Monday, March 19, 2018

Heat treatment of watchmaking micro-components

Regardless what kind of metal machining shop you intend to setup and what is your intended product (a car engine or a watch!) your ultimate goal is to enable yourself to do certain tasks and processes. Starting with relatively simple ones: To draw and measure. The ability to hold and grab firmly and accurately is the next goal. Then to cut, drill and tap, weld and solder. From then on, you are moving into more serious operations which require sophisticated machinery: turning, milling, grinding.  Obviously your product has to look appealing so you should invest in deburring and polishing equipment as well. Another sometimes overlooked aspect of metalworking: The ability to soften or harden metal. And this is precisely where we are right now.

A number of  steel watch parts (stem, levers, screws, arbours) undergo both pre-machining and post-machining heat treatments. A typical furnace has to provide not only a relatively high temperature (up to 1100 C) but the temperature has to be constant within a very tight range over a very vast spectrum from 100 C to 1100 C. In addition, the parts compartment must remain oxygen-free during the entire process. A quality furnace would also incorporate an oil quenching tank and shielding with inert gas. Yes, while the basics of metal heat treatment are rather simple and well-known, watchmaking furnaces are fairly complex performance-wise.

Taking into account our low volume and part size we have opted for the smallest furnace by Borel. (Don't be fooled with its size - it weighs almost 200kg!) Borel is a Swiss manufacturer which supplies equipment to all the top Swiss watch brands. The company was founded in 1918 by Dr. Charles Borel. As of last year, Borel is a division of SOLO Group, located in Porrentruy, Jura.

If you are a watchmaker or machinist specialised in micro components which require heat treatment then we would be happy to assist - especially if you have issues with scaling and oxidation.  Contact us at

Friday, March 16, 2018

An addiction to tools is no different to any other - you just need one more

Last year we put out a questionnaire trying to figure out why you follow us?  The majority of our subscribers are here for the obvious:  A love of watches. However, there is a growing group of subscribers who are fascinated with machining, precision and fine tools. And for them, from time to time,  we include a photo or two to illustrate our journey into the world of 'making'. Disclaimer: since I am not the one who operates the machines, I don't take credit for anything you'll see here – all the credit goes to the kids.
Yesterday’s challenge:  To make a tool 'fixture'. Fixtures are work-holding devices designed to hold, locate and support raw material or parts during manufacturing operations. There is another special property of the fixture: it provides a means to reference and alignment for the cutting tool.

In other words:  The quality of your part is directly related to the quality of your fixture. Or, as machinists say: if you want to make a precision part, you need a super precision fixture.  Which logically brings us to a challenge:  If your part is a fixture, then how do you make a fixture to hold  your first fixture?

To cut a long story short, two pieces of steel were individually  and separately cut, then a number of holes were drilled and taped. Locating and guiding pins were inserted. Then the moment of truth: The pieces were joined together. "Where is the gap?" asked Josh. No-one replied; it was well past 10pm and he was in the workshop by himself.  "I am going to engrave Andrew and Josh on this one" was the first thing he told me after arriving home close to midnight.  "In that order?" I’ve asked.
But he didn't hear me. His thoughts were 17,000 kilometres away. "You know, we need to call MAXX in Michigan. They make a super precision vice, and we need one for Kern." "Didn't we just order one from Lang?” I asked.  "Yes, but we need one more!"

And that summed it up. Addiction to tools is no different to any other:  you just need - one more.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

We told him he couldn't leave until he cut the perfect cube

A couple of days ago we locked Andrew up in the workshop. We told him he couldn’t leave until he cut the perfect cube. Material: stainless steel 316L grade, the same stuff the Swiss watch cases are made of.  Luckily, Andrew didn’t bother asking us to clarify what perfection meant to us. To ask a watchmaker’s apprentice to cut the perfect cube on a Makino U32J is like giving the keys of your brand new Ferrari to a teenager and asking him to find out how fast it can go.

Oh, yes, the first few attempts were rather disappointing but he just kept pushing that pedal harder. On the second day he finally got his parameters right ("I was so excited I almost hugged Josh!") . 

So what is perfection? The short answer is:  We really don’t know. Once again, we have reached sub-micron levels where actual dimensions of a metal cube are no longer stable; where metal expands and shrinks purely due to the change in room temperature; where the measuring machine itself influences the piece measured; and where human error in acquisition of parameters is greater than the machine’s ability to measure the part.

