TOS VARNSDORF a.s. (joint stock co.)
On Good Friday 2003, the company celebrated its first hundred years. Starting out as a small privately held business, TOS VARNSDORF was originally more of a workshop than a factory. Surviving through 2 world wars, the last 107 years has seen the company expand into the production of a wide range of machine tools. It specializes in the manufacture of horizontal boring and milling machines, exporting them to many parts of the world. From 1903 to the present, the ownership of the company has changed hands three times. It has witnessed seven different political regimes and succeeded under two emperors, ten presidents and one Reich Chancellor. TOS VARNSDORF started out as an Austro-Hungarian business with German financial backing. It became an elite member of the Czechoslovakian machine tool industry. After operating under the Nazis during the Second World War, it was able to avoid being confiscated after the war. Soon thereafter, it was nationalized by the government and it became one of the top machine tool manufacturers in post-war socialist Czechoslovakia. Today, the company is one of the few wholly Czech owned machine tool manufacturers. In its hundred plus year history, the development of the company can be broken down into stages, each of which differs from the others both economically and technically.
Actually more than 100 years ago, in 1895, a business was started to produce small knitting and sewing machines. In 1901, Arno Plauert joined the firm (“Nordböhmische Werzeugmaschinen Fabrik Otto Petschke u. Co. i. B.”) as a co-owner and production manager. However, the company struggled and in 1903, it declared bankruptcy.
Period 1903 - 1917
In 1903, coming out of bankruptcy, Arno Plauert became the sole owner of the business. It wasn’t until 1906 that the company changed its name to "Arno Plauert, Maschinenfabrik” – a name it continued to use for the next four decades. It focused its production on machine tools with an interim period in which it also, unsuccessfully, tried to get into the manufacture of pumps and motorcars. Eventually it concentrated its production on metal cutting machines, which initially consisted of drills, lathes, shaping and milling machines and, since 1915, horizontal boring machines – in time, there were a total of 111 different types of machines. With the advent of World War I, Arno Plauert took advantage of wartime production demands and manufactured grenades and mines. In December of 1917, the company moved into new premises. Since 1993, these facilities have housed a subsidiary involved in the overhaul of horizontal boring machines.
Period 1918 - 1928
The end of the war meant a temporary end to prosperity. The Arno Plauert, Maschinenfabrik company had its first major financial problems, as unsold machines accumulated after the war (due to the loss of the large Austro-Hungarian market). In 1921, the factory had roughly 400 employees, including four designers. The first big crisis culminated in a 1921 strike over wages. After 1922, the situation improved and the production of lathes and milling machines accelerated (there were 45 different types of high-speed lathes developed in 1926 alone). As the 1920’s moved along, the company developed customers throughout Europe and saw more and more demand for horizontal boring machines. By 1927, the company was producing horizontal boring and milling machines under the designation HB - Horizontal Bohrwerk (followed by a number given by the diameter of the spindle in mm).
Period 1929 - 1937
This period saw further expansion of the demand for horizontal boring and milling machines with the company increasing the range of products it offered its customers. One example of this was lathe chucks, where Arno Plauert, Maschinenfabrik became the sole Czechoslovakian producer. In 1931, the company secured an, at that time, huge machinery order (12 machines) from the USSR. The value of the order was for the then staggering sum of 3.5 million Czech crowns. With CZK 100,000 in financing, the company started production. 1932 saw the next crisis in the company’s history with a sale of the company being order to settle a tax debt. The problem is resolved and, with its large Soviet contract, the company enters the ‘first golden age’ of horizontal boring and milling machines. Five different types of the latest boring machines are developed by 1933 and they enter mass production. In 1934, eight more new models of boring machines are developed and turnover doubles to 6.5 million crowns. 1935 is another banner year with a further 6 new types of boring machines annual turnover growing to 8 million crowns. By 1936, the company has 430 employees with turnover of 13.8 million crowns. This was the year of the company’s peak pre-war production (13 types of boring machines, 12 types of horizontal boring and milling machines, 6 types of milling machines, 15 types of lathes, 2 types of shaping machines and several types of boring machines). This period ends with the death of the company’s founder in 1937.
