Inside Unior Tools

Apr 4, 2017 at 14:11
by Ralf Hauser  


With their professional factory race team entering its eighth racing season and their blue-colored hand tools gracing the work benches of many world class mechanics and bike shops, Unior has made a name for itself in the bike industry over the years. However, as those areas represent their main focus of business on the bike side at the moment, their aftermarket sales are not necessarily pushed, apart from their multitools, and it's not surprising that their level of consumer recognition could be much higher. Looking at their precision products and lineup that covers every aspect of bike tools, and much more beyond that, it's not far-fetched to say that it should be.

Situated in Slovenia in central Europe, Unior owns multiple factories spread over the small country with a population of only about two million people. About 2,100 out of those people are employed by Unior, totaling about 3,750 employees worldwide. Unior's field of expertise in metalworking spans far wider than just the bike industry and is split into four areas: forging, special machines, hand tools and tourism.

As a renowned supplier to the automotive industry, their forging and sintering department is utilized by many car brands, including big players like Volkswagen and BMW and boutique labels like Ferrari and Lamborghini. While many of the machines in the factory buildings can't hide the decades of heavy use, Unior's special machine department is building a lot of their high-tech manufacturing equipment—from CNC machines to laser cutters and other production equipment—on their own, and they have branched out into offering custom solutions for other manufacturers.

Among other things in the tourism sector, Unior is also owner of two ski resorts with their own bike parks in the summer time, which comes in handy for the Unior Tools Team and grass-roots team to hit practice laps on. With the dedicated staff working hard on bringing more people to the bike in general, many projects around Ljubljana – including running a race BMX track, building pump tracks and working on the establishment of a trail network together with the city – are keeping them busy beyond running their own race teams.

Unior Tools Factory
Unior Tools Factory
Unior is building many of their machines - as well as those of other manufacturers - in its special machine department.

Unior Tools Factory
Some processes are best handled by robots, while others, like hot forging, will remain manual labor for the forseeable future.

Unior Tools Factory
A CNC drill working on a form for a forging process.
Unior Tools Factory
The corporate name Unior is derived from the Slovenian words UNIverzalna ORodja, meaning Universal Tools.


Alongside the introduction of their 2017 Unior Tools factory race team in Slovenia's capital Ljubljana—including their two new downhill racers Rudy Cabirou and Taylor Vernon—Tine Mahkovec the head of Unior's bike tools division, and team manager Grega Stopar took us on a little tour in two of their plants for a look behind the scenes of metal manufacturing.


Unior Tools Factory
Some of the older factory buildings show the strong heritage of Unior's metalworking, dating back to 1919. Today, Unior is among Europe's three largest forgers.

Unior Tools Factory
Watching red-hot glowing pieces of metal getting hammered into connecting rods for cars by tons of pressure is humbling ... and deafening.
Unior Tools Factory
It takes years for workers to develop the proper skills to accurately place the metal underneath the rapidly rising and dropping weight.

Unior Tools Factory
Where's Waldo?

Unior Tools Factory
Unior Tools Factory
Unior's head of the bike tools divison, Tine Mahkovec (center), kept pulling small and large tools out of bins in every aisle.

Unior Tools Factory
Unior Tools Factory
Unlike their recently introduced multitools, the size of that wrench might turn out to be a bit unhandy on your next ride.


Unior Tools Factory
Due to a color-conflict with another manufacturer, Unior's tools are red in North America.
Unior Tools Factory
This strange looking tool is for replacing tubes on Dutch city bikes without needing to open the driveside of the hub. It does require bending the rear stays apart, though.

Unior Tools Factory
This is what most tools look like before being pressured into shape. The raw materials, delivered in long rods or plates, are cut into pieces for the forging or forming processes.

Unior Tools Factory
This cold forming press can build up a pressure of about 1,200 tons.
Unior Tools Factory
The maximum outer diameter of cold forging at Unior is 80 mm, with a maximum length of 220 mm. This can total up to a weight of 7 kg.

Unior Tools Factory
It's not surprising that other companies rely on Unior's manufacturing knowledge.

Unior Tools Factory
Unior Tools Factory

Unior Tools Factory
In case you ever wondered how the grip material is applied to certain hand tools.

Unior Tools Factory
Unior can cut about any shape for tools or trays out of foam.

Unior Tools Factory
There's still lots of manual labor involved at Unior, including placing the tools into the forms.

Unior Tools Factory
Every mechanic's dream.
Unior Tools Factory
Even the packaging is produced in one of Unior's facilities.

Unior Tools Factory
Of course, all the finished tools need to be stored somewhere before shipping.

Unior Tools Factory
Thanks to a sophisticated warehouse management system, parts can be located quickly.
Unior Tools Factory
Indiana Jones might take a while to find his crate in here as well.
Unior Tools Factory
Always fun when you have to get something from the top shelf.