Once again on a 10mm-side cube, to his shock and horror, Andrew has reached sub-micron precision. In Brookvale! 

So what’s next? We are now ready to go to the next level: integration of CAD and CAM software so we can finally start prototyping the most intriguing, irregular shapes. Like, for example, levers and springs pictured below. By the way, these springs come from a junk box of American pocket watches from around 1890-1920.  They do look scary - like an arsenal of inquisition/torturing tools! For us, they are highly motivational - if Americans could make such delicate high precision watch parts back then using 19th century machinery, surely we should be able to at least do the same today.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Who do you respect?

***Three reasons why you should invest in an Australian watch TODAY

1. We Respect You
We respect your expectations. There is nothing more annoying and useless than a broken watch! When you invest in a watch designed and assembled in Australia, you are investing in a robust, reliable and repairable watch. Rebelde is not 'just as good as any other Swiss-made watch'. It is a timepiece designed and hand-assembled by a third generation Master watchmaker. There is no such thing as a broken rebelde: every single one of the 600 watches assembled in the past 4 years is keeping time and performing as promised.
2. We Respect You
We know you don't see a watch merely as a sum of finely-machined micro components.  Your watch is an expression of who you are and what you stand for.  And if there ever were a brand with a story to be told - a watch you can wear with pride - then it is your Australian rebelde. We don’t have customers - we only have comrades and ambassadors.
3. We Respect You
Wearing a mechanical watch is an act of rebellion and sophistication! In a fast-paced world where lives are governed by heartless and soulless gadgets, mass-produced by robots, your decision to remain stubbornly old-fashioned and to govern your life by a slow-ticking, mechanical watch means just one thing: RESPECT! Your investment in an Australian watch is a smart investment in the future of Australia. Thanks to project 'rebelde' we now have 3 watchmaker apprentices and one student of mechanical engineering who are committed to spend the rest of their lives designing and making watches in Australia. And if we can add just one more supporter every week, then by this time next year we could invite one more Australian apprentice to join our team. We grow when you respect us back.
To place your order select from one of three stainless steel models listed at
$500 deposit. Delivery time: 3 weeks.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Just another painful blister

After 10 days of assembly the Kern Pyramid Nano was finally alive! On Wednesday night all systems were as per specs, fluids were running cheerfully, and the spindle and 5 axis motion left us speechless.  It was the time for final laser calibration; the moment of truth. With the coolness of a pilot of a fighter jet, Michael 'the German dude' set his Renishaw apparatus and commenced the four hour adjustments procedure.  

Now if you are not an engineer then the next sentence and picture below will make absolutely no sense to you, and that is perfectly fine - so no hard feelings.  The total error over the 400mm table was well under 1 micron and not more than 0.1 micron per 100mm of table travel. "So the machine is well within what could be described as a miracle of mechanical engineering?" we've asked. "Actually I am not sure" said cool Michael. "What we see is not the 'machine error' itself but the error in nano-range is most likely just the effects of environmental temperature and vibration of the building."  And finally, it all sunk in. This is precisely why Kern calls Nano - nano.  Too tired to celebrate, we quietly went home, each of us dreaming our own nano dreams... 

Around lunch time on Thursday, I got a phone call from Josh: "Bad news, dad.  The x-axis has just disappeared of the screen. It looks like we have a problem with the linear decoder.  We are now disassembling the entire block, Michael has cancelled his return flight and is extending his stay for at least another week. Yes, we need a new encoder, new cabling and Kern is sending a spare CPU unit from Germany, just in case we need it too."  The four hour sub micron calibration vanished with the X-axis without a single part being machined.
The other day, Elon Musk's Space-X launched Zuma, the top secret US spy satellite. But moments after the launch, like our x-axis, the multi-million dollar satellite disappeared - literally vanished off the radar. Yes, engineering on any scale can be heartbreaking and engineering is not for the fainthearted. 
In January 2012, Pat Farmer accomplished one of the greatest feats in human history. He arrived at the South Pole after the longest and arguably most dangerous run ever. Pat ran for 21,000 kilometres - never complaining about being tired nor disappointed, or his painfully bloody blisters, cramps and injuries. He just ran - and that determination - that physical and mental triumph - put him in the company of the world's greatest adventurers and achievers.
And this is precisely what our "Made in Australia" project is all about:  endurance, not giving up, being tough as nails, and being prepared to pay the price.  And we'll enjoy every bit of that journey, even when it hurts.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Workshop training exercises well past midnight

