Modern Machine Shop

NOV 2017

Modern Machine Shop is focused on all aspects of metalworking technology - Providing the new product technologies; process solutions; supplier listings; business management; networking; and event information that companies need to be competitive.

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mmsonline.com November 2017 MMS 75 FEATURE H unched over his desk and peering through an eye pie ce, Came ron Weiss pays lit tle attention to the machine tools in the next room. The Swiss-trained master watchmaker is usually far too busy polishing, burnishing, fit-checking and assembling the hundreds of pins, gears, springs and levers that go into the mechanical "movements" powering each luxury timepiece. That's not to suggest Mr. Weiss doesn't appre- ciate the critical role these machine tools play in realizing his dream: to build his own brand of wristwatches, one based unapologetically on his own artistic ideals. Just as emblazoning his family name across the face implies a certain aesthetic, the label "Los Angeles, California" implies a deep- seated desire to restore prestige to a domestic industry that largely collapsed with the advent of cheaper, more accurate quartz movements in the 1960s. For Mr. Weiss, restoring that prestige means not just assembling the parts here, but making them here, too. That's why Weiss Watch Co. needs machine tools. For all the founder's skill, leveraging cen- turies-old techniques to handcraft parts like the brass main plates for movements, the bridges that hold those movements in place, and the outer casings would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. It would also be anathema to the goal of not just making art, but making that art accessible. Without flexible, modern machin- ing technology, it wouldn't be possible to iterate multiple prototypes before finalizing and produc- ing a design in quantities that have so far ranged between 5 and 500 per series, Mr. Weiss says. The three-a xis VMC and Swiss-t ype lathe per forming this work are housed in a garage adjoining the company's 2,100-square-foot office park space in Torrance. The machines' sole pro- grammer and operator is Grant Hughson, a former applications engineer for cutting tool manufacturer Sandvik Coromant and Mr. Weiss's business par tner in a separate entit y: Pinion Precision Technology. The partners' goal for Pinion Preci- sion is ambitious: to produce parts for timepieces beyond the Weiss brand. Specifically, they hope to take advantage of the anticipated gap left by Swatch, a prominent parts supplier in Switzerland that is abandoning this business to focus solely on making complete watches. There's good reason for confidence in Pinion Precision's ability to capture this work, Mr. Weiss says. One lesson of the early days of Weiss Watch Co., when he was still assembling movements at his kitchen table from almost all Swiss com- ponents, is that other machine shops generally a re n't u s e d to m a k i n g a r t wo r k. " Eve r y p a r t we make not only has to fall within a very tight tolerance; it also has to be visually appealing," he says. In the past, he continues, shops confidently accepted the kind of work that Mr. Hughson is now doing in house, only to struggle to do that work cost-effectively. This includes some com- panies already accustomed to small parts (most pinions measure less than 1 mm), high precision (+0.0002/-0 inch for some hole-pinion intersec- tions) and smooth sur face finishes (16 R A or smoother are t ypical). In fact, he recalls one instance when a potential supplier was so humil- iated by unexpectedly lengthy turnaround time on a protot ype order that it of fered the par ts for free. Mr. Hughson adds that the dif ficulty of this work goes beyond meeting stringent specifica- tions. After all, one might say machinists are born for such challenges. What can be more difficult is adhering to quality standards that might seem subjective. Likewise for performing operations in unconventional, counterintuitive ways in order to support painstaking hand-finishing processes. PARTS AS ART F e w m a c h i n e s h o p s p a i n t w i t h t h e i r t o o l paths, but work from Weiss Watch Co. demands i t . O n b r a s s b r i d g e c o m p o n e n t s l i k e t h e ones pictured on these pages, attention must be paid to every swirl and line, and standard tool paths often don't cut it, whatever the measured tolerance or surface finish. "For all the finishing strategies, for the most par t, the geometr y is actually being drawn," Mr. Hughson says. "The tool path has to go a certain way—you can't just

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