Category Archives: Featured

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Buildability

By Lloyd Graff

I love to watch the Shark Tank reruns on CNBC. The stories of committed entrepreneurs putting it all on the line in orchestrated mini-dramas in front of the “Sharks” is really quite absorbing.

But the one thing I never see on the program is the entrepreneurial manufacturer looking for the backing to buy a Haas Mini Mill or Okuma lathe to start his business. In our machinery business we virtually never see a young man or woman buying a used machine to make fittings for Parker Hannifin or John Deere.

I asked Bryan Harvey of Thompson Auctioneers if he sees many young entrepreneurs buying their first machines at his sales and he said it is “extremely rare” except perhaps for the folks in Bangkok or Bangalore, India, who follow their sales assiduously on BidSpotter.

Is the fledgling entrepreneur in manufacturing now an artifact in America? Maybe not.

I called Matt Hertel who started Pocket NC, a $4,000 5-axis CNC mill builder in Bozeman, Montana, and he gave me a different picture.

Pocket NC

Matt and his wife, Michelle, started production on the machine in 2015 after moving back to Bozeman from Seattle. They raised their startup money not on Shark Tank, but through the novel Kickstarter approach online. They had already built several prototypes of the mill, and Michelle had blogged extensively about the market and buildability of a $4,000 5-axis mill to prepare a community for the ultimate Kickstarter campaign.

The Hertel’s had tried conventional money raising forays, doing a dog and pony show on video for the private equity titan Blackstone Group. He was told that it was probably the worst received pitch of the year.

But Kickstarter loved them. They raised $350,000, which was to be paid off in product produced. Each $4,000 contributor to Kickstarter was repaid with a 5-axis mill.

Matt Hertel told me that the most successful Kickstarter event of all time may have been for potato salad. An entrepreneur with a $10 minimum contribution raised $70,000, which he paid off in a giant potato salad bash.

In its first three years in business Pocket NC has been quite successful and has sold little mills to a wide assortment of bigger companies and tiny startups. One just went to Europe to a guy who is making a bicycle washing machine.

I posed my question about an apparent dearth of machining startups to Matt, and his feeling was that I was looking in all the wrong places.

Matt believes the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, even in the Millennial world, but you need a community, whether it be online via Kickstarter or in coffee shops or incubators in Bozeman. Matt says that in his Montana home there is a community of folks eager to help anybody with an idea and the guts and skill to try to bring it to fruition. You cannot create a milieu like that artificially with government funding and Big Brother hovering. A grant from Google or IBM to jumpstart an incubator in Chicago or Cleveland unfortunately will not work. The community needs to grow organically like it has in Bozeman. Could it happen in Detroit or Cincinnati? Maybe, but I do not see it happening yet. But with precision manufacturing as strong as it is today we may begin to see it. As the Baby Boomers hang it up and old businesses dissolve, there will be opportunities for startups where we have not seen any for the last decade.

If potato salad can do it …

Question: Is it a good time to start a business in the United States?

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Cycle Time

By Lloyd Graff

The stats from the PMPA (Precision Machined Parts Association) for August confirmed what I’ve been feeling for the past year. Business is really strong for machined parts manufacturers.

It goes pretty much across the board. Automotive, aerospace, medical, even oil and gas and appliance are doing nicely. So is my machinery business that sells to the folks in this section of the manufacturing arena.

This presents a new challenge for me. For almost the last 15 years I have been pushing uphill with only a few respites mixed in. The business trend has been mostly negative for American metalworking companies. The migration of work to China has been a devastating trend. Low-cost Chinese manufacturers have pulled in the generic work and gained competitive advantage with big American firms which are building most of their product in China.

China has not been the only killer for my business. Demographic trends have hurt. The workforce has aged and manufacturers have been unable to replenish a skilled group of baby boomers who are retiring or dying off. For some, the path of least resistance has been to sell or liquidate their businesses. Others have transitioned to CNC Swiss, CNC lathes and CNC mills, leaving long run work to the Chinese. My long successful family business of selling multi-spindle cam operated machines, refurbished to add value, suffered. Market forces killed me. It got bad enough that I even began to think of quitting the game.

