Edge of To­mor­row

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Renowned for its pre­ci­sion time­pieces, Omega now has a stun­ning new Swiss man­u­fac­ture that’s a marvel of high-tech ef­fi­ciency and sus­tain­abil­ity. Chris­tian Barker high­lights six of its out­stand­ing fea­tures

Lead­ing watch­maker Omega re­cently com­pleted con­struc­tion of its high-tech fac­tory in the Swiss town of Bi­enne, a de­vel­op­ment more than a decade in the mak­ing. The five-storey, 15,000sqm build­ing on a site Omega has oc­cu­pied since 1882 was de­signed by Pritzker Prize-win­ning Ja­panese ar­chi­tect Shigeru Ban, who is renowned for his eco­log­i­cally fo­cused, East meets West ap­proach. Speak­ing at the of­fi­cial open­ing of the build­ing late last year, Ni­cholas Hayek, the CEO of Omega’s par­ent com­pany, the Swatch Group, said the new struc­ture re­flected the com­pany’s po­si­tion as “a pi­o­neer of in­no­va­tion and ex­cel­lence in the Swiss watch in­dus­try and world­wide. The strong tra­di­tion of in­vest­ing in new tech­nolo­gies, new meth­ods of pro­duc­tion, but also in its own em­ploy­ees can again be seen through the achieve­ment of this splen­did new Omega fac­tory”. Not only at the cut­ting edge in terms of its cen­tralised watch as­sem­bly, test­ing, train­ing and qual­ity-con­trol fa­cil­i­ties (which has re­sulted in greatly stream­lined pro­duc­tion ef­fi­ciency), the re­mark­able new build­ing is also highly en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly and boasts a host of at­tributes de­signed to make for a safer, cleaner, more pleas­ant work­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for em­ploy­ees. In the words of Omega CEO Ray­nald Aeschli­mann, it’s a “truly in­no­va­tive workspace”. Here are a few of the man­u­fac­ture’s most im­pres­sive and in­ter­est­ing fea­tures.

DE­SIGN

Ban is fa­mous for us­ing biodegrad­able ma­te­ri­als in his work—no­tably pa­per— and has won plau­dits for cre­at­ing re­cy­cled card­board tubu­lar shel­ters as tem­po­rary hous­ing for dis­as­ter vic­tims. The Omega fac­tory is struc­tured around a wooden frame built of Swiss spruce with a con­crete mould, this for­mat be­ing a sig­na­ture of Ban. The ar­chi­tect’s most fa­mous build­ings in­clude the Aspen Art Mu­seum in the US, the Card­board Cathe­dral in New Zealand and the Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou-metz in France. Ban also de­signed the Swatch Group’s Ni­co­las G Hayek Cen­tre

in the Ginza district of Tokyo, and a new head­quar­ters in Bi­enne for Swatch.

SUS­TAIN­ABIL­ITY

In ad­di­tion to hav­ing been con­structed mainly of con­crete and sus­tain­able, lo­cal Swiss spruce, the build­ing fea­tures an en­ergy-ef­fi­cient in­door cli­mate con­trol sys­tem with sun-ac­ti­vated ex­ter­nal shad­ing on win­dows; low-en­ergy, long-life LED light­ing with sen­sors that turn lights off when not in use; roof-mounted so­lar pan­els; and a geo­ther­mal sys­tem us­ing wa­ter from wells on site to power heat­ing, cool­ing, ven­ti­la­tion and light­ing.

