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130 Years of Material Handling in Reutlingen

The year 1893: Karl May's Winnetou trilogy is published, Rudolf Diesel is granted a patent for "working method and design for internal combustion engines" (known today as the diesel engine), France introduces a bicycle tax – and the company Ernst Wagner Apparatebau is founded in Reutlingen, Kingdom of Württemberg. It is the forefather of today's KION Warehouse Systems (KWS).


What is behind the name KWS? KION operates its center of excellence for narrow-aisle material handling equipment at the Reutlingen plants. The company looks back on a long tradition: "Ernst Wagner Apparatebau" was initially a tinsmith's store. In the following decades, the company already offered an extensive product portfolio for logistics solutions and developed into one of the leading suppliers in the market for warehouse trucks until the 1980s and 1990s. In 1991, Linde AG took over the company. Since 2006, it has been part of the KION Group. In 2010, the company was renamed KION Warehouse Systems .

A part of KWS' current product portfolio.

The history of KWS in Reutlingen continues. Last year, KION announced the expansion of the plant : "By expanding production by a good 60 percent, we are sending an important signal for the future. We expect sustained market growth in the field of high-rack stackers and vertical order pickers and have geared our planning accordingly," said Rob Smith, CEO of KION GROUP AG, in November 2022. The expansion of production capacity also has an impact on employment: From 250 employees in 2010, the workforce has already grown to more than 400. Of KWS' employees, around 130 currently come from the city of Reutlingen and around 280 from the Reutlingen district. The expansion will safeguard existing jobs and also make new ones possible.

An expansion of the existing production halls is planned. The internal processes can thus be significantly optimized.

The beginnings under Ernst Wagner

Let's travel 130 years into the past at this point: Master plumber Ernst Wagner founded the traditional company in Reutlingen and developed the company from a craftsman's business for sanitary installations and heating into a veritable factory of ideas. He already held a large number of patents and industrial property rights around the turn of the century. Ernst Wagner's dishwasher was probably the first machine of its kind to be launched on the European market and to prove itself internationally. A disruptive development for the household!

Ernst Wagner with the then highly innovative dishwasher in 1928.

The entry of Wagner's son-in-law Otto Winter into the company in 1911 and the orientation towards industrial manufacturing led to concentration on two areas: Commercial kitchen technology and conveyor technology. As early as the 1910s, Otto Winter started production of the patented "Schildkröte" (Turtle) lift trucks for industry and wholesale. These established themselves on the market in the first half of the 20th century and were the flagship of the Reutlinger for a long time.

The exhibition in Hanover in 1954: the portfolio of “Turtles”.

Development into a conveyor technology all-rounder

In the 1950s, Ernst Wagner KG began to expand its range of transportation equipment and developed the first electric vehicles. In 1962, a new production plant for material handling technology was built in the Reutlingen suburb of Mittelstadt. This was expanded in several steps until the beginning of the 1970s. As early as the beginning of the 1960s, Ernst Wagner KG also developed automatically moving vehicles, which were initially guided optically and later on a guide wire.

From these beginnings, the area of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) developed, for which the company was world-renowned in the 1980s and 1990s. Accordingly, the workforce grew from 180 employees in 1955 to a total of 880 employees in 1985, with sales increasing from DM 7 million in 1955 to DM 124 million in 1985.

The first reach truck built in Mittelstadt in the 1960s (left) and an automated guided vehicle in 1982.

An important member of the KION familiy

In 1986, the materials handling division was spun off and completely taken over by Linde AG in the years leading up to 1991. Due to the long-standing cooperation with STILL GmbH, Wagner Fördertechnik was assigned to the STILL division within the Linde Group. In April 1996 the German Wagner branches and service organizations with 280 employees were integrated into the STILL sales organization. In 1997, the company was renamed STILL Wagner GmbH & Co. KG. At the beginning of 2010, the production of STILL reach trucks moved to Hamburg.

Linde narrow-aisle equipment from Reutlingen manufacture.

Subsequently, the Reutlingen site was transformed into today's KION Warehouse Systems and strengthened as the KION Group's "VNA Competence Center". The term VNA comes from the abbreviation of the English term for narrow aisle trucks: Very Narrow Aisle Trucks. The "big rigs" built since the 1970s now form the basis for the reformed business model.

The very narrow aisle truck STILL MX-X.