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.