Running a business is a complex process, and problems and setbacks are inevitable. Still, almost everything in life worth doing takes a great deal of work, including building a company from the ground up.
Here at Vortic Watches, we've faced numerous challenges over the years, and we know that we'll continue facing adversity, but running an American business and creating US-made products makes it all worth it.
Setbacks notwithstanding, running a business is also incredibly rewarding, and recently, we had a significant win in our company's growth. The state of Colorado is giving us a quarter of a million dollar grant so that we can create new advanced manufacturing jobs at our American machine shop.
In this episode of Custer & Wolfe, we, R.T. Custer & Tyler Wolfe, discuss the details of our grant as well as some company updates and challenges. Let's get into it!
Company Updates and Learning Experiences
We have a ton of news to share with you about Vortic’s growth and our migration to our new building!
Although we've made a lot of progress, we've also had some setbacks that delayed our move.
Originally, we intended to move at the end of May, but we encountered a bit of a logistical issue. We underestimated the amount of amperage we need for our machines, so we now need an additional electrical panel to power the HVAC:
"[I got] the amperage wrong on the DMG machines. … What I told the electricians [was that the] total between the two machines is about a hundred amps less than what they actually needed. And each of our panels is about 200 amps, … so that's … half of a panel right there. … It was our fault, but I believe this panel's [going to be] just for the HVAC because we've got … power to the DMG machines." - Tyler Wolfe
With this setback, we now plan on moving into our new building toward the end of June. It’s amazing how the smallest thing can bring progress to a halt.
"[Our] massive project here [was] delayed for a piece of aluminum that they call an electrical panel." - R.T. Custer
Although we're a little frustrated with this setback, we're excited about the move. We're also looking forward to utilizing our HVAC system and ensuring it can maintain a comfortable temperature within our building.
This may sound like a luxury, but an operation's HVAC is critical, especially when using complex machinery. Our machines produce a great deal of heat, so we need an exceptional HVAC setup. Additionally, our building is made from corrugated steel, meaning that it heats up quickly during Colorado's warmer months.
Fortunately, in addition to our setbacks, we have positive company updates. We now have our DMG machines energized, and we've also installed our DMU machine — DMU machines are milling machines that we use to construct our watch cases as well as watch parts.
Moving forward, we'll obtain CAM Machine Simulation software, ensuring that our five-axis DMU functions properly. Basically, the simulation software mimics the entirety of our machine to take the guesswork out of it. We recreated a 3D model of our specific DMU machine and will insert it into the simulation software.
The reason why this software is necessary is that a lot can go wrong with a five-axis machine. The machine can misread code when performing a task, leading to costly mistakes. Even a seemingly minor error while the machine turns and rotates can cause the device to unwind at incorrect times and damage itself.
Another step we need to take to get our machines up and running is to obtain a new spindle probe for our DMU machine, which acts like the machine's brakes. Our five-axis unit can't run properly without the spindle probe, so we need to hit pause until it shows up.
This may sound like a setback, but we did anticipate having potential issues with the machines we purchased recently because we acquired the DMG machines secondhand.
If you had the chance to read our previous updates or watch our YouTube series, you might know we invested in used machines. Although these small adjustments mean we'll likely have to spend a few extra thousand dollars getting the machines functional, we saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by buying the machines used.
Our Colorado Manufacturing Grant
If you read or watched our last episode, you may recall that R.T. had recently pitched Vortic Watches to the state of Colorado in order to secure a $250,000 advanced manufacturing grant.
We are so proud to announce that we will receive the grant!
The main purpose of this grant is to create Colorado jobs, and we're incredibly excited to create new advanced manufacturing jobs for Coloradoans, especially because these types of jobs are relatively rare in our state:
"The feedback I [received] was [that] we're creating jobs in Colorado that … there aren't many of. There's not as many high tech machining jobs in this state as the state government wants, so we're gonna hopefully deliver a handful more jobs in that high tech world." - R.T. Custer
We're especially thrilled to receive this grant because it represents everything we care about at Vortic Watches — creating American jobs and 100% American-made products.