Period 1937 - 1945
The sons become owners and the business becomes a public company. Nine types of horizontal boring and milling machines were developed in 1937, followed by 7 new types in 1938 (including one with the then largest machine spindle with a diameter 150 mm). By the end of 1938, everything had changed. For the first time in the history of the company, the director becomes someone other than the owner. In early October 1938, Varnsdorf is occupied by the German army, with the annexation of the Sudetenland by Germany. The company became part of the Reich's industries, with everything that such membership brings in terms of norms and technologies, but also the ideology. In 1938, construction began on a new assembly hall as further increases in production were envisaged. Beginning in 1939, a new line of spindle diameters (63, 80, 100, 125 and 160 mm) is mandated. Staffing had grown to 610 employees and large investments into the company continued for the next two years. In 1942, the first major merger takes place with the acquisition of another Varnsdorf based engineering works (the merged company will continue operations at this company’s site for the next 24 years). In 1944, the company shifts over to wartime production with the manufacturing of German factories subject to Allied bombing moved to the factory. The dominant staffing of the plant is forced labor. This period ends in May 1945 with the end of the war. Providentially, the plant was not dismantled and taken back to Russia by the Red Army. Instead, a National Administration was eventually set up that confiscated the company from its private owners and nationalized it. Amazingly, as war ended production seemed to be able to continue. In April 1945, 6 new machines were shipped and production continued in May and June with a total of 38 machine tools produced from May to December 1945.
Period 1945 - 1959
1945 began a new era for the company with the end of production of all types of machine tools other than horizontal boring and milling machines. After some initial problems, largely due to a shortage of skilled labor, the company in 1946 became part of a larger group of nationalized factories (United Factory Machine Tools, National Enterprise). In the same year, the company began the production of its first new series of horizontal boring and milling machines developed after the Second World War. In 1948 the company employed 580 workers and produced a total of 152 machines. For several months in 1949, the company was part of the TOS Čelákovice state-owned enterprise; and, in 1950, it became the TOS Varnsdorf national enterprise. The company then added a Rumburk foundry and later a machine shop in Česká Kamenice. At the beginning of the fifties, the company acquired another production facility to which it began to move its individual workshops. Machinery production varied between 120 and 200 units per year. The next years weren’t easy for the company and presented a number of challenges, one of which was the coming onto the market of the precursor to numerically controlled machines. In 1954, there was in fact a several hours long wage strike. In the years that followed, the company developed a new line of WH type machines WH (WH 63 and WH 80), followed in 1959 by the development of the WH 100 model, which was the first numerically controlled horizontal boring and milling machine to be made in Czechoslovakia. At the end of this period of the company’s history, the three largest machine-building companies in Varnsdorf, the so-called "Big TOS”, were merged.
Period 1960 - 1968
In 1960, the Varnsdorf plants of the companies Severočeská Armaturka n.p. and Uničov Machine-Works n.p. became part of the independent TOS Varnsdorf n.p. In the same year, PZO Strojimport becomes the company’s sole commercial representative for foreign sales. After several years of post-merger integration, there was a rapid expansion of production – partly due to export demand. After the merger there were 2,176 employees in the company and 1960 turnover reached 141.7 million crowns. The development of the first numerically controlled horizontal boring and milling machines began in 1963 (the WHN 9 A machine, followed by the WHN 11 and WHN 13 models). Starting in the early nineteen sixties, large investments were made into new premises in Dolní Podluží, into which a number of individual operations continue to be moved. In 1966, the company’s production reaches 495 machines and in 1967 it increases to 543 machines. In the same year, the company’s WHN 9 A machine wins the gold medal at the MSV Brno International Engineering Fair. For the next several years, the annual production ranged between 400 to 500 machines. It was a prosperous period referred to as the ‘second golden stage’ of the horizontal boring and milling machines. All of this ended, with the invasion of the country by Warsaw Pact and Soviet forces in August 1968.
Period 1969 - 1979
During the harsh regime of the so-called ‘normalization’ that followed the Prague Spring, the company managed to maintain a good balance of exports despite problems with the domestic market. An innovative approach led to the production of machines, variations of which are still produced today. This included the development of the first version of the classic horizontal boring and milling machine, the W 100 A, which was completed in 1970. The company’s WHN 11 machine received a gold medal at the 1970 MSV Brno International Engineering Fair. In 1970, 503 machines were produced, 25 of which incorporated the latest numerical control concepts. The mass production of the WHN 13 NC machine began in 1971. It was the immediate predecessor of the last decade’s best selling numerically controlled horizontal boring and milling machine, the WHN(Q) 13 CNC. The harvest of gold medal awards at the MSV Brno International Engineering Fair continued and in 1972 another gold medal was awarded for the design of the WHQ 9 NC machine. In early seventies, a total of three machines won Council of Industrial Design awards for innovative design. Beginning in 1975, the company begins to invest in computer-assisted technologies (initially using a mainframe computer). Despite fluctuating market conditions, investments into the company’s production facilities continued – including investments into the branch operations at the Rumburk foundry and the machine factory in Česká Kamenice. In 1978, the company began the mass production of the W 100 A machine, variations of which are still being made. The regular production of the WHN 13 A / B machines also began as this period of the company’s history drew to a close, along with the first version of the WFQ 80 NC machining center.
