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 is building many of their machines - as well as those of other manufacturers - in its special machine department.
Some processes are best handled by robots, while others, like hot forging, will remain manual labor for the forseeable future.
A CNC drill working on a form for a forging process.
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.
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.
Watching red-hot glowing pieces of metal getting hammered into connecting rods for cars by tons of pressure is humbling ... and deafening.
It takes years for workers to develop the proper skills to accurately place the metal underneath the rapidly rising and dropping weight.
Unior's head of the bike tools divison, Tine Mahkovec (center), kept pulling small and large tools out of bins in every aisle.
Unlike their recently introduced multitools, the size of that wrench might turn out to be a bit unhandy on your next ride.
Due to a color-conflict with another manufacturer, Unior's tools are red in North America.
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.
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.
This cold forming press can build up a pressure of about 1,200 tons.
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.
It's not surprising that other companies rely on Unior's manufacturing knowledge.
In case you ever wondered how the grip material is applied to certain hand tools.
Unior can cut about any shape for tools or trays out of foam.
There's still lots of manual labor involved at Unior, including placing the tools into the forms.
Every mechanic's dream.
Even the packaging is produced in one of Unior's facilities.
Of course, all the finished tools need to be stored somewhere before shipping.
Thanks to a sophisticated warehouse management system, parts can be located quickly.
Indiana Jones might take a while to find his crate in here as well.
Always fun when you have to get something from the top shelf.
Just a selection of Unior Tools' entire lineup. You wouldn't want to carry their tool catalog around for too long.
Dear Santa, I was a really good boy this year and would like...
With the foam layout, there can be no doubt about which tool is missing.
This version of available work benches comes stacked full of bike tools.