Unior Tools Factory
Just a selection of Unior Tools' entire lineup. You wouldn't want to carry their tool catalog around for too long.

Unior Tools Factory
Dear Santa, I was a really good boy this year and would like...
Unior Tools Factory
With the foam layout, there can be no doubt about which tool is missing.
Unior Tools Factory
This version of available work benches comes stacked full of bike tools.



64 Comments

  • + 53
 The most important question: Who came first; Park Blue or Unior Blue?

PS: Tool Drool!!!
  • + 19
 As a proud slovenian i say park blue.
  • + 17
 Or Channellock Blue?
  • + 1
 wkwkwkwk.....interest Big Grin
  • + 1
 @bbeak: channel locks a farmer's friend
  • + 1
 @bbeak: sorry I'm only as good as Google talk to text
  • + 1
 or Shimano Blue
  • + 42
 Unior beats the crap out of Park every day of the week. Only in the bike industry could a brand like Park shit the bed so badly and still think they deserve to be unrivaled.
  • + 18
 Coming from someone who knows tools very well,(i used to work for an engineers merchant) Blaze Dude Smile you couldn't have hit the nail on the head any better,Park are diabolical value for the cash they sell for,i try never to buy them!!!
  • + 9
 @stigwierd: as a lifetime mechanic I would have to agree with you guys. Park tools are subpar at best. The only ones I ever really use are there thin wrenches and spoke wrenches. Oh yeah and the spline socket to remove the rear cassette. Other than that if I have to spend my money on tools it's usually a Quality vintage tool from the flea market.
  • + 3
 @properp: hell, Abbey bike tools makes a WAY better version of the cassette lockring wrench for like $5 more. It'll do both Shimano and Campy lockrings. Park sucks for everything but cone wrenches and combo allen keys.
  • - 3
 Have anyone of you used Unior ? I did and sorry mo more unior for me please. Park's are half better...
  • + 9
 @b-wicked: I actually have a fair few Unior tools,they are pretty good quality,not the best mind,but still up there,I'll certainly buy more,I try to avoid Park at all cost.
  • + 14
 Park tools are really expensive for what you get. However, I do like their how-to videos with the mustache guy.
  • + 5
 Pedros is my go to. their 3 ways are better than Park's by far, for example.
  • + 6
 @stigwierd: I don't know. My TS2 Truing Stand is still amazingly functional after 20 years.
  • + 3
 @chasejj: i have the TS2.2,yeah,it's a very good industry standard,certain Park tools are very good don't get me wrong,for the cash on a lot of their tools i have to totally disagree,their diagonal cutters for a start,notoriously bad,i was once sat in my local bike shop,my friend the mechanic was cutting the spokes out of a wheel using the Park cutters,the jaw snapped right before my eye's,i asked him how often they do that,he said he goes through a pair every 6-9 months,in my eye's thats terrible quality,i myself have lots of cutters,i have a pair from the 1960's by a company called "Maun" they cost me pennies from a garage sale,i bought them because i knew they're some of the best cutters ever made,they're still as good as the day they came out of the forge,and i use them for cutting hubs out of wheels like my friend does,they will not break,not in my lifetime they wont,other brands to look for are CK,Knipex,Moore & Wright when looking for good cutters and pliers,certainly not Park.
  • + 2
 @groghunter: The steel on those Pedros 3 ways is garbage IMO. Been using them for years, I got tired of replacing them every few months at the shop and switched to Park, still wasn't satisfied at all. Picked up a Birzman one on a whim and DAMN. It's basically the same chrome-vanadium steel that the Pedros allen wrench sets use that I've always been happy with.
  • + 2
 @ihartmybike: you see you should be buying "Bondhus" when buying hex keys,like everything,buy from who do it best,you wouldn't go to the grocery to buy a real loaf of bread would you,the grocery store do everything ok,whereby the bakery do the best bread,Park,Birzman,and Pedros are all grocery stores at the end of the day,they can get away with selling sub standard stuff because the cycling industry has a habit of pulling the wool over your eye's,it's ok quality,but not the best,i have a couple sets of T-bar Bondhus hex wrenches,i have the Torx too,i couldn't be happier with them really,very good quality that i should have for years and years,if they
lose their bite i can grind a couple of mm's off,i haven't had to do that yet and i'v had them for a few years now.
  • + 2
 @stigwierd: my ts2.2 is piss poor in my opinion for the money it costs in the uk. as every thing you need for doing different hub standards is an extra and is all piss poor quality and accuracy for what you get out of the box. Modified mine, and made some decent axle/hub adapters so now i can true and center/dish my rims spot on, every time.
  • + 2
 @groghunter: yep pedro's is priced right about where park is and are far better and well thought out products!
  • + 1
 @stigwierd: There seems to be two levels of park, anything under 200 is cheap anything above 200 is great.
  • + 35
 But what about the machines that make the machines that make the machines?
  • + 1
 bike builder's moms?
  • + 16
 who does # 2 work for???
  • + 14
 Those tool-filled foam cutouts are so satisfying for my mild OCD
  • + 9
 Cool to see a real factory. Jealous, those guys probably shut their phones off, put in locker, put on gloves and just do their jobs for 8 hours and actually make something. Probably do not have clients texting and email constantly with fake problems. They proudly make real things. I assume they are proud, my grandparents--great grandparents were from there, you would have thought Slovenia itself won ww2 the way they carried on...very proud on being Slovene.
  • + 6
 You just made our day, thank you!
  • + 9
 Always interesting to see inside a company that has heritage, especially when they have a good mix of old and new processes to show off. Got a few Unior tools for various stuff (mainly car work) and it's all a good mix of very good but not too expensive. Certainly better value than the other Blue company! Didn't realise they had bike-specific stuff so will check that out next time I need a specific tool.
  • + 8
 should be looking after my crying 18mo daughter but reading a thing about Slovenian bike tools because bike is lyf
  • + 1
 you mean a year and a half
  • + 1
 @makripper: correct. mo = month old
  • + 7
 An a mechanical engineering student it's great to see PB often puts out these behind-the-scenes manufacturing articles
  • + 3
 "Watching red-hot glowing pieces of metal getting hammered into connecting rods for cars by tons of pressure is humbling ... and deafening." however, I don't see any of the operators wearing hearing protection...
  • + 2
 No point, they're already deaf!
  • + 1
 Never been a fan of Park Tools myself, pricey and pretentious(CAN a tool be pretentious??) but a quick check this morning showed the TWS-2 torx tool at about $25-30CAD and the Unior version at $61CAD on their Quebec website. WTF!!?! Is Quebec a different exchange rate?
  • + 2
 Our local price comparison site says the last time the 220/7TXNFH was for sale in a Slovenian store was at the end of the last year for a little under 19 €. I also just found it on our 'local ebay' for 21,20 €.

