Manufacturing is alive and well in Germany, made evident by a recent tour of three ABUS lock making facilities. Several stock-in-trade ABUS products are still being produced decades after their development, while others, like the popular folding Bordo locks, are prompting the 90-year-old company to add extra shifts to keep up with demand.
For starters, ABUS is an acronym for August Bremicker und Söhne (“And Sons”). The company is privately held and led by 48-year-old Christian Bremicker, the great-grandson of the founder. We toured three facilities, starting with the original in the North Rhine-Westphalia city of Wetter, with its 28,000 inhabitants (including the Bremicker family) about 20 kilometers from our home base in Dortmund. We got a crash course in the company’s history and international scope: (3,000 employees worldwide, 75 in Wetter, and another 550-600 in the other two German facilities).
Homegrown in Wetter
Once we walked out on the production floor, it was apparent that ABUS knows stamping, as large machines banged about creating parts and pieces made from steel sourced locally, just as it has done for decades. While most of the manufacturing employees are men, nearly all of the assembly workers are women, owing to their manual dexterity and attention to detail.
A mix of old-school assembly and high-tech CNC makes for an interesting marriage of efficiency, resulting in approximately 2.5 million locks produced annually in Wetter. We were given the opportunity to have two locks laser etched: one to keep, and one to lock onto the famous Hohenzollernbrücke Bridge spanning the Rhine River in Cologne, where lovers have attached thousands of locks (at least 80 percent of them ABUS). I attached a lock dedicated to my wife of 25 years, and brought home a custom Bicycle Times lock in Velominati orange as a keepsake.
It takes a village
Rehe, about 129km from Wetter, is where the bicycle and motorcycle lock magic happens. Approximately 953 souls live in the Westerwald between Siegen and Limburg, with nearly 300 from the region working in the ABUS facility. Here we witnessed raw material stored on pallet racks throughout the facility, most of which was cut, stamped, pressed, etched and assembled into various bicycle and motorcycle locks for worldwide distribution. ABUS is quite particular about durability and precision, even down to eliminating that ‘unpleasant’ rattling noise found in most U-locks with custom ear plugs.
Something we found rather unique in all three facilities was the excess effort to engineer, create, test, use and disassemble custom die casts and fixtures for all parts, including plastic and coated cosmetic pieces. ABUS emphasizes its cylinders and nearly infinite custom key combinations, making a would-be bike thief’s job tedious and, in the words of an ABUS spokesperson, ‘not worth the effort’. Sound words when choosing a secure lock for one’s precious bicycle.
We asked our hosts where most ABUS employees receive their training, and we were told of Germany’s apprenticeship program, where boys and girls age 16 are encouraged to learn a trade. If ABUS and the apprentice like their arrangement after a few years, full-time work is offered, with many ABUS employees punching the clock for 40 or 50 years. We saw several congratulatory signs throughout the facilities celebrating these milestones.
Here’s a photo tour: