I attended my first Technical Conference held by the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA), this past weekend in Indianapolis. Some observations.
I think there are a lot of good things going on in American machining firms now. Talent is arriving, just in time to replace the tiring Baby Boomers whose feet are aching from 40 years of tending gear gnashing machines. Young people are coming in via community colleges, or out of sheer boredom of frying lettuce at Subway for $9 an hour, 26 hours a week. The message that you can earn a decent wage, earn respect, and find economic stability in machining is finally starting to get through the franchise blahs. I find this is particularly true in the Latino community, though Eastern Europeans and Vietnamese are also entering the ranks. They are bringing youth and energy in American job shops, if the PMPA is representative. Miles Free, PMPA Director of Industry Research and Technology, calls Latinos “the new bench.” I think they are first stringers already at many plants. Miles, also proudly told me his youngest son recently left University, enrolled at a community college and is now a certified CNC operator and liking it.
Machining businesses are still male dominated, but not quite as much so as a few years ago. Women are starting to make their mark, but often come in through family knowledge. Very few are coming into management via the factory.
Several members at the conference told me that a bit of tension is brewing within the PMPA about the growing number of “Technical Members” in the organization. Technical Members, such as my company Graff-Pinkert, are firms selling goods and services to manufacturers, who are classified in the PMPA as “Active Members.” With the “Technicals” providing the PMPA a hefty chunk of budget funds and a lot of organizing energy, they will be pushing for the perks of full membership. I think the PMPA’s difficulties in attracting a lot of new machining firms to its ranks yet strong magnetism for suppliers, will make for some interesting politics in the organization in the coming years. I imagine other trade groups have similar issues.
One of the fascinating side stories of the conference was the competing open houses of the machine tool builders Index and ZPS last Monday night, both located near Indianapolis. Index is a 100-year-old German builder of high-end CNC lathes and multi-spindles. ZPS is an Italian owned, Czech builder focused on high quality, modern multi-spindles, both cam and CNC. Olaf Tessarzyk, head of ZPS America, actually used to run Index in the United States.
Index has a magnificent headquarters in the Indianapolis suburb of Noblesville, with perfect lighting, aisles big enough to play soccer, and a sanded and sealed painted floor you’d be happy to eat bratwurst off of. ZPS is smaller and a little less shiny, but still emitted a good energy.
Index’s open house had a polka band with musicians in traditional German garb. Their buffet served sausage and sauerkraut. ZPS featured a “pig roast” and an 18 foot screen showing the NCAA basketball final. Index gave away diaries, while ZPS passed out bright red tee shirts. Our Graff-Pinkert team drove to both places in a hideous rainstorm. We may have been the only folks who did.
Impossible to say who won the Monday Night Fight, but ZPS clearly had the bus-filling edge, due to its strong promotion and a drop dead gorgeous bus recruiter to shepherd the docile undecided men into their transports. She gets my MVP award, hands down.