WELL-BE­ING

Watch­mak­ing has, in the past, been a lit­er­ally crip­pling task, with ar­ti­sans of­ten hunched un­com­fort­ably all day squint­ing at mi­nus­cule com­po­nents, caus­ing a host of chi­ro­prac­tic prob­lems. To help keep its watch­mak­ers in op­ti­mum phys­i­cal shape at the new fac­tory, Omega pro­vides em­ploy­ees with state-ofthe-art er­gonomic workspaces fea­tur­ing ad­justable-height work benches and seat­ing that can be tai­lored to the in­di­vid­ual. A high-tech, ul­tra-fine air fil­tra­tion sys­tem not only en­sures watches are free of dust and other con­tam­i­nants, but also re­moves air­borne viruses. The thou­sands of vis­i­tors who tour Omega’s fa­cil­i­ties each year are her­met­i­cally sep­a­rated from the work­ers in an­other move to re­duce ex­po­sure to out­side im­pu­ri­ties and to avoid dis­trac­tions to em­ploy­ees con­cen­trat­ing on pre­ci­sion tasks. Ban’s airy de­sign, mean­while, max­imises nat­u­ral light and views of the out­doors, help­ing lessen the claus­tro­pho­bia of Switzer­land’s for­mi­da­ble win­ters. All this adds up to hap­pier, health­ier, more pro­duc­tive work­ers—and in­creased out­put for the com­pany.

EF­FI­CIENCY

Pre­vi­ously, Omega’s var­i­ous watch­mak­ing func­tions were split across dif­fer­ent fa­cil­i­ties, but the open­ing of the new fac­tory has en­abled al­most all op­er­a­tions to be car­ried out in one place. This de­creases the time, en­ergy and re­sources con­sumed in trans­port­ing com­po­nents from one lo­ca­tion to an­other (with as­so­ci­ated sus­tain­abil­ity and ef­fi­ciency ben­e­fits), and al­lows the com­pany to bet­ter track and con­trol the stages of pro­duc­tion. Af­ter Omega’s sib­ling com­pa­nies (such as watch move­ment gi­ant ETA) man­u­fac­ture in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents and move­ments, the tasks of watch as­sem­bly, fit­ting of bracelets, pack­ag­ing and ship­ping are all now per­formed un­der the same roof. The fifth floor of the build­ing re­mains empty in an­tic­i­pa­tion of in­creased de­mand, en­abling pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity to be ramped up when needed in the fu­ture.

CER­TI­FI­CA­TION

The METAS (Swiss Fed­eral In­sti­tute of Metrol­ogy) cer­ti­fi­ca­tion car­ried by Omega’s Co-ax­ial Mas­ter Chronome­ter re­quires a watch to be sub­jected to eight sep­a­rate ex­am­i­na­tions check­ing its func­tion­al­ity and ac­cu­racy. The 10-day process in­cludes ex­po­sure to a pow­er­ful mag­netic force of 15,000 gauss and other sim­i­larly ex­treme tests that far ex­ceed the pa­ram­e­ters of the Con­trôle Of­fi­ciel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, strict as it is. To com­ply with the stan­dards of METAS, Omega is re­quired to de­vote an in­de­pen­dent of­fice in the new fac­tory to the Swiss gov­ern­ment, which over­sees the im­par­tial­ity, con­sis­tency and pre­ci­sion of the test­ing.

HIGH TECH

Among the most im­pres­sive sights at the new Omega fac­tory is the cen­tral stock. Fif­teen me­tres long, 28m high and 10m wide, the cen­tral stock is a vast, fu­tur­is­tic store­house that looks like some­thing out of a sci-fi film. Its thou­sands of shelves con­tain more than 30,000 grey boxes hold­ing watch move­ments, hands, di­als, straps, buck­les, cases, crowns and other com­po­nents. When a worker or­ders a part us­ing a tablet on their desk, a robot re­trieves the item and de­liv­ers it to the ap­pro­pri­ate lo­ca­tion in less than 120sec. In or­der to pro­tect the valu­able com­po­nents from fire and ox­i­di­s­a­tion, the oxy­gen lev­els in the cen­tral stock are kept as low as at the top of 3,000m Mont Gelé in the Alps, a level that would cause all but the most sea­soned moun­taineer to ex­pe­ri­ence al­ti­tude sick­ness— hence the stock’s ro­botic op­er­a­tion. The new Omega fac­tory is breath­tak­ing through­out, but step­ping in­side the cen­tral stock would lit­er­ally take your breath away.

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