When asked by aspiring engineers and entrepreneurs for a 'fast track tip' Elon Musk said: instead of 40 hours per week, do 80 hours. All things being equal you will achieve your yearly goal by June. To get there even sooner, do 100 hours. 
It’s funny how time flies when you learn new stuff. Last night we stayed in the workshop well past midnight. The first training exercise: a 5 x 5 mm block with 1 mm gap.  We got within 2 microns on the first go. The second exercise: toothed cylinder, 8 mm in diameter, watch gear profile. Then another cut: its reverse 'image'. Material 316L.
Made in Australia? You bet.

What we have learned:

If you can imagine it, you can draw it. If you can draw it, you can make it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

From the world's smallest watch brand: Makino up and running!

Yes, we are happy.  The 50 micron wire cutter has been successfully installed.   Exclusively for our rebelde comrades: here is the picture of a first test cut. For comparison, the top surface is a standard milling finish , the cube itself is cut by EDM. The finish  can be best described like one on the edge of a razor blade. Scary!
The cutting time for this tiny cube: two hours.  Machining cost:   Just over $120. It goes without saying that only the space, medical and watch industries can afford such costs.  Exciting times ahead!

Another week @ rebelde workshop

This week Michael (the German technician who came to install our Kern mill), Josh and Andrew went through hell. After four 12-hour-shift days, the installation hit a wall with great force: the laser adjustment tool required for 'final alignment' is still on its way to Sydney. Obviously, this delay will cost us time and money but we are still conservatively optimistic that by the end of next week Kern will be up and running. The preliminary test runs are all good: the hydraulics, cooling system and electrical/electronic commands and the main spindle 3-hour tests are all OK.
The complexity of the system is mind-blowing and we have learnt that no part of the machinery can be regarded as 'auxiliary'.  Each component and each parameter is absolutely critical.  For example: the oil in the hydraulic system which is responsible for the movement of the main table has to be chilled to an exact temperature of 21.0 C. For that to happen, the Kern is fitted with not one but two “refrigerators”: one which produces a cooling liquid chilled at 11.3C and the other which 'outputs' 17C.  The final temperature is then finely tuned within the 3-tonne iron cast base which itself acts as a large capacitor. 
Such a fine tuning can be only achieved when one cooler is located as close to the machine as possible, while the other is located as far away as you can place it. The Australian summer is not helping either, with temperatures soaring to 40C inside the factory unit.  The amount of heat generated is close to unbearable and in addition, we are drawing so much current. Right now, the entire system is pushed to the absolute limit which means just one thing:  Further reconfiguration, more insulation, better pipelines and a further upgrade to the electrical wiring.
One thing that needs to be recognised, and given credit for, is that these guys below are just Aussie kids setting up one of the world's most precise machines.  These are the future makers of your watch so don't forget these faces.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Josh Reporting: One crazy hashtag

"Just finished 8 days of training in Germany, at the precision machine tool builder, Kern Microtechnik!  The red machine behind me in the photo below is the most accurate machine tool in the world, holding a scattered position tolerance of 0.3 microns, which is a 3000th of a human hair! In fact, the research and development team at Kern have actually drilled HOLES through human hair with Pyramide Nano - the very same mill to be used in Brookvale #makinginternalcomponentsforthefirstandonlyAustralianmadewatch. Next stop Switzerland!"

Invisible Forces In Horology

This is a cool little video showing magnetised watch pallets.  Magnetism in horology is extremely annoying.  The magnetism is causing erratic performance which is hard to pinpoint.  Luckily, it's easy to rectify by running the pallets through a demagnetiser.  The escape wheel pallets and hairspring are are three crucial components in watch escapement and all three being made out of steel are highly susceptible to magnetism.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The first month of my life

Today marks one month that I have been privileged to be a part of the Rebelde project. I have to say it has been one of the most exciting months of my life. Seeing mechanical oscillators pulled apart as if in surgery, pulling them apart myself, drawing up the 6497 movement, learning the ebbs and flows of peak hour Spit and Harbour Bridge traffic, and seeing the expensive tools and machinery that have been acquired so far. Speaking of expensive tools, I have now been gifted my first set of tweezers on the condition that I complete my apprenticeship. These may actually be more expensive per gram than the Kern. I did not dare do the math to find out as Nick may have kept them for himself. Let's hope he isn't a subscriber. It has been a dream to learn from such experienced craftspeople. I am slowly realising that I will never again "work" a day in my life.