In 2015 and 2016, Graff-Pinkert was forced to make the changes that led to a dramatic shift in business. We trimmed people and got more efficient. Noah and Rex Magagnotti, my longtime associate, started traveling more – a lot more – all over the world. We looked for more opportunities in brokering the sale of entire machining companies and buying CNC multi-spindles. We also made new alliances with European dealers.

Then there was the election of Donald Trump in 2016. I’m not a big Trump fan, but almost immediately after the election our machinery business changed for the better. Though Trump has done nothing radical to help business, the signals of shifts in EPA policy and a more aggressive trade stance toward China and Mexico seem to have changed the mood in our customer base. Auto and aerospace had been doing well going into 2017 and have continued to prosper, though the firearms business has faltered because people now don’t have to fear Obama or Clinton abolishing the Second Amendment.

This preamble brings me to my current happy problem. I am so used to doing business in a period of pain and strain that I am at a loss to figure out how to play things in a period of prosperity. Should it be full speed ahead to take advantage of the upswing in business or consolidate, pay off debt, cash in, and count the chips because bad times will come again.

This is not idle speculation on my part. The strength of business is pushing me to expand my workforce, when for many years I have been reducing it.

Should I gamble on buying more inventory or turn inventory (machinery and accessories) into cash when prices are firm? Should I sell off the crap, take losses for tax reasons, or hold on to sell it for higher future value?

At 72 years old should I grow the business or hunker down for the next crisis that hits?

My Uncle Aaron Pinkert used to say to me that his father told him “the dollar is round. Sometimes you are up, sometimes down, but it is always moving along.” I have often remembered that saying, especially when things have been bad. Sometimes it is harder to accept when business is good. Are we still rolling up?

Question: Is the current economic upturn in manufacturing here for a while or a mirage?

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What Happened Today?

By Lloyd Graff

My day inches by. I was busy but a little scatterbrained. I know I had a dozen conversations, but by the end of the day it’s hard to remember who they were with. It is a dot on the calendar of life. Did I waste it?

I feel a certain degree of desperation about frittering a day away. I am very aware of the finiteness of my being, but I have found a way to experience my day in a generally positive way. Write about it.

I have a chunky black sketch book with creamy blank smooth pages. My pen is my luxury, a “Sakura Pigma Sensei” felt tip that I buy by the dozen at Walmart, but a Sharpie works too. I write fast and fat, chronicling my day.

I don’t write just about my work day. I record recollections of conversations, interesting stuff I’ve heard or read, emotions, feelings of gratitude or disgust. The scattered ups and downs of a day.

I find that I cannot do this writing late at night because I am too exhausted, but at 4:00 or 5:00 P.M. writing about my day revives me. I almost always discover something really good that happened that I had long since forgotten during the hurly burly of trying to run a business.

Try it. You will be happier for the effort. I bet you didn’t waste your day.

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My brother-in-law Maury Minerbi, a wonderful guy, died last week after a heroic two-year battle with cancer. We can learn things from terrible events if we listen. My sister, Susan, Maury’s wife, told me how much she valued my frequent calls, wanting information about her husband.

The phone calls were really hard to make for me because I feared the worst and didn’t want to hear it. Most of the calls were made because my wife, Risa, picked up the phone and I listened in. But at least we connected, which was what Sue absolutely yearned for. It was not as hard for her to talk as it was for me to make the call. But I learned that you have to call, even when you rationalize to yourself that the other person probably doesn’t want to talk to you. Give them the opportunity to hang up.

Sue, thank you for teaching me to always summon the courage to call, even if I have no idea what to say.

Question: What is the most interesting thing you learned yesterday or today?