Period 1980 - 1989
The Machine Tool Manufacturers’ Association is transformed at the beginning of 1980 into a TST (Machinery Technology Factories) group of companies and TOS Varnsdorf becomes a member of this group. As this new period of the company’s history begins, the development and production of horizontal boring and milling machines continues, resulting in appearance of new machines, but the ‘second golden age’ of the horizontal boring and milling machines is coming to an end. Investments continue (a production system using light machining shops is built and put into operation in 1983 – workshops equipped with shelf stackers) and the company acquires new technologies (including control computers). In 1984, the WHO 11 NC machine receives a gold medal at the MSV Brno International Engineering Fair, followed by the PKA 20 TP metal cutting saw (which is a complex technological workstation for material separation). In 1985, the company begins the mass production of the WHQ 80 NCA machining centers. However, both the number of machines produced each year and the number of employees start to fall-off towards the end of this period and the company enters a stage of stagnation.
Period 1989 - 1995
In mid-1989, TOS Varnsdorf became yet another form of a state-run enterprise. Problems associated with the company’s privatization were accompanied by a crisis in production. The production of machines rapidly declined (only 70 machines were produced in 1993), and with it the company’s profitability (in 1994, after many decades, the company lost 106 million crowns). The various operations of the company were split off into separate entities fully or partially owned by the parent company. Among the changes that took place at the time was a further decrease in the number of TOS employees (to 824 people). On the positive side, the company continued to invest in product development, leading to the creation of new versions of the WHN(Q) 13 CNC machine, and new machining centers WHN 110 (Q, MC) and WHN 130 (Q MC). In 1995, the table type milling and boring machine WPD 130 (Q) received a gold medal at the MSV Brno International Engineering Fair, of which a modernized version (the WRD 130 (Q)) is still produced to today. In late 1994, the company embarked on a comprehensive upgrade of its information systems with the use of modern IT equipment, a process that has continued.
Period 1995 - present
After many years, the company comes back into private hands. In August 1995, the TOS VARNSDORF state enterprise is privatized through its purchase by Czech investors. The legal status of the company is changed and the company’s name becomes TOS VARNSDORF s.r.o. A dynamic period follows and in 1996 the limited liability status of the company is changed into a joint-stock company – with another name change to TOS VARNSDORF a.s. In June 1996, the company obtains ISO 9001 certification. Large investments are made into the company’s production facilities (Zeiss measuring machines, a Waldrich MC 3000 AP-M machining center), information systems (a new FACTORY ES system supplied by i2 Technologies) and product development. In addition to new technologies new products emerge. In 2000 and 2001, a new generation of machines (TOStec series - the first prototype of the TOStec Optima machining center) enters production, followed in 2002 by the TOStec VARIA. One of the company’s key clients during this period came on board in 1999. This was the Belarusian automobile producer BELAZ which ordered a total of 14 machines. Another key milestone in the company’s history occurred in 1996 when the company’s annual turnover topped a billion crowns per year (soon to be followed by another milestone at 1.5 billion crowns). Also during this period, the company began to cooperate with other large firms (for example, Deckel-Maho-Gildemeister). 2003 saw the production of the prototype of the TOStec PRIMA machining center (with 102 of these sold the following year). In 2005, the company establishes its TOS Kunming Machine Tool Co. Ltd subsidiary in China, which focuses on the manufacture and installation of horizontal boring and milling machines. Sales of machinery increased to 120 units. In 2006, TOS VARNSDORF establishes its TOS TRADE Canada Inc. and TOS TRADE North America, LLC (U.S.) subsidiaries. With increased machinery production and sales, the company is able to heavily invest into its manufacturing facilities and upgrade its production equipment. In 2007, a new heavy machinery assembly hall was put into operation, in which large table type milling and boring machines are assembled (series WRD 130/150 and WRD 170). The company’s office building was completely renovated in the same year. In 2008, a prototype of the SPEEDtec machining center is introduced, winning a gold medal at the MSV / IMT Brno 2008 International Engineering Fair. 2008 also is a year of record sales for the company with turnover exceeding three billion crowns. In 2009, the prototype of the WRD 150 DUO technological workstation was introduced. In the same year the company began to feel the impact of the global financial crisis, which impacted the entire machinery-building sector, including the machine tools branch. In 2010, the company introduced a prototype of the WRD 170 (Q) table type milling and boring machine, the largest machine produced in the recent history of the company.