It might seem easy work-wise but it’s not a walk in the park.  There is so much to learn in both workshops (watch assembly in the CBD and drawing up and building in Brookvale) and now from March I will be learning from another Master watchmaker at Tafe.  

Here’s a tip.  If you are ever after professional watchmaking tweezers the Dumont Number 3 Carbon is the way to go.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Watchmaking Pilgrimage - So Far

Five days into our watchmaking journey, we’ve already been to, and left, Singapore after undergoing an intense three days of training on our Wire Electrical Discharge Machining (WEDM) machine. If you’re not familiar with what a WEDM is, just think of it as an ultra high precision electrical bandsaw capable of cutting in 5 axes.

After a 2 hour delay, and an 8 hour flight, we arrived in Singapore at 2am on Tuesday morning, and were up at 7am to make our way to the factory. Though we were all completely exhausted from the quick turnaround, the adrenaline resulting from months of planning and excitement got us through the day.

First impressions left us gobsmacked. Makino is a Japanese company with over 4,200 employees spread across the globe that specialises in precision machine tools, serving industries from aerospace, aeronautical, automotive, medical and, of course, watchmaking.
It’s fair to say that if you’re in the advanced manufacturing business, you’ve either heard of, or own, a Makino machine.

Given the small size of our Sydney-based watchmaking company, (not confirmed, but probably the smallest company Makino has sold a machine to), it was a privilege to have been given the chance to train at their facility and see how an advanced machine tool manufacturer operates. Things that you’ve long read about but struggled to imagine in practice, such as process-improvement methodologies like Six Sigma, suddenly become clear.

The training was intense, and our instructor did his best to share with us everything he’d picked up in his decade at Makino alone. Thankfully, we’re confident we managed to keep up, and take away, invaluable experiences, though the true extent of our learning will become clearer once the machine is finally installed in our Brookvale facility and we undergo a second round of training in late February.

Next stop, Germany! We’ll be heading to Murnau to train at Kern Microtechnik, the manufacturers of our CNC milling machine. Stay tuned for further reports.  I’ll leave you with some pictures from the Makino factory. What you’re seeing is just a small portion of what we saw - I just wish there was a way to share the incredible sense of scale, efficiency, noise and smell that pervades throughout the facility.

Till next time,


Monday, January 22, 2018

First Steps

2018 is looking promising. On January 3 our small team expanded. We got two new young apprentices - Chris and Andrew - who have been thrown into the deep end with getting straight into measuring and drawing. I am very proud to say that after 2 weeks they have almost completed technical drawings of the Unitas 6498 movement. The main challenge was to calculate the correct gear module and teeth profile (without any assistance!). We are pleased with the progress so far. Obviously both of them are happy to be a part of our project. Like with Tyler last year, Andrew and Chris will have a great head start over all other kids that will be learning watchmaking at Sydney TAFE in February.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Not as popular as a cat video on Youtube but who cares?

I am sure many of you remember that 6 months ago we had a major capital raising for the purpose of the acquisition of a Strausak gear hobbing machine. Strausak is the Mercedes of watch gear hobbing and I made a special trip to Geneva to meet the company director. After day one of negotiations it was clear that we were not heading in the right direction and, by the third day, the price of the machine, the cost of tooling, all added accessories, shipping and training ballooned to over $250k. This was a major disappointment and significantly more than we were prepared to invest in a gear hobber.

Geneva is really a village and a "cashed-up Aussie" sticks out like a sore thumb. It wasn't long before I was introduced to another gear hobber machine. This one was made by Affolter. There was only one small problem: I was well aware of both Affolter and this particular machine which I saw the year before. To put it simply, Affolter is a Porsche, not Mercedes C class. But due to some circumstances, the machine was a demonstrator, available for immediate delivery, with only a few hours of run time. A 911 with 100kms on the clock! 

