Field Ops — RECON, Day 2 of 4: Meet Your Makers. Ballistic Nylon, Leather Strap, TiGr5

| Estimated read time: 4 minutes
Titanium grade 5 case prototypes

COURGcrew —

TL;DR

  • Ballistic nylon straps in full swing
  • New leather mil-strap maker after safety issues and general shady-ness, pushed production back 4 weeks.
  • TiGr5 prototyping

Ever wonder what enough material for thousands of ballistic nylon mil-straps looks like? Now you know. On the left, the huge tower of ballistic is ours and will strap the COURG to our wrists:

Raw Ballistic Nylon

The strap makers run the ballistic nylon through this laser machine that slices the clean ends and burns the tongue holes for each piece. Every single one of our straps will emerge from this machine.
Laser Slice Robot

Next, the straps are hand sewn using a guide to protect the hardware and speed the stitches. This guide is for the buckle shoulderless spring bar and the hardware keeper on the under wrap.

Buckle Sewing

This guide is for the double hardware beneath the buckle.

Stitch Guide

I couldn’t believe how careful our workers are. Workers apply protective films by hand to each hardware loop and buckle to PROTECT the TITANIUM from scratches from the guides and sewing machines in the stitch process! In this factory I saw many “big” brands on the line.

Ballistic Nylon Pattern

New Leather Mil-Strap Maker

Safety First & Shady Avoidance

We’ve had to execute an evasive maneuver on the leather mil-straps. As part of our due diligence process, our ground crew requested documentation from each of our manufacturers to certify human safety standards.  There’s all kinds of safety issues that we need to be vigilant about. From the supremely caustic solution that etched our bezels, to wood box fumigation, to the dyes used in leather.

Some dyes used to color leather are quite toxic. And that’s not something we were willing to negotiate or budge on. The original manufacturer of the leather mil-strap at first refused to supply the proper certificates. Eventually, they relented when we threatened to find a new source. They told us the certification would be supplied with the first production wave. Fine.

An added complication is that they were located too far from all the rest of our manufacturers and it became clear once I was on the ground there was no way I’d have time in 4 days to visit them in person. So, we requested they have the final production prototypes with our new hardware shipped to our location.

When I arrived, the items they sent to us clearly had been harvested from previously sewn straps. They had simply cut the stitches out to remove hardware from existing inventory. When we demanded an explanation, they said that they were not able to source new leather as we spec’d. I couldn’t believe it.

I conferred with our field agents and they told me we could meet with a top strap maker with over 30 years of reputable work to see whether they could help divert our plans. After reviewing some leather samples and touring the operation, I felt confident they could deliver.

Evasive Maneuver

However, since we had to start from scratch with them, they estimated 4 weeks for production. That puts a damper on our plans to ship everything by early December, but they’ve promised to deliver in waves as straps roll off the line, so I’m hoping for earlier.

Orders that don’t include leather straps will still ship in early December.

Operational Intel

Obviously, I wanted to be able to visit every manufacturer while our goods were on their production line, but as you can imagine, that wasn’t always possible. This is a die that slices the leather shape. In the center of the die is a dense foam that protects the face of the leather from the pressure of the chop.

Leather Die

The blade of the die is quite sharp.

Leather Die

I was surprised (sort of) to see the different processes for making various types of straps. Our straps are straight forward compared to some “luxury” brand straps that often use a really thin piece of leather padded with a type of spongy material, which is sandwiched between another thin slice of leather. There’s a lot of glue and shaping involved. How do I know this? I saw them made and stamped with brands you’d recognize right away.

Most of the leather straps come out of the this machine. Not ours — because our mil-strap is very long, it requires a special machine.

Small cutter

Meet the mother of all leather cutting machines. While this manufacturer had rooms full of the smaller machines above, they only had one of these. This thing could cut really long slices of leather. When it comes to cutting leather for straps, it’s critical that equal pressure is applied across the entire cutting surface. That’s why there’s such large face plate. The worker who runs this behemoth has worked with leather for 25 years.

Leather Chopper

Titanium Grade 5 Manufacturer Sneak Peek

This is a 3-axis CNC machine in the process of carving out a prototype. I had some corrections that needed to be made. Specifically, they needed to adjust the spacing of the crown guards. Do you see that blue and orange nozzle to the right of the work area? Did I mention that these CNC machines all spray copious amounts of an oil solution to keep the drill bit from overheating. The stuff splatters everywhere.