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Old Favorites

By Lloyd Graff

Lloyd and Noah Graff are traveling for a family funeral today, so we’ve scoured the archives for some favorite pieces to re-visit.

The Illusion of Security
May 2011 Volume 07 Issue 04

What is your “net worth?”

I remember my father used to calculate his net worth often and would meticulously record the amount his assets exceeded his liabilities on sheets of paper he kept in an accordion file in his desk at home.

When I worked with my Dad we would periodically discuss his net worth. He talked about it with reverence, sometimes in hushed tones, like the figures were inscribed on sacred parchment. And they truly were to him.

Those numbers he wrote down yearly were his personal score card of success, his record of succeeding or failing. They were figures that meant “security” for him. He told me that a rising net worth made him feel more secure, which was a feeling he sought more desperately than any other in his life. But the irony that I came to understand more clearly as we both matured was that he never felt “secure.” No matter how much money he had in the bank or in stocks it wasn’t enough for him to feel “secure.”

Read more here.

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What We Do

August 2010 Volume 06 Issue 06

The Budweiser radio commercial extols the virtue of beechwood aging and its beer’s crisp, clean taste. Heaven knows what those revered adjectives mean. Bud’s spot ended with a telling sentence, “It’s what we do.” That line meant something to me.

Budweiser was stating very clearly that brewing beer “is what we do,” and I buy the premise—if not the product. Defining what we do is important.

Can you succinctly—in one pithy sentence—say, “I grow delicious potatoes,” or “I make stainless steel,” or “I fly a Boeing 737 for Southwest Airlines”?

In a sophisticated economy like America’s, many of us have trouble devising a simple, declaratory sentence that explains what we do so clearly that we understand it, much less an uninitiated listener. It’s the cocktail party opener, the elevator speech, or the first sentence on the mortgage application.

But I think answering the question “what do you do?” for yourself is a deeper interrogatory that can bring clarity and momentum to a foggy, plodding career and even a foundering personal life.

Read more here.

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Finding Peace with Our Choices
December 2009, Volume 05 Issue 08

The death of financier Bruce Wasserstein, a friend from college days, hit me like an unsheathed blow to the chin. It wasn’t just because he had survived quadruple bypass surgery in 2001 or that he was three years younger than me and succumbed to heart failure. It was more about Bruce living the life of a superstar in finance, a master of the universe, a self-made Wall Street billionaire, who I knew from time spent working together on the University of Michigan college newspaper.

Those were heady nights of hot lead sliding out of linotype machines, wedged into heavy trays that turned into plates for the 3:00 a.m. printing.

Bruce wrote about the big issues, like student conflicts with the college administrators over divulging information to a Congressional witch hunting committee. It was Vietnam War time and the campus was alive with dissent; Bruce Wasserstein was smack in the middle of the controversy. I wrote about basketball, football and life, as the sports editor.

I remember Bruce coming up to me and saying, “Lloyd, what are you doing writing sports? Come over to the news staff and do something important.”

That remark was a portend about how our lives would diverge over the next four decades.

Bruce was a brilliant guy, a chess player, oblivious to his personal appearance. Dan Okrent, a sports writer on my team at Michigan, who became an editor at Time Magazine and The New York Times, described Bruce as a “complete slob” in The Michigan Daily obituary. Bruce was usually the smartest guy in the room, even if it was a big room of very smart people—and he knew it.

Read more here.

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Foxcows

By Lloyd Graff

Foxconn’s choice of southern Wisconsin for their first major American manufacturing plant is fascinating to me as someone who has seen the Midwest absolutely battered by Chinese competition for the last 25 years.

The days are gone since Foxconn in China slung nets under the windows of the dormitories where its young employees resided to catch the suicidal workers, so depressed after a brutal day of assembling iPhones.  Now Foxconn is confident enough of its manufacturing prowess and managerial acumen to stick a giant factory in a Wisconsin cow pasture and recruit its workers from the broken down, bankrupt towns in the neighborhood like Beloit, Kenosha, and Rockford, Illinois.  Not that there are not vexing problems related to worker depression in the semi-rural Midwest.  Opioid addiction and alcoholism are rampant, and nets will not help them there.

