Goodbye Columbus

By Lloyd Graff

I found last week’s Precision Machining Technology Show (PMTS) in Columbus an exhilarating and exhausting experience.

It was exhilarating because for the first time in 10 years the participants were confident again. I do not remember one person coming to our humble exhibit and complaining about business. Maybe they grumped about their back or metatarsals, but about business, they were positive. This is an extraordinary shift from even two years ago, and I think it reflects more than just monthly sales figures (which are darn good, by the way). The climate for machining folk has changed. “China” is now considered a long-term competitor, not a monster vacuum sucking up almost every biddable job. The American survivors, and the European, Mexican, Brazilian, Canadians and Fijians too, understand the kind of work they are good at and what the Chinese will devour. There is a relative stalemate with China today. A little comes back, a little goes away. This is stasis that you can borrow money against.

There is no comfort in business. The “comfortable” ultimately die a very uncomfortable death, but the people who are uncomfortable about the present yet confident about their ability to weave and bob into the next few rounds, are the folks who predominated at PMTS.

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When I returned to Chicago last Thursday afternoon, Cathy Heller, who runs the spare parts business for Graff-Pinkert, proudly told me she had her second great month in a row selling mainly Wickman tooling and spare parts. Even more significantly, the percentage of surplus oddball parts was unprecedentedly high. This is an indicator that does not show up in The Wall Street Journal stats, but is one of the tea leaves that I monitor.

When our customers are upgrading their tired and haggard 40-year-old multi-spindles, they are dipping into the capacity that has been sitting in the empty ocean containers for the good times they thought would probably never come. Or maybe they are finally changing the spindle bearings of the clunker in the corner they used on the sloppy bushings they used to run before China happened and cars became reliable.

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People are still in love with Swiss CNC screw machines. The technology keeps getting just a little bit better every year. Citizen, Star and Tsugami keep slugging it out to get every sale with the Korean and Taiwanese machines close enough to get their pieces. There are not many good used machines available, so the new builders usually do not have to compete with the second hand market.

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A volleyball tournament is pushing PMTS out of the Columbus, Ohio, Convention Center. Courtesy of USA Volleyball.

After eight shows over 16 years, the PMTS Show is leaving Columbus for Cleveland in 2019. The show got the boot because it did not bring enough hotel room buyers to town to justify its prime time slot in the Convention Center. If I am privileged to attend in 2019 I will look back nostalgically on the Ohio capital. The facility was efficient, clean, and not ridiculously pricey. But the chipmakers do not show up in the numbers that the volleyball tournament’s parents and fans do that will supplant PMTS in April of 2019. Volleyball may reign in Columbus, but Cleveland loves us.

Question: Are you winning or losing against China now?

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10 thoughts on “Goodbye Columbus

  1. Mike P

    We are winning. That includes making aftermarket parts for Chinese machine tools. Our customers trust our quality and ability to provide the service they depend on. It truly is a global market regardless of what politicians say to try and win approval.

     
  2. rick

    CLEVELAND ROCKS! – Ian Hunter, from his 1979 album You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic.

    I spent a week there one afternoon – Harry Chapin from his 1972 album, Sniper and Other Love Songs.

    As far as business, we are still pretty slow here, it is picking up, but also very slowly.
    We are fortunate to have a product line and specialty service that is quite “specialized”.
    It has kept the Far East competition at bay.

    However;
    Specialization is for insects. – Robert A. Heinlein

    Together, we will make America great again! – President Donald John Trump

     
  3. Rudi

    We are losing. 45,000 deaths in Chinese factories and the environment gets torched on top of it. We are required as US suppliers to operate by certain environmental and worker safety standards, but the big companies can trade with anyone they want. Millions of gallons of raw Mexican sewage was recently intentionally dumped on the south San Diego coastline. Every dollar we spend is a political statement, buy products made in the USA!

     
  4. Todd

    It’s sad that Columbus is making the decision to send PMTS to Cleveland. I’m about half way between the two cities, so Cleveland won’t get any hotel money from me. PMTS was one of the only times I got to the North Market for lunch!

    The question of winning or losing against China is measured in different time frames. My impression of China is that they are willing to look at a much longer timetable than we are willing to consider in the US.

     
      1. Mathias

        Visit the West Side Market! And Cleveland’s food and microbrewery scenes are second to none. Plenty of great choices to be had here.

         
  5. Hj

    To win against Chinese is not a problem in my company but
    to find skilled and talented machinist in the US is a real problem.
    Why can the US not have a apprenticeship program (Technical Vocational School)
    like Europe? So called ”Machinists” today are not even able to read a drawing correctly
    or resharpen a dull cutting tool and have no clue about speed’s and feed’s.
    To get Jobs back to the US and invest in manufacturing is an excellent idea but who will do the high skilled precision machining?

     
  6. Walter Owens

    We have lost most of the volume jobs to China. Often times they come back only to go away again. The quality, dependability and delivery are still a problem with China. But, companies still do whatever it takes to buy the $80 part from China for $30. Keep in mind that China has the largest recall in the world, faulty radial car tires ………….. feel safe yet ?

     
  7. rick

    The representatives of Columbus Ohio are not the brightest.
    As you say, “There is no comfort in business.”
    In business, in good times and bad, you rarely try to turn away business.
    We never know what the future holds or brings.
    Ironically in 2005 the local elected officials of Columbus enacted draconian gun laws in direct opposition to the laws of the State of Ohio.
    They did this knowing that the The National Rifle Association had its annual meeting scheduled for Columbus the following year.
    The NRA threatened to move the Convention and take some Sixty Thousand attendees who spend lots of money, to another state.
    Either the City elders didn’t think they would do that in the eleventh hour, didn’t care, or both. I thing they did not care – Not the first time politicians screwed the hard working business owners, and not the last.

    The NRA took the meeting to Milwaukee! Hotels, shops and restaurants all lost.
    The State of Ohio eventually passed a preemption law that cancelled out the local gun laws.

    We are winning, but things never change,
    Columbus continues to lose…

     

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