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Just Don't Drop It

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Just Don't Drop It
Just Don't Drop It

Video: Just Don't Drop It

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It would not have been possible for us to get here at all without accompaniment. No company sign, nothing that indicates a manufacturer of luxury watches, nowhere the familiar IWC logo. When the production manager for IWC Schaffhausen parts, Christian Indlekofer, tells us that the most valuable IWC watch costs 750,000 Swiss Francs, we are very impressed and can understand the secrecy.

Even today, the manufacture of the components for the calibers, as the watch manufacturers call their movements, is only possible with the most modern CNC-controlled precision machines and machining centers. This does not change the value of the watches - on the contrary: in addition to high-quality materials, designs and complications (such as functions such as the date, second time zone or annual calendar), customers also expect the highest accuracy of the watch.

Just don't drop it! Some of the watches are worth several hundred thousand euros
Just don't drop it! Some of the watches are worth several hundred thousand euros

"The process-reliable and repeatable manufacture of the individual parts is only possible by machine. In contrast, assembly continues to be carried out by hand in the old tradition,”explains Heiko Zimmermann, who is responsible for industrialization at IWC. With these words, he leads us to a Kern Micro, a precision machining center. There we watch together how a robot inserts a brass board measuring 50 mm x 50 mm x 3.25 mm.

One clamping is enough

The power chuck from Röhm from the Microtechnology series is installed in the work area. With the board chuck, IWC produces all the necessary operations in a single clamping of the board. These are milling, drilling, thread cutting and grooving as well as fine machining of the edges. Even the hole for the elevator shaft can be drilled horizontally from the outer edge of the board to the inside without reclamping. "We used to have to clamp the board on three machines," remembers Zimmermann. This took longer and ran the risk that the result could be less precise than today.

270 processes with 54 tool changes on 0.001256637 m²

The watch board is the central component of a mechanical watch. Later on, all components of the movement are placed on it, from the bridge over the balance cocks to the ruby ​​jewels; but also pins, axes and gears. Depending on the complication, such a clockwork can consist of several hundred smallest parts. Until the chuck releases the blank as a finished board for removal, the Kern Micro on the factory side and the dial side perform 270 operations with a total of 54 tool changes with a precision of ± 2 µm. Each tool is only used once.

Up to the finished watch board, 270 operations with 54 tools are carried out in one clamping
Up to the finished watch board, 270 operations with 54 tools are carried out in one clamping

The processing steps and their sequence are carefully planned. Because the swivel chuck turns the board faster than a tool change is performed, one tool always performs operations on both sides of the board before it is changed. This creates holes on the watch board, the smallest of which are only 0.38 mm in diameter, as well as threaded holes and space for the components of the movement. In some places the material is removed down to 0.5 mm. This poses a challenge for the chuck: the brass workpiece must not bend or break. This requires a workpiece support, a kind of stop.

A support on both sides

The problem with this: This support must again act from below after swiveling. Röhm found a unique solution here. "A pneumatically operated clamping yoke rotates 180 ° after the chuck has been swiveled and supports the workpiece again from below," explains Damiano Casafina, Managing Director of Röhm Switzerland.

That sounds simple, but the devil is in the details. Because after the turn of the clamping yoke, it must not hit the board with the turning swing. This could be bent, destroyed or thrown out of the jaws. So Röhm has installed a type of brake that moves the support on both sides of the board from below, engages and can perform its support function. Processing can be carried out with the necessary precision in all processes. How this mechanism works cannot be elicited from Casafina. "Of course that is and remains our secret."

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The combination of Kern Micro and Röhm's swiveling power chuck has been in use since October 2015 and produces 140 hours a week. The next step is to further increase flexibility. A 4-way chuck with swivel function is planned. Kern and Röhm are already working on the joint planning. Will it work? We will see on our next visit to a secret site. (br)

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