To cut a long story short, our Carrera twin turbo Affolter AF90 arrived last week and was powered up for the first time yesterday. A gear hobbing machine makes watch wheels and it is a crucial piece of equipment which will allow us to make gears in-house, in our Sydney our workshop. Clearly we are excited: the 8 axis CNC hobber is truly a piece of art in itself. But, equally important, the Affolter people are excited as well. For them, selling a machine to us meant 'ticking off' the second last continent and cementing their position as a true world-wide leader in precision gear cutting. After Australia, the only continent with no watch gear cutting machine of this precision is Africa! (This really speaks volumes about us as 'tech giants'!) We are looking forward to training in Switzerland at their factory mid next year! 

The time frame: The next step for us is to design a few prototype wheels.  Based on our drawings, a Swiss tool manufacturer will make custom hobbers (gear cutters). Also a third party precision manufacturer in Switzerland will make tools and holders/collets to hold each gear while cutting. This preparation work should not take more than 6 months. In June next year Josh will travel to Malleray, a tiny village in Swiss Jura (population 1,900!) to the Affolter Headquarters. With a bit of luck, we should learn how it's done, and be all set to manufacture our first prototype gears by Christmas next year. 

For those of you who may wonder: What is the manufacturing cost of a watch wheel made in Australia?  Unfortunately, the math is not straight forward. But if we take the cost of the machine itself out of the equation, then the tooling cost per wheel and number of wheels made 'in one go' is really what determines the cost. Our problem is that we will never make more than 200-300 identical wheels, which is just unimaginable in the gear industry! A CNC hobber like the AF90 is designed to output tens of thousands of precision, top quality wheels at a time. But we are not in mass production.  Nevertheless, at 200 pieces per batch, our cost per wheel should be around $60 a piece, which is about the same you would pay wholesale for a top Swiss-brand wheel. 

Here is a 14 second video of our AF90:

And here is an Affolter video of the machine in action, hobbing a watch winding pinion, diameter 3,66mm and half millimetre thick, with module of 0.19. Production time: 55 seconds: 

Note the video view count: 243 views - and we've watched it probably 50 times ourselves! Yes, we are dealing here in something incredibly unimportant, not just to the general public but even to engineers (a good cat video on YouTube can generate millions of views; a half-naked squeaking singer a billon!)  But sophistication is not about numbers...

Once again, from our small team: we appreciate your continuous support.


Monday, December 4, 2017

We love our collets

A collet is a special type of chuck designed to hold either material machined or a tool machining it. And to do so in a very special way: by providing a firm and rigid, yet very precise grip. Collets are mighty things and there is only one rule about them; you can never have enough of them!  Indeed, each and every machine in our workshop has its set of collets; and some - like in the case of our Citizen lathe - come for both material and tool holding, in a variety of styles, shapes and sizes. All custom made too. 
The latest addition to our workshop is our lovely 30 pcs tool-holding set from Schaublin made for Kern. These lovely collets are designed for fast, automatic clamping on a spindle. And since the spindle speed goes up to 50,000 RPM, you can imagine how extremely well-balanced they have to be to retain positional error under one micron at that speed!
At last count, we had over 150 different collets in stock. By the time we make our first in-house watch mechanism, we are going to have close to 1,000.  The good news is that a precision collet can last forever, assuming proper care is taken. Josh is our collet guy and he is allowed to buy them without even asking me for approval. Actually if he doesn't buy any more before Christmas I would be seriously upset.
Machining is cool!  Did i mention that we are looking for a watchmaker’s apprentice?  No?  Well, we have to talk about that soon.  