3-axis CNC Machine

Here are some titanium grade 5 cases. Each of these had defects. One of the stem holes was off-center. Another had a lug over-machined, another had a defect in the strap allowance curve. When I asked if this was typical, there were lots of grunts and groans. TiGr5. Our field agents reminded me time and again that dozens of manufacturers refused to work with TiGr5.

Three brave manufacturers said they would try. One outright refused after he broke a CNC machine. Another quoted an astronomical price. And then there was one — ours. And yes, in the background is our strap hardware awaiting sandblast. Those actually were made in another factory that I did not have enough time to visit.

More on TiGr5 manufacturing adventures in our next episodes. Can’t wait to show you what’s next, it was pretty much a highlight of my trip.

Titanium grade 5 case prototypes

Tackle your missions this week, and Godspeed. elbert, over and out.

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  • ManiacFive

    Wow, you hear about shady practices when it’s a big big firm, but you’ve gotta wonder just how widespread it is for every firm large or small. Glad to see you’ve got good ethics and well as a keen eye for QC.

    I take it this isn’t effecting the W&W strap? That’s certainly not something I’d associate with them.

    • The W&W x RDX straps are well underway. I have not had any contact with that manufacturer because I think W&W is afraid we might try to work directly with them. I understand their protective stance, but it hampers any kind of due diligence and inside production details I could share with you all. This makes me a little unhappy, but I respect their decision and trust that they’ve done the proper due diligence.

  • John Crumrine

    Very good work on the strap detour and the follow up on the grade 5. Everything seems to be coming together steadily. I think it’s incredible that you’ve been able to make so many great contacts in the industry during this journey. I’m sure this project owes any success to your diligence and extra efforts. Thank you, Captain.

    -John Crumrine

    • Thanks for kind words, John! You speak directly to a topic I’m going to address in an upcoming update. Namely, friendship. I appreciate your encouragement — the road is not easy, but it’s a valuable journey we’re on together!

  • Janek Gonzalez

    On Backerkit, it says my reward has been shipped. Can I get a tracking umber for this, or any status update as to when I should expect the watch? I upgraded to Ti gr.5, so how can my reward be sent?

    • Hi Janek, we haven’t shipped yet, what we’ve done is locked down shipping addresses in preparation for shipping. TiGr5 is on schedule for full production a a few weeks after their grade compatriots.

  • Andy

    My wife ordered a leather strap with her COURG. However, I DO NOT want my entire order delayed just because of the leather strap. Both her watch, and mine will come with a nylon strap as standard. I our watches shipped as soon as they arrive. My wife can then wait a few weeks for her fancy leather strap.

    • Hi Andy, totally understand that feeling. Let’s hang tight and see how production moves along with our new leather strap manufacturer. Which grade did you guys order?

      • Andy

        @pilot

        We ordered Ti2. We had no real desire/need to have the Ti5, and we didn’t want to delay our delivery any.

        • Hi Andy, the Ti2 shipment is not related to Ti5.

          • Andy

            I understand that. I was only emphasizing the fact that I did not want a delay in my order. If shipping cost is a concern, I will gladly pay the additional shipping for the leather Mil-strap when it is finished.

  • Ron W

    Thanks for the great update, and showing us how things are made (I love seeing this stuff). When you say that the Ti 2 watches will ship in early December, how early in December can you estimate? Just curious.

    Ron

    • Thanks, Ron! It’s fascinating to learn and share with you all! We’re waiting for the Mission Log/Owner’s Manual and then we’ll be good to go for the first wave planned in a couple weeks.

  • Blair

    Thanks for the update Pilot!

    I was just about to leave a message and ask if there was an update coming soon however saw the new update as I was signing on to ask.

    I guess after the promise of small daily updates which I imagine a fairly large number of us would have signed up for, waiting between large updates seems like an eternity, but they are the highlight of the day when they arrive!

    Thanks for the info and all the photo’s. It’s funny how similar all the processes are to those which I have used as an industrial designer/product engineer working for a large healthcare company in New Zealand, we used almost identical laser cutting equipment for making ‘Sleep apnoea mask’ headgear, along with knife dies and sewing jigs although we were making 10’s to 100’s of samples for product development/testing, not 1000’s, our large scale manufacture was also offshore.

