Talent is Arriving

By Lloyd Graff

PMPA Tech Conference 2014

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.

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5 thoughts on “Talent is Arriving

  1. Bob Pretty

    I am currently working with the local Boces in an internship program now for 2 years.
    Last year I was able to hire one student after completing his internship with us.
    This year is looking good for 2 students.
    I feel they are doing a great job with interest in their machine shop trades program.

  2. Peter@PolygonSolutions

    The State of Florida is helping us find young people too. We have an apprentice hired full time, training grants for another and reduced sales tax now. We also use the PMPA and NTMA as technical resources. The future is looking better for new hires. The local manufacturing association (SRMA) is also sponsoring a http://www.MadeInSWFL.com manufacturing trade show April 16th to help connect all our current resources.

  3. Dick Crosby

    Lloyd:- What was the previous name of the PMPA. Was it NSMPA? For National Screw Machine Products Association. I was a Barber-Colman Co. cutting tool sales engineer in a past life. B-C Cutting Tool (small tool, as opposed to machine tool) Division, manufactured oil feed and inserted blade reamers for all drilling, boring, and reaming (hole sizing and finishing) machining operations. They were a unique reamer, in that they had irregular spaced flutes (to break up harmonics), and cam ground blade profiles, and gave you superb hole size, finish, and roundness as a result. They were originally designed and developed by Gary DeVlieg. One of the (4) DeVlieg brothers of Detroit machine tool fame. Gary came to Barber-Colman back in the twenties, as a consultant to gear, and gear tool grinding and sharpening. My dad was his personal shop and side kick technician. Pop made the first prototype models of most or all of the B-C gear hob and reamer sharpening machines, and/or whatever came out of Gary DeVlieg’s head. Including the reamers. When Gary retired to California, my dad became B-C’s road service man, all over the US, for B-C hob and other cutting tool sharpening machines and tools. Pop did it for years. All through the WWII. I grew up without a dad for the most part. I vowed I’d never go on the road for anybody. It’s a lousy life for a married, family man. After pop retired in ’72, B-C told me I had to take over his job or I’d be let go. I argued like crazy, but I neede a job, and B-C was a great place to work. So, for the next 3 1/2 years I was “on the road”. It was a love-hate experience.
    Anyway, during that time, I became a pretty good reamer sales engineer, as opposed to gear tools, and developed a technical presentation of the unique B-C reamer to a lot of tool enginerring groups,and at one time to the Screw Machine Technical Conference in St. Louis. It was a (3) day event, and lot’s of smart guys covering various SM topics. But, anyway, I won first prize, and got a fancy suit carrying bag for my effort. End of story.
    Except! Do you mean this is/was the first screw machine society technical conference you’ve ever attended? Surely, as knowledgeable about SM operation as you’ve become, you should be one of the speakers. Same with Rex. And probably Noah. Cheers!


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