Monthly Archives: December 2019

Ep. 64 – Automating a Machining Business with David Wynn

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is part two of an interview we did with David Wynn, CFO of ABF Engineering and Machining, a third generation screw machine shop in South Fulton, Tennessee. Dave makes a lot of his profits on mechanical screw machines that are older than him, but he emphasizes using advanced technology to automate his business’s processes.

Scroll down to listen to the interview

Main Points of the Interview

(2:15) David says it is important that his employees be driven individuals. He wants people who can work independently in a loosely structured shop environment. His employees can divide their work amongst each other as they want and structure their time how they want as long as they meet production goals. Dave says the more power you give your people, the better they perform.

(3:55) Dave says his goal is to one day have someone else handle the day to day responsibilities of his company so he can focus on growing the business by improving customer relationships and automating business processes. He says he would like to be able to step off the face of the earth for 30 days and and then return seeing the company running smoothly as though he never left.

(8:20) Dave discusses his goal to automate every part of the business that takes his mind away from the key tasks at hand. He says his shop has one button that turns off the all the lights, regulates air conditioning, turns off exhaust fans and everything else necessary to leave the building.

(10:20) Dave talks about the parts he is making on his Brown and Sharpes. He says if he has a high production run he can often can get a closer tolerance on a Brown and Sharpe than a modern CNC machine because the machine is rigid like a tank. 

(13:35) Dave says he does not see his company as competing with China. He says his parts are not commodity parts because he often does short runs of 500 pieces or less. He jokes that “a Brown and Sharpe was a CNC before CNC was cool.”

(14:20) Dave says he feels the machining business in his blood. He thinks the machining bug has been passed down to his 5-year-old son who has been coming to the shop every day since he was born.

(18:20) Dave says he is glad he went to business school rather than going straight into the machining business out of high school because it taught him to determine the values of assets. He says his dad had actually forced him to go to college.

(20:35) Dave says he sees purpose in the machining business because every mechanism people use has parts that have been machined. He appreciates creating tangible products rather than merely creating liquidity in the finance industry.

Question: Is a college education important for running a machining business?

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Mobility is the Game

By Lloyd Graff

I’m in the mood for sports today.  In baseball, Washington won the World Series for the first time after losing Bryce Harper to the Phillies. And they won it in seven games, winning all four played at Houston’s ballpark. Never happened before. And the Nationals’ best pitcher, Matt Scherzer, got hurt in the Series.  Unpredictable game.

In football, the traditional drop-back quarterback, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, is being gradually surpassed by the mobile, elusive running quarterback.  The three most likely MVP quarterbacks this year are Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, and Patrick Mahomes.  All were misjudged coming out of college and fell in the draft because they didn’t look like Brady or Brees.  Wilson was a third-round pick for Seattle, Jackson was the last pick of the first round for Baltimore, and Mahomes was thought by many football savants to be a better pitcher than QB.

College football is also seeing change. The two top candidates for the Heisman Trophy this year are both transfer students who were not deemed to be good enough to start for the college teams they were recruited for out of high school.

Joe Burrow sat three years at Ohio State.  He did study enough to graduate from OSU which made him eligible to transfer to LSU and play football without the usual NCAA baloney that restricts the transfer of athletes.

He played well last year but has been amazing this season, throwing for 55 touchdowns and leading the Tigers to the top seeding in the national playoffs.

The Ohio State quarterback, Justin Fields, also had an undistinguished career at Georgia. He graduated but had a year of eligibility left. OSU’s All-American from last year, Dwayne Haskins, was the first-round pick of Washington after his junior year which left an opening for Fields with the Buckeyes. This year he threw for 40 touchdowns with one interception.

Potential MVP Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks

It brings to mind the one season that Russell Wilson had at Wisconsin. He had had an okay career at North Carolina State, graduated with eligibility, and played minor league baseball till the Badgers called him for a last college hurrah. He was only 5’9” tall but played like a giant leading the team to the Rose Bowl and setting up his current NFL MVP status with the Seattle Seahawks.

To end this, let’s throw in a little NBA. Kawhi Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to the NBA Championship after a difficult, injury-riddled year with San Antonio. Some folks saw Leonard as temperamental and even faking the severity of his injuries while with the Spurs. He wanted out of Texas for his last season before becoming a free agent in 2019.

Toronto had an awful playoff record despite having good players. They gambled on trading for Leonard, knowing it might just be for one year. Kawhi recovered from his injuries, carried the team to the playoffs, and then played inspired basketball to help them win the NBA title.  And in the off season he headed home to Los Angeles and signed a mega contract with the LA Clippers.

Sports changed a lot in 2019. The athletes took more and more control over their short playing careers.

Questions:

Are today’s professional athletes too selfish?

Who is your NFL MVP for 2019?