    As a backer of the TiGr5 I must say the picture of the handful of defects, the comments about defects being common and the complaints about working with TiGr5 are not overly confidence inspiring, although thank you for being transparent about the difficulties.

    By signing up for the TiGr5, are we sacrificing the quality of the finished product for a more durable material? Or can we be assured that our watches will be just as well machined and finished as the softer TiGr2 examples? (asking on behalf of all TiGr5 backers)

    Judging by the types of defects, am I right in assuming that these are more to do with inaccurate setup of the parts in the milling machines? Rather than directly related to the hardness/machinability of the material?
    Misaligned holes, over-machined lugs would certainly point to this type of issue. If this is the case (no pun intended) has there been any thought/time spent on designing specific setting jigs to hold the parts in the machines in a more repeatable fashion to increase productivity and decrease the reject rate? I’m sure the guys that you are working with are very knowledgeable about what they are doing, however from personal experience with CNC post-machining complex parts, I know just how much time and headaches having well designed jigs can save. (for example the jig shown in the milling machine shot appears to be a very generic jig with lots of adjustability that could possibly lead to accidental miss-alignment)

    If you would like to discuss this further, feel free to contact me directly I believe my email address will be attached with this post, I may be able to offer some help with Jig design that may be very time/cost saving in the future, especially if you plan to sell these after the initial orders have been fulfilled. (if it is in fact set up issues causing the problems)

    If you could answer the question about the final quality of the TiGr5 products here in the comments section that would be great,  I’m sure other backers would like to know the answer too.

    Thanks for the great updates and sorry for such a long post
    Blair

    • Blair! Thanks for your thoughtful response. I’m excited to hear you have so much experience in milling and CNC. My dream is to setup a smaller scale workshop one day and I know who I’ll be coming to first! I don’t have the expertise to understand how to advise on setting up jigs and such. I really appreciate that you understand that when I discuss the manufacturing process and challenges that it isn’t meant to say that the grade 5 will somehow be an inferior watch. I share the details just as the manufacturers relay it, and from the prototypes I’ve seen, the TiGr5 manufacturer has everything very much under control. In fact, they’ve gone as far as guaranteeing me tolerances within .05 mm — much tighter than other “big brands” have. Not only that, TiGr5 prototypes have pressure tested enough to push 25ATM, but we’re going to stick with the 20ATM certification. One difference is that the bezel on the TiGr5 will have 90 stops vs. 120 on the TiGr2. As you can imagine, this has direct relation to the hardness of the titanium and that’s as far as they can push the CNC to cut at this point. However, I definitely would not say that qualifies as a “quality” issue. Another thing to keep in mind is that the handful of defects were from early stages so that are likely from setting up machines and early runs, which are part of getting up to speed.

      • Blair

        Thanks Pilot,

        Although we don’t know each other, do seriously get in touch if you think I may be able help in any way. I’m passionate about good design and efficient manufacture (and watches obviously!).

        I hope it goes some way as a compliment that although I have been browsing Kickstarter for years, your project is the first that I have gotten behind and committed my money to. I am involved in a current Kickstarter Campaign and am definitely taking inspiration from your methods and trying to get others in the team to adopt some of the strategies that you have used. The use of backer interaction to help shape the finer details of the product is awesome, and more projects should take advantage of sheer number of people that can contribute to the design.

        It’s great to get an inside look into the methods of manufacture used in watchmaking. In the latest update, its quite amazing to see how well formed and defined the parts come out of the forging process.

        Great to hear that the manufacture for the TiGr5 is coming along well. I’m really looking forward to getting the watch, keep up the good work.

        Cheers
        Blair

      • Jason

        Pilot, Do you mean 60 stops vs 120? 90 would be awkward and wouldn’t line up properly with the minutes…

      • Todd K

        Perhaps a stupid question, but isn’t a 90-click bezel a terrible idea? Assuming it starts at 12:00:00, one click would put you at 12:00:45, two clicks at 12:01:30, three clicks at 12:02:15, and four clicks at 12:03:00. Shouldn’t the bezel be either 60 or 120? Or am I missing something?

        • Not stupid at all. First, it’s a unidirectional bezel, so it only turns counterclockwise. But otherwise, your logic is sound. I was skeptical at first as well, but in practice, I’ve found that I appreciated the additional stops and have found that the marker still lines-up just fine.

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