So why would Foxconn choose southeast Wisconsin?  Perhaps the biggest reason is Chicago.  They get exurban Chicago at a huge discount.  Chinese management will be able to fly into O’Hare and get to the new plant in an hour, but everything will be cheaper in Bristol, Wisconsin, than close to the airport.  They are following the Amazon play book.

Amazon is building giant fulfillment centers west and south of Chicago.  They staff these 1,000,000-square-foot mega plants with $13-per-hour people who come and go depending on how fast Amazon runs the conveyor belts.

Amazon has proved that you can recruit thousands of workers in a short period of time, work them hard but fairly, and retain enough of them to justify building more plants in the Chicago metropolitan area.  Access to arterial highways is essential for Amazon, and it will be for Foxconn, too.

Amazon and Foxconn will challenge virtually every employer in the Chicago/Milwaukee area and lift the threshold for wages.  Amazon offers health insurance and tuition subsidies after one year on the job.  Employees will make $13 per hour, the new minimum wage for able-bodied, modestly intelligent people who will work hard.  It will be interesting to see whether Foxconn will make stringent drug testing a condition of employment.  My research indicates an oral swab at the preliminary interview is Amazon’s entrance test with random testing on the shop floor.

Why is Foxconn going to manufacture in the United States?  I think it is partly political; putting a plant in Paul Ryan’s district that voted for President Trump makes sense, short term.  Being close to its American customers can’t hurt.  Stashing money outside of China is a good hedge for Foxconn’s bosses.  And it’s hard to resist amber waves of grain.

What do you think?

Question:  Should companies drug test?

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54321

By Noah Graff

About a month ago I stumbled upon a book which continues to change my life every day, The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins.

I’ve listened to several self-help books over the years that I found thought provoking and sensible, but none ever changed my life. They sometimes even made me feel down on myself. I felt so overwhelmed by all the advice that I could not get myself to do much of anything they prescribed.

Then I found The 5 Second Rule, which did change my life.

What is “The 5 Second Rule”?

The purpose of the 5 Second Rule is that if we want to find success in our lives, both on a personal and professional level we have to do things we don’t feel like doing. Perhaps we need to confront a work colleague or family member. Maybe we have to work on a project longer than we had planned. We have to tell someone we love them. We have to pay bills. We have to exercise and not eat crappy foods. We have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, and most importantly we have to get out of bed in the morning!

Ten years ago Mel Robbins had hit rock bottom in her life. She had gone from being hired as a host of a Fox News reality show to being unemployed, deep in debt and drinking too much. She says that she had a lot of trouble getting out of bed in the morning because she did not want to face her grim world, so she would repeatedly hit the snooze button. Of course, staying in bed only worsened her situation.

One morning as she laid in bed trying to avoid her problems she decided to count “Five, Four, Three, Two, One,” and she suddenly blasted out of bed like a rocket. She then realized that by counting down from five she could also make herself do all the things she needed to do to fix her life but didn’t feel like doing. Robbins says she even learned to use the 5 Second Rule to stop feelings of worry, depression and anxiety. Before long she dug herself out of her hole and began to thrive in her life.

It is human nature to let indecisiveness, fear, laziness and other mental obstacles stop us from doing the things we know we need to do to be successful and happy. The way the 5 Second Rule works is that the moment you have an idea to do something you start counting down from five and just do it. You don’t give your brain a chance to talk itself out of it. You just start counting down from five and act. Robbins sites scientific research that explains why counting down from five enables decisiveness in the brain. The research also says that counting down from five to zero works much better than counting up to five.

