2018-09-24: Project 300 Update
Apologies for the delay getting this published. There were a lot of questions that we needed to answer before we could publish and then there were the normal trials of running this kind of business. (Picture running a marathon while spectators (our vendors) throw chairs in your path at random intervals.)
* Assembly testing: Basically what this means is we were installing parts on to test cases. We have done this kind of QC in the past by relying on measurements alone. However we have been unpleasantly surprised in the past by the un-measurable intangible aspects of an assembly and left scrambling to find a way to correct issues. This time around we did more hands on functional testing to see if we couldn’t get a better feel for how the parts will go together prior to going “all-in”.
- Bracelets: In addition to looking for aesthetic issues, we fitted the same bracelet onto 15 different cases to check for consistency and potential issues with the cases and/or bracelets. We then repeated this process with the same 15 cases with different bracelets from the production batch. Surprisingly it took the large part of an afternoon just to complete this process with one bracelet, allowing time to examine the fit each of each piece and side. Basically what we were looking for were systemic problems, the kind that affects the entire production batch. Fortunately what we found were random issues which we will control for during the QC/assembly process.
- Bezels: We installed bezels to check fit and identify assembly issues. At the same time we tested spring finishes. We were hoping that the extra finishing that we did for the Key West wouldn’t be necessary for the 300 and whether we could use the stock finish. Based on our testing it looks like we will be doing some additional finishing here but not as much as we had to do for the Key West. So our feedback to the factory after the Key West did help but didn’t get us quite as far as we were hoping.
- Bezel inlays: Performed randomized testing and inspection of the sapphire inlays. Besides looking for systemic issues this process helped us develop a QC process to catch the issues we need to control for.
* Test assemblies did not identify any major QC issues just process issues that we need to adjust for during assembly. Hopefully our testing was thorough enough that we don’t find any new issues as we begin assembly.
* Why we didn’t post more in July: Aside from the repetitive nature of the testing, the beginning of the QC process requires a lot of vigilance since this is the first time we have seen these parts in quantity. There have been too many times where we have been checking parts and had a “feeling” something was different or wasn’t right but couldn’t figure out what the issue was right away. Often times it’s nothing more than a “good to know” but every once in a while it’s a heart stopper and those are the times that instill in you a healthy paranoia. So for us at least it’s important to stay focused during the process before one gets to know the parts more intimately.
* Now returning to aesthetic QC:
- Continuing check case parts for damage or items that need to be returned the factory for re-work
- We will be QC’ing case backs, sapphire inlays and bracelets as well in preparation for the beginning of assembly/delivery.
- At this point the one part that will be the bottleneck for assembly will be the hands. At present we have enough hands for about 3/4 of all the orders, which includes all of the Plankowners and the majority of the Pre-order customers. So there will be plenty to keep us busy for the next few months. We will send the next batch of hands for luminizing in the next few weeks. We didn't send the hands out earlier because it wouldn’t have sped up the process and would have delayed other more pressing tasks. With any luck the next batch of hands’ scrap rate will be consistent with our experience and we will have enough parts for the remaining orders in the pipeline. (Explanation…Yeah we have heard the grumbling from a few people about how we should just get a better supplier or how incredulous they are that the hands would be this difficult to manufacture. All we know is that we have been continually chasing a perfect version of these hands since we started Mk II, which was over 15 years ago, and tried a long list of vendors to reach this supply chain. The hands for the 300 represent the best we have ever done and surprisingly with the lowest scrap rate as well. Our scrap rates for sword hands used to be 85-95% have dropped to about 55-65%. May be someone out there is using a vendor we haven’t tried yet or we are overdoing it. All we hope is that the effort makes a meaningful difference to everyone.)
- We are in the middle of QC’ing the case backs at present. Seven out of all of the Plankowners may experience delivery delays related case back defects. Enough of the remaining case backs have passed QC that this issue should not effect the 2nd stage pre-order customers. Options for the 7 Plankowners would include A) deliver with the lowest case back number currently available or B) delivery with a randomly assigned case back with the option to send the in watch in and swap out the case back at our expense if the repaired/replacement case back passes QC C) something else that I have yet to think of or A & B combined.
* Note to those pre-order customers that haven’t been through this process with us before…..
- The 300 is the last of the legacy projects that have become famous for their long gestations. In the future we will approach customer collaborations differently in order to reduce the time to delivery but for this project the process will resemble a shorter version of the Key West process. We will have to split bench time between the 300 and the remaining Key West watches that we have taken orders for (Running two Benchcrafted™ projects at the same time is one of the things we will avoid in the future.) Watches will be shipped as we finish them. At present we expect the delivery for all of the Plankowners and Pre-order customers will take about 5-6 months. We do all of our own QC, assembly and testing for the Benchcrafted™ line of watches and it’s basically just me so the pace will not match those of other micros shipping pre-orders for ready-to-wear watches.
- For those of you that have been through the process with us before we take this opportunity to thank you again for your support and patience. This has been a multi-year process of re-balancing our projects into something more sustainable and we are grateful for your confidence that we could get to this point. We’re looking forward to a 2019 where all of the difficult lessons we have learned over the last 5 years hopefully start to pay off and the changes we have implemented start to show.
* We are spending September stockpiling parts so that once we get shipping that we will hopefully be able to push to the end of the year before having to pause for more QC. If luck holds we will begin assembly and delivery in earnest in October 2018.
* We will begin the scheduling process soon. (I realize the holiday season will be with us soon. To be clear we won’t be able to accommodation shipping requests for holiday deadlines. We are just going to do our best to get everything done as expediently as possible.) Our current expectation is that we will ship in batches by configuration and do our best to make that fit the original deposit order as closely as possible. If you paid for your Project 300 in 3 installments you are a Plankowner, which will be delivered first. If you paid for your Project 300 in 2 installments you are a 2nd-stage Pre-order customer and your orders will be completed after the Plankowners. For those of you not in either group there are still plenty of Project 300s available. We tried to keep the pre-order as small as possible so that we could complete it in a timely fashion. General Ordering will open probably sometime in Q1 2019 after we have a clearer idea when all of the pre-orders can be completed.