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Rick Jones
Weekend edition June 28, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Swiss Technologies: The manufacturing giant making precision parts

The local manufacturer creates precision component parts that are used in nearly every industry across the globe.

If we told you that one company based in Knoxville has supplied 30 parts for every single gas pump in the United States, would you believe us? Well, you should. Rick Jones, one of the owners and General Manager of Swiss Technologies proudly proclaims that fact… and more.

The company, which is tucked in the middle of the West Bridge Industrial Park in Hardin Valley, shipped a volume of 23.5 million precision parts from its facility in 2023. The employee-owned, mid-size manufacturer creates small parts for companies in the United States, Canada, India, Mexico, Costa Rica, South Vietnam, and England.

“A lot of people don’t know our business in Knoxville,” Jones said. “But, we’ve been here since 2001 and have seen significant growth each year in our operations. We have 129 machines in this facility.”

Unlike many manufacturing facilities, Jones shared how Swiss Technologies is industry agnostic. The company makes parts for many industries including, but not limited to automotive, aviation, electronics, guns, knives, boats, machines, medical equipment, locks, and prosthetics.

Jones said this non-conventional approach to catering to so many industries is only possible through the company’s unwavering commitment to innovation, embracing new technology, and lean processes.

Swiss Machines

The backbone of the mega-manufacturer is its Swiss manufacturing machines, which can produce small, complex parts with high precision. They are often used to make millions of identical parts.

“These are our bread and butter. It’s where we got our name. I consider these machines the stars of our whole facility,” Jones said.

What makes it so special is the fact that the material moves while tools are stationary on racks. Additionally, this equipment, while it has a steep upfront cost, is considered cost-effective and more precise than other methods – showing a significant return on investment.

Robotic Sorting Machine

When you are making millions of parts a year, some smaller than the size of a coffee bean, it takes a keen eye to inspect any faults in the parts. Can you imagine looking at each piece with the naked eye? It’s physically impossible.

However, brand new, custom-made technology, soon to be unveiled at Swiss Technologies, will harness the power of programmed artificial intelligence (AI) to sort the good pieces from the faulty pieces.

“There is no other machine exactly like this in the whole world,” Jones said. “It was custom-made for our facility and can inspect a part every two seconds. It has the volume to inspect seven million parts per year.”

The new technology will be installed at the plant within the next two weeks.

Picture Counting Machine

On the same note, Swiss Technologies already has a picture-counting machine, which can process hundreds of parts at a time.

The operator pours little parts into the funnel, and within seconds the machine spits them into a bucket and gives an accurate count. Jones explained that the machine uses silhouettes of the pieces to gather the most accurate data faster.

“I have experts who are trained how to specifically use each machine, which also helps speed up the process,” Jones said.

Lean Processes

The company has four separate machine shops under one roof that can work with different materials and make different types of parts. All 129 of those machines are managed and directed by 40 people, perhaps even fewer considering some of the company’s employees and owners do not work in the plant itself.

Jones credits the efficiency to advanced technology, good people, and Swiss Technologies’ extremely lean processes. Meaning, they prioritize their time by minimizing waste within their manufacturing systems and maximizing activities that add direct value to the customer.

Additionally, Swiss Technologies recycles 100 percent of its materials. Every single scrap is sent to Roane Metals to recreate usable material. It’s a partnership Jones is very happy about.

The Problem

While the company is thriving in its innovative endeavors, Jones is honest about a glaring problem in the manufacturing industry: the machinist shortage. At the rate at which Swiss Technologies is growing, the company is constantly looking for new, qualified individuals to join the team. Having been around since 2001, many of the current employees are reaching retirement age, which means the company needs to hire, and it needs to hire fast.

“We have had to begin recruiting talent from out of state since there is such a shortage of qualified talent in this area,” Jones said.

He continued to say that Swiss Technologies isn’t alone in this talent search.

“I don’t think people are aware of how much manufacturing is done in East Tennessee,” he said. “And it’s growing every day. We need to have the people to support that.”

One of the ways they’re dealing with the issue is by continuing to upscale equipment to be more efficient, and leaner, and operate with less oversight.

“We are bridging the gap with new technologies by upgrading old equipment with new digital oversights like cameras, sensors, and alert systems,” Jones said.

If you want to learn more about Swiss Technologies and the work they do, visit the website.

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