I can testify that I’ve become a lot better at calling customers on the phone since embracing the 5 Second Rule. The moment I hit “zero” I am dialing. Also, if I am mingling in a group of people I’m much less likely to hesitate to introduce myself, and I am more likely to speak up about things I feel are important. When I know I need to exercise but feel tired I’m better at forcing myself to start. I used the 5 Second Rule to get down to writing this blog. It’s the small accomplishments that build on top of each other which lead to life-changing high achievement. You can’t get to the promised land unless you go step by step. That’s how The 5 Second Rule changed my life while all the previous self-help books left me feeling stuck.

Question: Do you think self-help books are a waste of time?

Mel Robbins Explains 5 Second Rule

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Black and White

By Lloyd Graff

I am not a racist. I am not a Racist! I am not a RACIST! I wanted to hire a person to call people in the machining business to prospect for surplus machinery for sale and find potential customers. I decided to place an ad on a local Internet classifieds page mostly used by people looking for a plumber or exchanging muffin recipes. This approach had worked beautifully two months ago in locating a new factory employee whose wife saw our wanted ad an hour after we had placed it. She called, set up an appointment for her husband, and I hired him on the spot.

The area I live in is predominantly African American, so I anticipated calls mainly from Black women. And I anticipated my problem. How would my 99% White clientele treat a woman who speaks with a “Black accent”? Just writing that sentence offends me. I hate that I care about the reaction of biased phone answerers, but then I think of myself and how I unconsciously respond to “Black English” when I hear it. Viscerally I recognize it immediately and discount the speaker.

My job is to run a business and make money. If a “Black accent” makes a potential customer tune out the caller, that caller has failed in that mission.

Does that mean I have to rule out hiring a pleasant glib telephone prober who happens to sound “Black” on the phone? Can she help how she sounds? Does it occur to her that the community she will be connecting with might reject her because of an initial reaction to her voice?

Maybe I am all wrong about this. Maybe it is my own deep-seated racism speaking to me and the machining audience does not notice it or care. I don’t know.

I do know that my own racism plagues me every day. I hate my own biases. I deliberately try to behave as if I am pure of heart and mind on race. But that doesn’t get me off the hook.

My next-door neighbors are Black. My neighborhood schools are comprised primarily of Black students. My wife’s educational therapy practice has mostly Black kids. But I am not color blind and I never will be, I regret to say.

I am stuck with being who I am. I can feel something, but I don’t have to act on it. I don’t have to discriminate.

And then I hear the voice on the phone and I am silently tormented by my wicked personal racial facts of life. The voice won’t work for this job. I know it. Damn it. I know it. I hired a White woman with a “White voice.” Racism stinks. Racism is awful. Lloyd, you are a racist.

Question: Do you feel racist sometimes?

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Eclipsed Machinery?

By Lloyd Graff

Where are your eclipse sunglasses?

It isn’t a dumb question because the flimsy, one use only, $2 shades are the stuff of a provocative metaphor for how we live our lives. This issue came up after reading Seth Godin’s pithy short blog this past Tuesday, “The Market for Used Eclipse Sunglasses,” which I will reprise now.

“It doesn’t matter how many you have. It doesn’t matter how much you paid for them. It doesn’t matter how long the line was yesterday. The market is gone. It’s a sunk cost. Falling in love with what we have and reminding yourself of what it cost you is no help at all. The same goes for the value of the assets we invested in, the rare skills we used to possess, the position in the marketplace we worked so hard to get. New days require new decisions.”

As a used machine tool dealer who has speculated on and collected the eclipse sunglasses of the machining world for decades this blog was gold. I walked around my 20,000 square foot warehouse yesterday looking at Wickman and National Acme, Schutte and Gildemeister cam operated screw machines. At one moment, they looked like iron excrement, and then a customer called from New England looking for three machines, and the flotsam and jetsam sparkled like sapphires and rubies in my mind’s eye.

Value is in the eye of the beholder. The collector sees a fortune in old comic books and an ugly clunky wooden desk made in 1840 by a venerated craftsman. For a hobbyist a solid 40-year-old Bridgeport mill or sturdy little South Bend lathe are perfect for basement experimenting.