 

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Ep. 63 – Running a Machine Shop like a Tech Company with David Wynn

By Noah Graff

Today’s Swarfcast is part one of an interview we did with David Wynn, CFO of ABF Engineering and Machining, a third generation screw machine shop in South Fulton, Tennessee. After earning an MBA, David joined his family’s business 17 years ago. His stated mission is to run a machining business composed of old cam screw machines as though it were a tech company.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast

Main Points of the Interview

(2:40) Dave gives a history of ABF Engineering and Machining. The business was started by his grandparents and father in 1976. They primarily ran Brown & Sharpe screw machines.

(4:45) Dave talks about the machines in his shop. He said the company has Haas lathes, CNC Swiss, and a CNC mill, but still more than 50 percent of the company’s work is done on Brown & Sharpe screw machines. The company is running 15 Brown & Sharpes currently, but Dave says he has about 100 in the building.

(6:30) Dave gives a brief education about Brown & Sharpes. He says what makes Brown & Sharpes productive is that an operator can work with the turret and other tools simultaneously. The machines are extremely rigid, and have a gear driven 5Hp motor.

(12:47) Dave explains how building a cam for a Brown & Sharpe screw machine is similar to writing a CNC program for a Swiss machine. The main difference is the CNC program is immediately implemented while the cam takes days to build.

(14:45) Dave talks about how he came into the business. He had never stepped foot in the shop before he turned 18 years old. While in college and grad school he began working at the company. He earned an MBA, but instead of going into the finance industry he fell in love with the machining business and decided to do it full time.

(18:40) Dave talks about how ABF Engineering and Machining changed after he and his father bought it from his grandfather. He says they chose to focus on creating a new culture based on teamwork and innovative work practices. They prefer to hire people who fit into the company’s culture rather than hire based on an applicant’s talent.

(21:55) Dave talks about the company’s unconventional practices for work hours. Its employees have the flexibility to work when they like and choose how many hours they work as long as they get their work done and work as a team. He says that most outsiders look at him like he is a space alien when he tells them about some of his policies.

(28:40) Dave says that usually the people who are most successful at his company are the ones who put in a lot of hours at the shop and also at home. One of the characteristics he looks for in a great employee is someone who is constantly trying to better herself.

Question: Do you know how to run a Browne and Sharpe?

 

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Under the Tarp

By Lloyd Graff

Homeless people spook me. I hate it when somebody wearing a sign proclaiming their homelessness, holding a cup and looking forlorn, shoves the cup toward me begging for coins. Yet their plight, if they really are homeless, is a terrible thing.

It struck me hard recently when Noah and I were driving to a business conference in the city concerning hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of unsold screw machines.  We drove by a tiny makeshift shelter covered by a couple of blue tarps next to an apartment building which appeared empty and possibly being prepared for demolition in an area in the process of “gentrification” in Chicago.

It was a raw day in November ahead of Thanksgiving.   I saw nobody around it.  The blowing tarps were a more hurtful reminder of the misery of life on the street without a roof to call your own.

It brought to mind a story my friend Jerry Levine had told me at one of our weekly Saturday breakfast idea fests recently.  Jerry had volunteered to help kids at a Chicago high school several years ago.  One of the kids who was a star student had a problem giving an address of his residence.  The reason was that he was sleeping in a dumpster.  We have a dumpster at Graff-Pinkert.  Occasionally I haul a plastic bag of office garbage out to the dumpster.  Every time I look inside I think of that poor kid climbing inside and probably covering up and trying to keep warm with a blue tarp he hid away.

By the way, Jerry said the kid ended up getting a full scholarship to a prestigious college, somehow.

Chicago homeless sleeping under tarps

For many years I volunteered at a local homeless shelter.  It rotated among various churches and synagogues in the neighborhood I lived in.  I came in at 5:15 a.m. and helped clean and put the mats away the shelter people slept on, gave out toothpaste and Band-Aids, and cleaned up after breakfast was served.  It was a good education for me, that homeless guys (there were only guys at this shelter) were mostly just human beings who were at a down part of their lives.  Some had jobs (fast food joints, car washes, guards), but usually the jobs didn’t last long enough to enable them to get an apartment that required deposits and credit checks.  Many had drug and drinking problems.  A lot of them hung around the local White Castle or McDonald’s till they were urged to move along.  A few had cars; some of the younger guys rode bikes. I once hired one of the friendlier men, but he did not last long because of a chronic drinking issue.

The rotating homeless shelter no longer exists at the local synagogue.  My friend Jerry Levine and other local people somehow managed a minor miracle.  They found a mayor in the area who, rather than avoid a permanent shelter in his town, embraced the idea.  He claimed his mother on her deathbed told him to do it.  There was an unloved piece of real estate that the mayor obtained for granting zoning privileges to a developer who wanted to build a shopping center in the village.  The three-acre piece was far enough away from neighbors that nobody yelled much.  Jerry and friends with government connections got every grant the government had on the books and built a $18-million multi-story building for homeless people with good credentials to get nice temporary apartments.

Someday I hope the poor people under the blue tarps in Chicago or kids like the one living in the dumpster find their way out to that beautiful haven in Country Club Hills, Illinois, within walking distance of my office.

Question: Do you prefer to give money to people on the street or to an organized charity?

 

 

 

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