"The purpose of the grant is to create Colorado jobs, and … that's the definition of Vortic Watch Company. … We stand for American jobs, making parts here [in our facility], and making cool stuff. … [Our] watches … are the end result." - R.T. Custer
With this grant money, we're allowed to purchase new machines and hire people who work in advanced technologies, such as machinists.
Fortunately, when it comes to finding machinists, we don't need to find workers who have experience with manufacturing watch parts specifically:
"Whether you're making medical equipment, circuitry, [or] some of those [other] more complicated things, … [they're] all very similar skills. We're gonna be creating jobs [and] investing in really fancy equipment." - Tyler Wolfe
We are so thrilled to have the opportunity to create new advanced manufacturing jobs in Colorado, and we're excited to see how our company grows in the next few years with our new equipment and machinists.
Currently, we are looking for a new CNC machinist, so if you're aware of anyone with machining experience who you think would be a good fit to run our machine shop, please direct them to our careers page.
We will not be training our machinists, so they need to have experience in running machines already. Additionally, we're looking for full-time watchmakers, so if you know any qualified watchmakers, please forward our careers page to them.
Problem-Solving is an Essential Skill for Running a Business
Enough about the good news — let's move on to more challenges we've tackled recently. When running a business, you'll inevitably have problems crop up, and you'll likely never reach a point where you have all of the answers to your problems.
We’ve been in business for almost a decade, and within that time, we've had to learn new things and take on new challenges practically every day, and we know that as entrepreneurs, those challenges will never stop.
Recently, Tyler faced several seemingly small issues in production that set us back. Our watch restoration and production processes involve complex machines and intricate procedures, meaning even a small problem can create major time-consuming issues.
For example, we lost nearly a week of production due to an issue with a tool holder:
"We [recently] had a tool holder [that] had run out, so that means it was wiggling instead of just spinning perfectly concentric with the spindle. What that does [is] it cuts deeper into your part. And we have really complicated probing routines that hold our tolerances really tightly on our watch cases. And that little bit of run out [was] about 0.015 millimeters." - Tyler Wolfe
Picture that for a moment: there are approximately 25.4 millimeters in an inch, and our tool holder was off by .015 millimeters. That minimal amount stalled our production and set us back a week!
"As the probe went to measure that cut, it said it's oversized every time. And when we're oversized, the program knows to just error out [and not work]. So, that kind of shut us down for a week until we actually discovered what was the cause. We were trying different things with the probe. We thought maybe the probe was damaged or not working correctly. And [that] just goes to show some of these little things — once you get [into] really complicated [processes] — can hurt." - Tyler Wolfe
This is one of the nearly countless issues that we've faced over the years, and it demonstrates the intricacies that go into machining:
"That's what I love about machining and what I hate about it. Because there's so many different ways to do things, and when it works well, it's so cool and can work so well, but you need to get everything perfect. You can't miss any small things." - Tyler Wolfe
What's funny about problem-solving is that you often have to re-learn some of the same solutions you previously discovered.
It's been a long time since we initially started Vortic Watches, and we've noticed that there have been moments where we solved a solution to a problem, but we have to learn so many new things that we forget old solutions that haven't been relevant to our work in a long time.
For example, if you learn machine simulation software when first opening a machine shop, you might not retain that information long-term if you end up delegating the simulation workflow to someone else.
With our experience in entrepreneurship, we've had to wear many different hats and fulfill many roles, which sometimes means having to re-learn the solutions to complex problems. Currently, that means understanding how the software translates to physical machining processes with our new equipment.
Watch Custer & Wolfe Episode Nine to Learn More About Running an All-American Machine Shop
It's incredible how we've had such fantastic progress coupled with some significant setbacks recently, but that's the nature of running a business — you win some, and you lose some. It's critical to remember that you'll always face problems when growing your brand and business, and you just have to address issues as they crop and continue striving forward with your company.
If you'd like to stay up-to-date with more company updates and everything else regarding Vortic Watches, watch Episode #9 of Custer & Wolfe and subscribe to our Custer & Wolfe YouTube channel. You'll learn even more about what it takes to grow an American business.Also, check out some of our antique wrist watches, including our American Artisan Series, Military Edition watches, and Railroad Edition watches. Additionally, we offer pocket watch repurposing services, so if you have an old pocket watch you'd like to convert into a wristwatch, check out our custom-convert watch page.