Friday, December 1, 2017

No worries, darling, only 29 years to retirement

You had so much to offer. You had potential, attitude and a good education. Not to mention that from the age of 3 everyone was saying how clever you were.  You had big dreams, imagination and charisma.
Yet, for some strange and inexplicable reason, you ended up working for a multinational, doing the most boring job on the floor. The same boring repetitive job day in, day out. Your boss is an obnoxious moron who wears Hublot. Your wife asks you "So, how was your day" - not expecting any answer. And what could you really tell her? That 150K per year may sound like good money - if that would be compensation for the hours you slave. But how in the world did you end up trading your SOUL for an unlimited supply of lukewarm coffee and tasteless snacks?
And what kind of hobby would you have to take up to preserve those last remaining bits of sanity? Perhaps, you just repeat to her what you said yesterday: "No worries, darling, only 29 years to retirement, so I'll put up with them".
Make no mistake - unless you DO SOMETHING NOW and take some action, kick the multinational in the gut, steamroll your bosses Hublot and simply QUIT that boring job, you will end up as a brainless vegetable. 
And make no mistake - your next job too will be just another deal with the devil. But this time, make sure you get the fair end of the bargain: Do something you LOVE and ENJOY. 
No, you are not too old to take up a watchmaking apprenticeship. And you wouldn't believe your luck: we just happen to be looking for a kid just like you! 
A smart, hard working, well-educated dreamer with imagination and charisma to join one of the most exciting watchmaking projects in Australia. Yes, the pay is ordinary (but hey - we don't set rates, that's the Government's job!) but as you have already figured out, a good job is not about money but satisfaction and creativity. 
I am not going to sell this too hard. Let me just tell you that in 6 weeks Josh and Tyler will be flying to Germany, to be once again trained by a world leader in micro-machining. Yes, all expenses paid for, and yes, there will be PLENTY of snow. And since neither of them drink, YOU will be the one to do the after-hours partying with the German staff. I think the company moto is "Oktoberfest all year around", or something like that.
Our business plan for the next 12 months? We have no target, no clue and an unlimited budget! (Eat your heart out Google and Amazon!). No pressure. Just plenty of fine precision work, endless hours of learning, making, designing and measuring. Two great young team members and a third generation watchmaker who'll teach you everything you've ever wanted to know about watches. As well, you'll go through training in a dedicated watchmaking course at Sydney TAFE run by a Swiss-trained watchmaker with decades of experience.
The choice is yours. Please don't send your CV and resume, I don't need to see it. Instead, send me a photo of something that you made yourself out of wood, metal or even LEGO (an object that shows your creativity and design capabilities) or something that you fixed, restored and returned to life recently.  Then call me on (02) 9232-0500 to visit us on Monday. We'll have a chat and sit you down for a test. If you fail, we'll ask you to retake it, again and again, until you break every screwdriver and pair of tweezers in our workshop. 
This will tell us whether you've got what it takes to call yourself a watchmaker: a serious determination to succeed, and an ability to solve any problem, no matter what, where or when.
I'm waiting to hear from you.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

You know you've made it when...

... your product becomes a synonym for an entire industry. Which is precisely in the case of Renishaw - or renishaw.
The Renishaw company was founded by two Englishmen: Sir David McMurtry and John Deer in 1973. McMurtry had needed to measure fuel pipes on a prototypejet engine. At the time, measuring machine sensors featured a rigid 'tip' which required manual positioning and which yielded poor repeatability when measuring delicate components. To meet this need, McMurtry invented a spring-loaded touch-trigger probe device tip, which he then patented. The new instrument tip was an elegant solution and was quickly adopted by leading manufacturers who needed measurements of ultra precision.
Our Kern mill arrived equipped with a renishaw probe. What a beautiful instrument! A glass enclosure reviling an electronics 'brain'; micro ruby ball on the tip of the styli; rigid - yet at the same time, a fragile, delicate instrument. The renishaw is mounted on the tool holder and can be 'grabbed and attached' on the main milling spindle automatically. Of course, for those of you who are into fine machining or coordinate measurement systems, this precision instrument is something you commonly see in action, on perhaps a daily basis. But for us, who have just started our journey into watchmaking, this renishaw is a very exciting newcomer to our workshop.
Made in the UK. Cool! 
And here is one more bit. Unlike the watch industry where every brand is working hard to 'stamp' its name on every single component claiming that the dial, hands, cases and all movement components are made 'in house' (when they are clearly not) it is really refreshing to see that true engineering companies which specialise in high-end manufacturing are actually proud to disclose their association with other industry leaders. And when you think of it - why would Kern even want to make their own renishaw when Renishaw has already invented a damn good one? Why would a world leader in the milling industry want to make collets for its machine when Schaublin, the leader in collets, has already reached the levels of precision required? And the list goes on - Erowa, Siemens, Zeiss, Boch... all supplying parts and technology to each other, for a common benefit. 
While 100% 'made in-house' may be great marketing news, such a watch mechanism is doomed to be a very average performer. Like it or not, sooner or later, 'in house' will become a synonym for a product which will lack the future; a product developed to please the brand itself rather than a consumer, at the cost of innovation and technical advancement. Open for cooperation, open for learning and sharing, an open mind. 
Quite frankly, I am so glad we are not in the watch industry anymore.

