Inside IWC Schaffhausen: Our Visit To The Brand's New Manufakturzentrum
Who better than a CEO to re-think the organization of a production unit in order to optimize the processes? An industrial architect maybe. Christoph Grainger-Herr, IWC’s CEO, possesses both titles and embodies a coming together of high-tech, nature, and wellness.
Twelve years ago, Mr. Grainger-Herr was hired by IWC to create the museum in the company’s Schaffhausen headquarters. Over a decade later, he has returned to herald the new factory he conceived of and opened for the brand’s 150th anniversary last year.
As both architect and CEO, he was able to design a building that not only brings under one roof the production of components, in-house movements, and cases but also streamlines all the different steps of production and to create the best possible working conditions for employees. The resulting Schaffhausen Manufakturzentrum forms a captivating picture that was designed with the explicit intention of being seen by the largest number of people possible. Indeed, a visitor’s path – precise as an IWC movement – enables the expected 10,000 visitors to fully appreciate the work achieved on site.
A peace haven
Arriving in a captivating setting, basked in light, in the middle of nature, the contrast between the sleek white and black lines of the glass, wood, and cement building and the rolling green forest hills around is truly striking. Once inside, the structure perfectly marries the best of technology and the calm of nature with ingeniously designed domed sky-lights that protect from too much light while still enabling it to flood the building.
The lower level houses the heavy machinery for case building, so that noise and vibrations do not disrupt the rest of the edifice. The main floor gathers all the other stages of production. From components to main-plates and pre-assembly of plates and bridges to the final assembly of movements by watchmakers (with quality control at every step), ceilings are high, very high, providing a soothing sense of space and volume.
The top floor opens onto a large terrace where employees can enjoy a moment of relaxation overlooking the surrounding nature. From this vista, many solar panels and green roofs can be spotted, minimizing the factory’s carbon footprint. All is serenity and functionality, that promises efficient work and thought to increase the quality and the fluidity of the processes.
A high-tech industrial tool
The latest high-tech machines produce more than 1,500 different components to create the numerous in-house calibers from the Schaffhausen manufacture. Bars of bronze, steel, titanium and Ceratanium® await their turn to give birth to IWC cases. As technology keeps developing it continues to contribute to the final quality of products. So, unsurprisingly, automation is everywhere facilitating a fluid workflow and a heightened precision. It is phenomenal. Main plates and bridges come in at a steady almost continuous rate as the robotic arm places them in the machine and selects the proper tool to complete its task.
They then proceed seamlessly to the ruby settings where another machine settles the “stones” with laser precision. It is fascinating. The quality right out of the machines is impressive. Freshly machined cases, platinas, and components seem ready for use even before being angled, polished, treated, and controlled. The smallest, most complex parts are made by electric erosion. This is truly state-of-the-art technology.
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Yet, despite all this automation, human hands still have their place here. In the decoration workshop, circular graining of main plates is still performed by hand. It seems machines cannot yet achieve the desired brilliance this delicate operation creates. Likewise, the finishing of the cases is still done by hand. So too is the assembly of the calibers. Following the various steps of production, pre-assembly kits are collated and go to the assembly line by hand.
Quality, training, and communication
During our visit, for the first time ever, we took a trip to the “white room” where the movements are assembled, and each caliber has its own dedicated line. Here, the air pressure is maintained at a higher level than that of the rest of the building so that particles of dust do not enter and 50,000 cubic meters of air is circulated every hour. The air is almost surgically clean. It is very impressive!
Stefan Jung, associate Director Production Components, explains: “No machine is capable of assembling all the components of a movement and give life to it. We decided to use the visionary concept of F.A. Jones and divide the final assembly in a certain number of tasks performed by expert personnel.” Each specialist receives 5 calibers on which they perform a specific task, then pass them on to the next specialist who will execute the next operation.
Upon viewing this repetitive, chain-like process, one immediately thinks of Henry Ford or F. W. Taylor, but Mr. Jung smiles and replies with benevolence, “The approach is completely different here! The aim is a relentless search of quality. And efficiency is part of it. Dividing a process into sub-tasks enables to create specialists, to train the staff to new competencies, rapidly and precisely. It is a very efficient way to transmit know-how. Before opting for this system, we tried many other configurations. This one turned out to be the best with double-digit productivity gains and an unrivaled quality/speed ratio. Competencies and versatility develop extremely quickly. Indeed, the specialist working on these lines will regularly change to new tasks in order to develop their know-how. It is a fabulous training tool.” Moreover, the staff performs the mandatory quality checks themselves which optimize the learning curve and motivates employees.
At the end of each line, the 5 calibers are verified once more by watchmakers which further heightens the quality control. But IWC does not settle there. The manufacture is finalizing its own precision control tool which will take 10-12 days to test the perfect running of the movement in all positions. Quality is taken very seriously at IWC.
Clearly, very few manufacturers are as modern or precise, with such drastic quality checks. One understands why IWC has also designed the Manufakturzentrum as a place open to visits. When you possess such a spectacle to show, it would be a shame to hide it.
Throughout this exceptional visit, we followed the full production process of the latest IWC Pilot Spitfire Chronograph and its famous 69000 caliber. We witnessed the creation of its modernized new case with plunging lugs for perfect positioning on the wrist. We saw the brushed finishing work of the flanks and lugs, as well as the mirror polishing of the bezel and case edges. All of which provides a true qualitative jump while maintaining the sportiness of the model. We admired the decorating of the caliber 69000 and the precision of its assembly line.
Finally, we had the pleasure of wearing the emblematic Spitfire Chronograph with its matt black dial and 3 sunken sub-counters for perfect legibility. The latter is further enhanced by the double windows at 3 o’clock displaying the day of the week and the date. The rectangular indexes, at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, filled with sand colored Superluminova – as well as the wide spear shaped hour and minute hands – also contribute to readability. And the military, pilot look, is emphasized further by the triangular index at noon framed by its characteristic two dots.
Formidably efficient, like the new Manufakturzentrum!
Let us salute the transparency of IWC as they embrace the future. The factory in Schaffhausen proves that the manufacturing process of mechanical watchmaking can be modernized without losing the crucial human element that confers the emotional intensity every watch enthusiast loves. Last good news: with almost 250 people working on site for a full capacity of 400, there is still room to develop the brand.
(Photography by Pierre Vogel, Video by Léon Orlandi)