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Seth Godin is also right, I must admit. In business we cannot be trapped by our eclipse sunglasses, no matter how useful they were for a few precious minutes on Monday.

There is an auction coming up on August 29 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with 40 well-maintained cam operated Tornos Swiss-type screw machines. They made money for the family that owned the shop for many decades. They probably will be sold and packaged for shops in Vietnam after the auction. Today, the shop owner probably looks at them ruefully, like eclipse sunglasses that he kept way too long.

When I discussed the Godin blog with my children and grandchildren they reacted to the one-day glasses with a different angle. To them, the sunglasses were an artifact, but one of value, because in five years they could pull them out of a closet and recall a wonderful memory of sharing the eclipse experience on August 21, 2017. For them the eclipse sunglasses were like a photo album or a poster advertising the first concert they attended. That view intrigued me. It romanticized the junk. But it does not change the kernel of truth in Godin’s blog. Graff-Pinkert cannot run a business selling machines whose main value is sentimentality.

The old iron, the now useless sunglasses, the obsolete ideas we cling to from childhood must be pitched or we will become the doddering hosts of tomorrow’s roving pickers.

Question 1: Are mechanical machine tools the eclipse sunglasses of manufacturing?

Question 2: Do you have a Bridgeport in your basement?

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Life Saver

By Lloyd Graff

On Monday, August 14, my wife, Risa, received a Facebook message from a woman named Diana. In 1995 they were both on a commuter train to downtown Chicago when Diana’s 3-week-old daughter Keisha stopped breathing. Even worse, blood was coming out of the baby’s mouth. Risa had recently taken a CPR class at her Tae-Kwan-Doe school. Everybody else on the train seemed paralyzed, but Risa raced to the baby and administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. There was no time to think. She had the courage and the knowledge to step up. The train ultimately stopped and the mother and child were helicoptered to Children’s hospital. The baby survived and thrived.

In Diana’s note she thanked Risa and sent a photo of 22-year-old Keisha with with her own 2-year-old son. Risa had only heard from Diana one other time since the incident, when Keisha was still a baby. It was a very sweet August anniversary for all three.

I am also celebrating the gift of life in August. August 29, 2008, was the day my life almost ended with a catastrophic heart event. After a terrible summer vacation in New Buffalo, Michigan, where I probably almost died climbing up a sand dune, I began to push my denial aside enough to think I was quite sick, though probably with pre-pneumonia, rather than severe angina.

Metra Commuter Train in Chicago

After getting back to Chicago I finally decided I’d better see a doctor friend of mine, Chris Costas. Chris put a stethoscope on me, looked at my face and then told me he was wheeling me himself to the ER of St. Francis hospital in Evanston, Illinois. The last thing I remember of that day was the nurse asking me if I cared if they cut my underwear off.

My wife, Risa, tells me that by the grace of God there was a cardiac interventionist available to attempt to insert a stent in my blocked left anterior descending artery (the “Widow Maker”). The procedure was an extremely difficult one because of the 100% blockage, but if the cardiologist could not pull it off my odds of living were awful. I had to get stronger to be able to have the quadruple bypass I needed, and that could only happen if he could somehow get the stent in.

Dr. Muhammad Akbar, the cardiologist, somehow inserted the stent. When asked how he did it he silently pointed skyward. I was on a ventilator for 13 days after that. The bypass surgery was successful, and I feel truly blessed as I celebrate the beauty of living every day.

August also makes me think of my Mom, Thais Kassel, who was born August 15, 1923. She was a loving and kind woman. Great Cubs fan, too.

August is such a beautiful month.

Question: Have you ever saved a life or had your life saved?

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Steel Driving Machine

By Lloyd Graff

It is rare to read a long article in The Washington Post that delves into the life of a guy who pushes the button on a punch press thousands of times a day. But Chico Harlan did it brilliantly in his feature piece last Saturday.