Monday, November 27, 2017

It's all about information

The year is 1850.  Suppose you are a reputable country watchmaker. In your shop window you have a large dial clock and all day long your customers and passers-by would stop in front of your shop to set their pocket watches against your master clock. The question is: How would YOU know what is the correct time?  Obviously this information would have to come from somewhere!  The solution was simple.  Every week or two you would take your best pocket watch, buy a newspaper, hop on the train, travel to London - and there you would set your pocket watch against the clock on display at the most reputable London clockmaker, who himself would have got 'his time' from Greenwich.  And there, at the observatory, clocks were set and regulated by astronomers, mathematicians and scientists who were really the 'true time keepers' because they knew how to calibrate their clocks against the movement of the stars.  Indeed, for a country watchmaker weekly trips to London were often the highlights of the week. 

Of course, with the invention of radio, everyone with a wireless could have direct access to accurate time. Bip, bip, bip - the time is 8 o’clock. 

Nowadays, we no longer need radio signals nor any effort on our behalf in order to 'know' the time. Thanks to GPS and the internet, our mobile phones and commuters are 'synchronised' countless times per day - and the time itself comes directly from the network of atomic clocks located all over the planet.  In just 100 or so years we have come a long way!

However, when it comes to the 'dissemination' of some other types of information we are still facing some serious issues with accuracy.

For example, suppose that you live in Germany and you've engineered and built two superbly precise machines. One stays in Germany, while the other is disassembled and shipped to Australia. The question is once that Australian machine is reassembled how are you going to calibrate it so it will machine metal as accurately as it did before, as the one on the different side of planet?

As clever as it is, the machine itself cannot calibrate itself.  As accurate as your watch may be, it will not tell you the time, unless you FIRST tell your watch what the time is! In both cases, the information has to come from an external, super accurate source.

I will not bore you with the details - but in the case of our five axes nano precision Kern mill, this outside information comes in the form of a small metal object which 'contains' crucial information. This object is machined in Germany to extremely tight tolerances, measured in a number of points, then shipped to us to be used as calibration 'etalon'. Without it, our machine could not be set.

While the geometry of 'etalon' is simple, thanks to the extreme precision with which it was machined and measured, it contains a number of crucial information. It will help us to establish the centre point of the table, work holding position, the eccentricity of the spindle, the relationship between the three main axes - and much more. 

Due to the fact that it had to be mounted on the tool holder, it was manufactured not by Kern, but by Erowa, a German 'tool holding' specialist.  However, after Erowa measured its dimensions, Kern re-measured it and re-certified it again, with even more accuracy. Each dimension was measured a number of times to 1/10 of  1 micron. Yes, we are talking nano!

The photos below are attached for your enjoyment. If you wonder what the cost is of this tiny piece of metal, then let me just answer this question in an indirect way: the etalon is kept in a safe and I am the only person allowed to handle it.

As you would imagine, we are now very anxious to get our mill assembled, calibrated and running.  However, we still don't know when the German engineers will be able to travel to Sydney to assemble it. Christmas/New year and endless European holidays are not working for us.  Patience, patience!


Thursday, November 23, 2017

So what is your business?

