Building a Watch Company: The Man in the Ceiling and Deals on DMG Machines

Building a Watch Company: The Man in the Ceiling and Deals on DMG Machines

We’ve finally gotten our building permit! 

It’s only been about a year, but good things come to those who wait. Right?

For those of you who haven’t kept up with the history of Vortic Watch Company and our move to the new facility on Jefferson Street, let’s do a quick recap.

We didn’t have a facility when we started creating the watches you know and love. In fact, we had a portion of R.T.’s basement that we had sectioned off to manufacture our watches. From there, we bounced around to a few different places and finally landed on Link Lane in Fort Collins.

Fast forward to today, and the Link Lane facility is bursting at the seams — that’s why we’ve acquired an extraordinary building on Jefferson Street in the heart of downtown Fort Collins.

vortic watches sign outside

Who knew an old building with a cool history would need so many permits to begin renovations?

We definitely thought we’d need permits to get started, but we sure didn’t think it would take this long.

Join us as we celebrate the ability to start renovations at our new location and talk about how we’re expanding our manufacturing process!

Firewalls: No, We’re Not Talking About Computers

Our current plan at the new facility is to get the manufacturing side up and running as soon as possible, which means the machining room needs some attention.

We thought that we’d need to add a more robust electrical system, build a closet for the air compressors, and make some minor adjustments here and there, but the fire department had different ideas when they saw our architectural drawings.

working on the computer in the vortic shop

“[The fire department asked], ‘What if the building’s on fire?’ And we were like, ‘I don’t know, what do you want us to do — build a wall down the center of the building?’” – R.T. Custer

That was, in fact, exactly what they wanted us to do.

“The logic behind it is sound. As far as the codes go, if you’re under 10,000 feet — which we are — you don’t [need a sprinkler system]. But if you’re not going to sprinkle, you need to split the building into 5,000-square-feet-or-less sections separated by a firewall.” – Tyler Wolfe

Other businesses were able to run out of the building in the past because they didn’t have any manufacturing happening here. However, we needed to comply with higher fire code standards because we were sectioning off parts of the building for factory use.

So, instead of moving forward with the initial set of plans that we had for the new facility, it was back to the drawing board. After a few months' delay coupled with some budget adjustments, we added plans to build a firewall between the manufacturing side of the building and our office space.

Speaking of Our New Manufacturing Area…

We bought two new (to us) DMG machines — one five-axis mill, and one swiss turning center — to help us grow our manufacturing capacity and make Vortic even better!

vortic watch machine at work

Since these are used machines, we’re entering new territory as far as shipping, acquisition, and setup are concerned. We’ve only purchased new machines from HAAS Automation in the past, which made setup a breeze. 

“If you’ve ever bought a HAAS machine, they’re pretty simple. … You order the machine, you schedule delivery, and setup is included. We’re familiar with these machines.” – Tyler Wolfe

It’s been a completely different experience with the new machines. We’ve had to orchestrate shipping and delivery, find somewhere to store them, and we’ll need someone to help with setup when the time comes. 

However, these machines will be a massive upgrade even though we won’t get the plug-and-play experience and warranty that comes with new machines.

“Once they’re set up and running, [the DMG Machines] are gonna be super cool. They’re already optioned out, and they’re proven machines. … We’re trying to enter a new tier of machining, tooling, and quality, so everything’s [different]. … This will be a fun year, setting up these two machines and finding out what they can do.” – Tyler Wolfe

In addition to leveling up our production with the DMG units, we’re also saving a ton of money by choosing to go pre-owned — hundreds of thousands of dollars, to be precise.

“We paid about $150,000 [a piece] for both machines. … [They’re more expensive] compared to our HAAS machines — the machines we have are between 50 and 100 thousand dollars. But the new versions of the DMG machines would be about $500,000.” – Tyler Wolfe

vortic watch machine making a part

For us, buying the new machines is a win-win. We’re winning by increasing our ability to make higher-quality watch parts than we already do, and we’re also keeping costs down because we found the units second-hand.