Not that it helps much i suppose...
  • + 5
 Wow I'm glad I didn't give up on finding Waldo
  • + 4
 I initially read this title as "Inside Junior T's"

Ahh you can take the man out of the 90's.....
  • + 4
 I love these "Inside.." articles. Cool stuff!
  • + 2
 i cant understand why we have high end tools like unior or park tool and below that we have cheap ebay ones,,,,any company making reasonable budget tools?
  • + 3
 Because either you want your tools to last and you buy the best thing available or you don't care and try to spend as little as possible.
  • + 2
 It's like the part of the intro to 'Life Cycles' we didn't get to see.
  • + 3
 shopped - tools
  • + 1
 I like those pictures. Funny to see a warehouse through the eye of a photographer.
  • + 3
 Parkdone me?
  • + 3
 Great stuff
  • + 2
 Such great products, so difficult to buy in the UK.
  • + 2
 amazing article great job PB
  • + 1
 where can I purchase Unior in Canada ???
  • + 2
 Drop us an email to bike@unior.si
  • + 1
 I'm a little sick after seeing the size of that factory
  • + 2
 I wouldn't be surprised if it's actually a very small factory considering some competition.
  • + 2
 @Primoz: I'm judging based on the forklift to shelf ratio, it seems to be a fairly big building considering that was just the storage area. I'm curious the square feet of the facility
  • + 1
 @giantwhip: They are definitely not that small. Nice that they do everything in house.
www.google.com/maps/@46.3764008,15.3863002,519m/data=!3m1!1e3
  • + 1
 Well based on Google Maps the factory is slightly larger than Elan's complex (Elan makes skis, sailboats and some other stuff). Now, it is a big factory, don't get me wrong, for someone to build up a private company up to that size would be amazing. Unior also doesn't have everything in one location. But i was a bit surprised at how small the Zreče complex is on the map. I was expecting it to be bigger.
  • + 1
 @Primoz: Primož, as you already said, Unior has multiple locations across Slovenia. Zreče is the main location (and trust me, for Slovenia, it's a huge facility, welcome to see us!), while we have production facilities also in Lenart, Vitanje, Slovenjske Konjice and Stari Trg.
The google maps location also only shows part of the production. Machine department and warehouse, are 100m away, next to GKN:
www.google.si/maps/place/Unior,+3214+Zre%C4%8De/@46.3692296,15.3962087,370m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m12!1m6!3m5!1s0x47657e7874e538a7:0xa17cb506b817c4!2sUnior+kova%C5%A1ka+industrija+d.d.!8m2!3d46.3752937!4d15.3878928!3m4!1s0x47657e63335dfc11:0xc062fdc96ea2785d!8m2!3d46.3689874!4d15.3974961?hl=en

Also in the end, size doesn't matter right? Smile
  • + 1
 Wow Great staf
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