Thursday, November 4, 2010

A day in Berninaland

I've been promising a post about our Bernina factory tour, so here it is.  Our prearranged visit was scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. and last about 2 hours.  DH and I travelled by train to Steckborn in the morning on a cold and dreary overcast day.  The clouds cleared a bit, so we had an opportunity to see the town.

Florist in Steckborn, Switzerland
Steckborn is just a delightful little place situated on the shores of Lake Constance.  We were hoping to have lunch somewhere in town, but we couldn't find a restaurant.  We shopped at a grocery store and bought a couple of sandwiches to eat at a park adjacent to the lakefront.  We were chilly but enjoyed the view.  While walking through the park, we actually came across a group of teenagers swimming in the lake!

A personal welcome!
We arrived at the Bernina factory early, but everything was closed for lunch.  When we returned about 1 p.m., imagine our surprise when the computer screen in the reception area welcomed us personally!  We had a few minutes to enjoy the sewing machine museum before our English-speaking guide, Dieter, arrived to escort us into the factory.

Let me first say that the Bernina factory is unlike any factory I have ever seen -- clean, clean, clean with very little noise.  The impression that has stayed with me since our tour is how "hands-on" the process is.  Now I understand a bit more why these products are so expensive!  The first employee we met was packing feet individually into those neat little plastic containers that we Bernina lovers all covet.  She placed the plastic containers upside down into a customized holder that held about 8 packages.  Then the red & white cardboard label went in, then the presser foot, then the folded multi-language instruction sheet, then she snapped the package shut and put the adhesive label on the back.  Whew!  That's a lot of time to pack each foot -- no conveyor belt here!

Checking #34 feet individually

Nearby, a lady was working with the #2 foot and attaching the little screw that goes in the back of the foot so you can attach guides, etc.  Each done by hand then placed into a bucket.  Bernina produces 1.3 million feet per year.  Just think about all those feet getting such individual attention!  Next, we met a man testing #34 feet to make sure they ride perfectly on the feed dogs.  Lastly in this area, we watched as BSRs were attached to a special sewing computer/screen/hoop arrangement that allowed the employee to test each foot for accuracy and calibration.  If the foot passes its test, she places it in its special metal box and piles them up higher and higher --- at least 40 boxes of BSRs!  Hmmmm ... what is 40 times $600 anyway????

There is automation in the factory, but it is hard to find.  For instance, in the early stages of building the feet, they are polished in large steel drums with hundreds of small stones rotating in the drums --- and making lots of noise!  Final finishing, however, is done by hand.  Stitch plates are hand polished prior to packaging or installing in a machine.

820s all lined up
The Steckborn factory has 380 employees.  Bernina has an apprenticeship program; apprentices must work 3 years before they are eligible to become fulltime employees.  In addition, Bernina has had a factory in Thailand for many years.  The Activa and Aurora lines are made 80% in Thailand with final assembly and finishing done in Steckborn.  The Artista machines are made completely in Switzerland.

I was curious about how long Bernina makes parts for its machines.  Berninas are workhorses and last a long time.  When Bernina discontinues a model, they continue to make parts for 15 years after the date the last machine is sold.

At the end of the tour and after some light refreshments, we were shown a short video about the company then invited to stay for a demonstration of the new 830.  The demo, unfortunately, was in German!  So DH and I walked over to the Creative Center to browse through the current lineup of machines and see samples of quilts and garments made during the classes held on site.

The tour was a wonderful treat.  Now I appreciate my 640E even more than I did before going to Steckborn --- and I know exactly where it was created with care and attention to detail.  Bravo Bernina!


  1. Thanks so much for sharing the details. This is about as close as I'll likely ever get to the factory. I enjoyed "my" tour very much!

  2. Nice description! I'm looking forward to my visit.
    40 times $600? If you could drive past the Dailmer factory up here in Sindelfingen, you'd see millions of dollars worth of new Mercedes on the well-guarded parking lot. LOL

  3. I was trying to figure out how to ask for a "sample" - maybe a new 830? Must be even harder to ask for a sample at the Mercedes dealer - maybe a new 550CLS? Hee, hee, hee