It was early 1980 and the Swiss watch industry was on its knees. Caught unprepared by the onslaught of the battery revolution, watch factories were closing and brands disappearing like never before.
A young American executive of a large and famous advertising agency was assigned with the task of creating a campaign for a  handful of Swiss brands. Trying to impress them with his knowledge of market trends, he addressed them with a rather patronising opening line: "So, gentleman, how is the watch business?". The room went quiet. Encouraged, he then turned  to the Rolex director and repeated the same question. The Rolex guy replied, "Watch business? We have no idea. Rolex is not in the watch business but luxury goods business".
And this is precisely why Rolex not only survived but came out of the crisis stronger than any other Swiss watchmaker.  Unlike others, without any doubt, they knew what business they were in.
A couple of days ago we reached yet another milestone. After 10 months of negotiations, preparation work, servicing, packing, shipping and a million other hurdles, our 9-tonne baby arrived from Switzerland: A Kern Pyramid Nano 5 axis milling machine. It took four teams of professionals to move 3 large crates form Port Botany to Brookvale. The size of this machine is simply frightening. But, hey, in less than 10 hours, the machine itself, plus electrical cabinets, coolant refrigerators, hydraulic pumps and filtering units  were moved into position. The mill is now ready and awaiting final assembly by two German engineers who are expected in February.  Before that, Josh and Tyler will travel to Germany for training. And if all goes well, in about 6 months from today, our Pyramid Nano will be finally turned on and we’ll be ready to start LEARNING how to use the machine.
To paraphrase Rolex: we are no longer in the watch business but in the business of learning how to shape metal at sub-micron level. The road will be bumpy, the journey will be long, and the destination is still unknown, but we are loving it.
Photos below: the arrival of the load, Kern PYNO partially assembled (about half of the actual machine!).
Our special thanks goes to lovely Melody who solved the unbelievably hard problem of organising the 20-tonne forklift; to Anthony from Headland Machinery for project management, for JPM Cranes skates team for their magic, Mike the ‘clean up guy’ who removed tonnes of packaging wood in one hour, and our comrade rebelde Peter Tibbels from 1066 Steel who came in to offer his encouragement at a time when it was needed the most.
For those who are interested in more details: PYNO video

Friday, November 17, 2017

The art of self-promotion

It is not just bad taste, poor manners, lack of empathy - or simply just being a jerk. Self-promotion is a crime. 
And especially so in Japanese culture! I am not kidding: a poor Japanese craftsman would rather commit a harakiri than post a message on Facebook about the knife he hand-polished for 3 months to perfection. He would rather take 40 lashes with the cane for failing, than one compliment for achieving perfection. Strange.  
It is funny, but while the Anglo-Saxon culture has almost nothing in common with the oriental one, self-promotion is a sin even in our little colony.
Crocodile-wrestling-tough-as-nail sun burnt Aussies crawl under the rock at the very thought of even being in the same room as a self-promoter. Nearly a hundred years of exposure to Greek-ism, Balkan-ism and Latino-sim (the cradle cultures of macho-self-promotion) made our good Aussies even more resistant and more sceptical to any form of advertising with even the slightest hint of 'yeah, sure, we can do this'. 
"Wait until they discover your talent" say Mosman mums to their daughters as they jump out of mega-monster 4WD’s, being dropped in front of $40K per year schools. "Wait until they discover your talent" say dads dropping off boys at multi-billion dollar ovals. And make no mistake, like mums and dads, these very kids are already driving their own E-class Mercedes and wearing gold watches – and they play great cricket. But to tell anyone how good they are would be totally inappropriate. "Wait until they discover your talent" is what every 12 year old surfer hears every time he eats his vegemite. Be modest, be humble, be invisible; let others see what you are really worth and give you the credit you deserve. 
But life is no longer as it once was. "Others" are no longer a passive audience quietly waiting for the next Sir Bradman. "Others" are us: posting selfies on FB, Instagramming, chatting, and simply being alive; connecting, talking and sharing.  
You see, I don't mind modesty. Actually, I much prefer to wait 'to be discovered' than to self-promote myself. But on the other hand, I am not a big fan of posthumous awards either. 
Right now, as I type this, we have a great need for a 10 tonne forklift to move some equipment; we need an energetic and reliable office assistant; a smart and hard-working apprentice keen to learn about watches; a photographer who won't charge an arm and a leg; a reliable local server to host our new website; a 2KV petrol generator (not too loud!), an oven for steel hardening, a polishing machine - which comes with expert advice and the right polishing compounds. And we are not any different to other small Australian businesses. Yet somehow, those who are experts in their fields are often hard to find - because they have always been told the same old thing; "wait until they discover you". 
This week a rebelde-owner brought in his 3 year old watch for a minor adjustment. However, he wore that watch daily so it was heavily scratched. So we decided to surprise him:   We pulled the watch completely apart, serviced it, polished the case, fitted a new winding crown and seals - and even fitted a brand new leather strap.  Total charge: zero. Why? Because we simply want to show him what we can do, and how proud we are of our workmanship. And how much we appreciate the fact that out of hundreds of brands he put his trust in rebelde.
And here we go - I just committed the worst crime ever: I self-promoted.  
Guillotiner, make it quick.
Completely overhauled relbede I09 ready to be returned to its owner