mountain range and marks the tunnel from Erstfeld to Bodio.