The Next Steps for Our American Machine Shop

As we’ve said, priority number one is the firewall. Firewalls make the fire department happy. And when the fire department is happy, everyone is happy.

However, that change in plans forced us to be creative in other areas. The firewall interferes with our original plans for bathroom placement, so that’s been a minor hurdle we’ve been leaping right now. And we’re also finding better ways to fit the HVAC for the shop and cleanroom on the roof.

“The architect looked at the roof, and he basically said, ‘No’ when he was trying to figure out if we could put all these HVAC systems on top instead of in the ceiling. … We’ve kind of got two sections of this building — the shop space is a corrugated steel structure, and the rest of it is more like an A-frame house.” – R.T. Custer

Our original plan required us to rip out a lot of the shingling and roofing material to put the HVAC on the “house side” of the building, but our general contractor found a creative way to change that plan. They went to a fabricator with a concept to mount the HVAC on the steel side of our new HQ and found a way to build a structure that attaches to the steel roof with provisions for HVAC mounting.

Speaking of heating and cooling, our new air compressor closet will also contribute to heating the machine shop in the winter and keeping it cool in the summer.

“We’re actually setting up something kind of neat with the compressors. We have two compressors, and they create a lot of heat. We are setting up [the compressor closet to] have a valve that turns exhaust either in or out of the building. So in the summer, we’ll put the heat outside to keep it cool in the shop, and in the winter, we’ll use the compressors to help heat the room.” – Tyler Wolfe

From how we store our air compressors to the new mounting system for our HVAC units, we’re finding clever ways to make it comfortable in the new facility on Jefferson. Some of those great ideas came from the waiting periods we’ve had.

Challenges Can Be Blessing in Disguise

We know that we’ll never recoup the money we would have made from being able to move right into our new shop. However, the waiting period made it possible to find creative new ways to make our new location even better. The most significant examples are the new HVAC mounting system and air compressor closet, but another good thing that’s come from the delays is lower supply costs.

dog in the vortic watch shop

“It’s almost a blessing in disguise that we had so many delays because I think the project has come a long way in terms of coming up with really creative ways to problem-solve. And theoretically, the cost of everything has gone down. Drywall three months ago was twice what it is today.” – R.T. Custer

Even though we haven’t moved right into the new location, we still have things up and running over on Link Lane. But we’ve even run into our fair share of hurdles to jump over there. Right now, our current challenge is overcoming supply chain shortages.

“We ordered everything like we normally do, but the crystal factory told us they’re shut down because of COVID. So all of a sudden we had to scramble for a bunch of ideas on how we were going to keep building watches.” – Tyler Wolfe

We managed to solve the problem by ordering different crystals, and we’re getting back on track when it comes to production. Although the temporary crystals aren’t identical to what we usually use, they give us opportunities to get creative with our design.

“Something that’s cool about making our own product is that we can change it if we have to. So the way we’re solving this problem is by getting some crystals that are different sizes and editing our case to [fit those crystals].” – Tyler Wolfe

Challenges always seem like a hindrance in the moment. They can cause delays and stress, but there’s also an upside that you don’t notice while you scale that mountain — obstacles allow you to grow and find innovative solutions to problems.

Head Over to YouTube for More Custer & Wolfe Today! 

We’ve tried to pack in as much information from, Building a Watch Company: The Man in the Ceiling + Deals on DMG Machines as possible, but you need to head over to our YouTube channel for the full experience.

And while you’re there, be sure to like this video and subscribe to our channel to get notifications about new episodes of Building a Watch Company!

We’re also proud to announce that the Railroad Edition watches are making a comeback soon. These watches utilize the movements from antique pocket watches built for railroad workers and feature a removable bezel that allows you to access a safety lever and set the time.

Thanks for stopping by and spending some time with us. 

If you’d like to learn more about the Vortic Watch Company and stay up-to-date with our available watches, be sure to sign up for our email list!

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