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Rolex completes its 21st century facility in Bienne

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October 2012

With the official inauguration, on 16 October 2012, of its new production building in Bienne dedicated to the movement, Rolex has completed the vertical integration process it began over 10 years ago. This gives the brand complete control over the manufacturing of the essential components of its watches, from the case to the movement, from the dial to the bracelet.

The completion of the major strategic construction project in Bienne rationalizes and brings together under one roof the entire production of the mechanical movement, the true heart of the watch. This ultra-modern site allows Rolex to pursue its objectives of excellence and innovation, thus setting a new standard in watch manufacturing.

The new Rolex facility in Bienne, Switzerland
The new Rolex facility in Bienne, Switzerland

The construction of the new building in Bienne is part of the bold, visionary and strategic decision taken by Rolex to proceed with the vertical integration of the entire production of its watches at four sites in Geneva and Bienne.

• Bienne: manufacture of the movement.

• Geneva, Acacias: Rolex world headquarters is home to management, research and development, design, communication activities, sales and after-sales service. It is also where the final assembly of the watches from components delivered by the other sites and final quality control take place.

• Geneva, Plan-les-Ouates: this site hosts the development and manufacture of the case and bracelet, the gold foundry and quality assurance for materials.

• Geneva, Chêne-Bourg: this site houses the development and manufacture of the dials, as well as jewellery and gem-setting activities.

Entire production of the movement in one complex
Until the inauguration of the new facility in 2012, the Manufacture des Montres Rolex S.A. occupied seven buildings in the Champs-de-Boujean area on the outskirts of Bienne, most of them separate from each other. The acquisition of land from the city of Bienne in 2006 opened up new prospects, allowing Rolex to start grouping its operations with the aim of optimizing and further developing its production strength.

Inside the new Rolex workshops in Bienne, Switzerland
Inside the new Rolex workshops in Bienne, Switzerland

This purchase made it possible to launch a project that would concentrate the entire production of the mechanical movement in a single complex, grouping two existing units with a volume of 170,000 m2 together with a new building of 230,000 m2. This created a production facility of 400,000 m2 in total, extending over a surface area of 92,000 m2 – the equivalent of more than 13 football fields. It brings together all the machining, stamping, thermal and surface treatments, maintenance and laboratory activities, as well as the assembly operations required to manufacture the movement. The new building, an innovative four-storey industrial structure with another three floors below ground, also houses an impressive, entirely automated stocking and retrieval system at the heart of the production facility. This ensures the delivery of components and finished products to the production workshops.

Automated stocking and retrieval, a production aid
The automated stocking and retrieval system in Bienne is one of the key features of the site. It allows rational organization of production of the movement, improves quality, accelerates the process of transporting the components and contributes to the working comfort of the employees. Rolex is a pioneer in the use of automated stocking systems of this magnitude on its different production sites.

The automated storage facility at the new Rolex facility in Bienne, Switzerland
The automated storage facility at the new Rolex facility in Bienne, Switzerland

Like each of the three Rolex sites in Geneva (Acacias, Chêne-Bourg and Plan-les-Ouates), Bienne has a fully automated infrastructure for stocking components and distributing them to the workshops. This sophisticated network saves precious time in the production flow of the movements. While optimizing stock management, since stocks are centralized in a single location, it also offers increased security and unparalleled protection from possible damage, particularly that due to dust and light. At a speed of three metres per second, the required trays of components are transported to the workplaces. As dedicated local storage is no longer required in the workshops, considerable space is saved, resulting in more ergonomic work areas. In addition, the system frees the production staff from logistical and transport activities, such as inventory management or receiving and dispatching.

46,000 storage compartments
The heart of the automated stocking system is a high-security vault, located on the underground floors of the new building. Consisting of 14 aisles of shelves, it has a total of more than 46,000 storage compartments. Each of these spaces is able to receive parts in various forms of packaging placed on transport trays. In total, the vault can store tens of millions of components. Each aisle is served by conveyor robots – 14 in all – which pick up from the shelves the required trays and automatically place them on the distribution conveyors which go to the various working areas. The delivery takes place via this vast horizontal conveyor network, including four vertical distribution towers similar to elevators. The system is so efficient that it takes barely a few minutes to deliver the tray to its destination. On each floor, near the distribution tower, a delivery station allows the users to pick up the trays they have ordered from stock and to send back those that are to be returned for storage. In total, 22 stations are set up, two of which are double: one at the receiving docks and the other dedicated to the checking and washing of components delivered by suppliers.

Entirely computerized
Computers control the automated stocking system and all the flows. A routing system coordinates some 60 programmable controllers, which manage the tray movements under way and guide the trays between the stock area and the workshops. The whole installation is continuously overseen, 24 hours a day, by an extremely high-performance software program.

Source: Rolex