The two-thousand-word article was about more than just Bobby Campbell who works at Tenere Corporation in Dresser, Wisconsin. It was probably the best depiction of the struggle to find capable and reliable factory staff in America 2017 that I have read. I wish I had written it.

I talked to The Post’s Chico Harlan on the phone to compliment him and get more background on the piece. He spent nine days in a Holiday Inn Express in the middle of no-where Wisconsin because he and his editors, and indirectly Jeff Bezos of Amazon who owns The Washington Post, thought the piece was that important. The American labor market, especially manufacturing, is a multifaceted mess, and this mid-sized firm named Tenere, owned by a private equity group, was that rare company which would allow a reporter like Harlan full access to the shop floor and the lives of its employees.

Tenere is a big fabricating job shop. On a good day it has 550 employees banging out sheet metal components primarily for the electronics industry. They are not high-tech products, but they must fit nicely for the disk drive companies that purchase them. Tenere has a plant in Mexico, but the core of the business is in the northwest corner of Wisconsin, 90 minutes from the Twin Cities. Not many folks live in the small towns like Dresser, and you aren’t going to attract many young people with $12-$13 per hour jobs. Harlan says Tenere chronically is 120 workers short of where they would like to be, with a three-shift operation of punching, bending and assembly. The firm is constantly trying to hire and continually discarding the weak applicants who often self-select by quitting during their first week. They have bent their hiring standards to allow in people who have had criminal or substance abuse problems and still they cannot get the people they need. The writer spent a lot of time with Bobby Campbell, the press operator with a long-term drinking problem. Harlan wrote sympathetically about Bobby’s agonizing ride home each night in which he passes a dozen gas stations and mini-marts selling beer. His urge to stop and buy a dozen cans is often unbearable, and if he buys them he’ll probably down them all in one sitting.

Tenere has a lot of folks like Bobby Campbell to deal with, which is what brought the company to Matt Bush and Rob Goldiez and their robot rental startup, Hirebotics, after a manager read about them in the trade publication, The Fabricator. Day after day Bobby Campbell misses his quotas, but Tenere needs Campbell because he is the best they can get – at least until Matt and Rob brought in the robots from Denmark made by Universal Robots.

Hirebotics is a year-old company according to Goldiez. He and his partner are engineers, formerly working at a unit of Berkshire Hathaway, who saw the potential for being the vital facilitator between the robot seller and the end user like Tenere that faces huge operational problems on a shop floor lacking sophistication and distrustful of automation. Goldiez told me they are being swamped with inquiries since The Post piece and the article in The Fabricator.

A Universal Robot is a $32,000 robotic arm, not one of the monster Kuka or ABB machines welding car bodies you see at Toyota or Ford.

Matt and Rob packed two robotic arms and their wiring packages into their car in Nashville and drove to the northwest corner of Wisconsin to install them themselves. They are very hands-on guys. Their intriguing business proposition is that they rent the robots by usage for $15 per hour. The machines are expected to be used 80 hours per week, minimum. Records of uptime are kept on the Cloud.

It took eight days for Bush and Goldiez to officially integrate the robots into Tenere’s production, making “claws” and “holsters” out of sheet metal. They are not really replacing people, just augmenting production for people like Bobby Campbell who tries his best but cannot keep up with the company’s production goal.

For highly reliable Annie Larson, another Tenere employee highlighted in the story, the second robot installed is a godsend. Her team is supposed to be comprised of 12 people but usually only 6 or 7 show up. Her robot doesn’t have sick kids or divorce court to deal with and hits its quotas every day. She’s happy about it because it takes stress out of her life when the team falls behind.

Tenere is now planning for robots 3 and 4 from Hirebotics. They had been considering busing in people from a Somali community in the Twin Cities, a 90-minute trip, but the robots may make that unnecessary. For now the company is starting to manage its “arms” race.

Question: Over the next 10 years will robots save or kill more jobs in America?

Read Harlan’s Washington Post Article “Rise of the Machines.”

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