Monthly Archives: February 2020

Ep. 71 – Selling Wickman Multi-Spindles with David Taylor of Machine Tool Spares

By Lloyd and Noah Graff

Our guest on today’s podcast is David Taylor, owner of Machine Tool Spares, one of the world’s most respected rebuilders of Wickman multi-spindle screw machines.

Machine Tool Spares is based in Coventry, England, the birthplace of Wickman machine tools. His company turnkeys Wickmans and sells Wickman spare parts all over the globe. David shared his views on the role of cam multi-spindles and Great Britain in today’s machining industry.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

Main Points

(3:00) David talks about his company, Machine Tool Spares. The company provides Wickman multi-spindle spare parts, service, rebuilt and turnkey machines around the world. He says the company’s mission is to keep the Wickman cam machines relevant in the modern world. He says his company stretches the capabilities of the machines to do applications never achieved before using Wickman cam machines.

(5:00) David says that Machine Tool Spares is the independent alternative to Wickman Group, also located in Coventry, England.

(6:30) David says Wickman usage in the UK is continuing to decline. He this is due to less people with skills to run the machines, and because people are put off by the length of changeover time between jobs on the machines. David says his company is finding growth in India, Europe, and Scandinavia.

(11:00) David says Machine Tool Spares is doing much less selling of machines in “as-is” condition and more rebuilt and turnkey machines for customers’ specific applications. He says customers have higher standards for parts and want to buy machines that are ready to make high quality, consistent parts as soon as the machine arrives on their floor, so every machine that is shipped out is tested for accuracy.

(12:15) Lloyd and David marvel at how old Wickman machines in poor condition continue to run good parts for decades. David attributes this to how robust Wickmans are.

(13:30) David says that customers in India are becoming more sophisticated and wanting to buy higher quality machines, rather than purchasing equipment primarily based on price. He talks about an unusual turnkey job Machine Tool Spares sold to India in which a company needed to machine a forged part.

(18:00) David says that often he has seen companies running very expensive CNC multi-spindles on certain simple jobs that a cam multi-spindle could easily handle. He says Machine Tool Spares does not retrofit Wickmans with CNC capability. Instead the company sometimes engineers customized attachments to accomplish complicated operations.

(12:40) David talks about another business he has a share in, a CNC Swiss shop running Citizens.

(22:30) David says Machine Tool Spares has not sold much equipment in China but has supplied Wickman spare parts there. He says even though that market is growing, his company hasn’t pursued it because it would require considerable resources.

David Taylor, Owner of Machine Tool Spares

(24:45-31:30) David talks about Brexit. He says that for the next year everything will stay the same in the UK, but next year Britain’s relationship with continental Europe could dramatically change depending on how the new trade deal is negotiated. He says that the EU is much more experienced at negotiating trade deals than Britain, which hasn’t negotiated a new trade deal independently in 40 years. He says he is pretty worried about the deal’s conclusion. In a worse case scenario he says he would even consider moving part of his company’s spare parts business into a facility in continental Europe.

David says the Brexit negotiation could dramatically effect Britain’s  supply chain. He gives an example of a Nissan plant in northeast England, which has historically been one of the most productive car plants in Europe. He says Nissan holds half a day of stock there. It uses 5 million parts per day, 60% of which are imported. He says that if importing material into Britain becomes a slow and difficult process, businesses like Nissan may leave.

David says Brexit has significantly depreciated the British Pound. This is has been good for the country’s exports, but has disrupted the country’s imports.

(33:10) David says he enjoys Swarfcast because it’s nice to hear people talk about our industry. He says when he goes to dinner with friends he describes himself as “the dinosaur.” He says he is in a world his peers don’t understand because they don’t have the privilege of working with machines that are 40 to 50 years old.

Question: Can you make good money with old screw machines?

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Ep. 70 – Machine Tool Building with Michele Tajariol of TAJMAC ZPS, Part 2

By Lloyd and Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is part two of an interview we did with Michele Tajariol, co-owner and Vice President of TAJMAC-ZPS, one of the world’s most prominent producers of multi-spindle screw machines. In the interview Michele gives his take on the competitive market of European multi-spindle brands. He also shared his experiences selling machines to China and India.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

Main Points of the Interview

(2:30) Michele says that when his family’s company TAJMAC purchased ZPS 20 years ago, it was only familiar with the the company’s multi-spindles. Michele says that he and his family knew very little about the other machines the company produced, such as CNC machining centers and gantry bed mills, and they knew only a little bit about the company’s foundry.

(3:20) Michele discusses the world multi-spindle market, saying that swings in demand for the machines are often volatile and unpredictable. He says that a year and half ago ZPS couldn’t produce enough machines, but currently the market is soft. He says sales of machines can change 50 percent or more from one year to the next. He says that the business has to be prepared to adapt to both high demand and low demand for machines. Michele says that though the multi-spindle business has gone soft right now, the machining center business is good because of strong manufacturing in lower volume sectors.

(6:55) Michele says that upper management of automotive companies seem as though they are not totally sold that electric cars will dominate the car market in the near future. One trend he is noticing is that younger people in Europe don’t want to own cars and instead use car sharing services. He says he thinks there will be a lot of demand for self-driving cars in the coming years.

Michele also says that people have not proven electric cars are better for the environment than standard gasoline models and thinks that diesel is probably good for the environment despite critics. He says that so many unknown factors are making car buyers indecisive. He says that people running multi-spindle screw machines for parts in internal combustion engines don’t know which production equipment to invest in going forward.

(11:20) Michele says machining centers are selling well now to produce batteries for electric cars. The machines are used to mill the cages that hold the batteries in cars and trucks. He says that he has no desire to buy an electric car himself.

(12:45) Michele says that a few years ago TAJMAC-ZPS chose to keep making a lot of cam-driven multi-spindle models in addition to building CNC multi-spindles. He says it was a move contrary to the other European multi-spindle producers who stopped making Cam machines entirely or greatly reduced their production of them. He says this has been a great business move because there are still a lot of end users making parts that don’t require CNC technology. He says that the price of a new ZPS cam multi-spindle will range from 400,000 Euros to nearly 1 million Euros. The price of ZPS CNC multi-spindles range from 600,000 Euros to nearly 2 million Euros, depending on the size and capability of the machine.

(15:35) Noah asks Michele to compare ZPS’s CNC multi-spindles to those of its competitors. He says a 6-spindle with the top configuration offers a higher configuration of driven axes and linear axes than its competitors. 

(16:20) Michele says the leader in CNC multi-spindle machines is INDEX. He says Schutte is steadily selling less machines, Gildemeister is just now rebooting its CNC multi-spindle. He says Tornos has had lots of ups and downs over the last 20 years, but their newest CNC multi-spindles have good technology because they redesigned their machines so recently.

(19:30) Michele discusses ZPS’s experience selling to the Chinese market. He says in China many companies opt to choose Swiss style machines over multi-spindles because they feel more comfortable than the multi-spindles despite them being more efficient. In contrast, Europe’s labor is expensive and its buildings are often small, so multi-spindles are the best choice for European manufacturers.

(21:40) Michele says that in India the price of a new multi-spindle is out of a typical machining company’s price range, so companies there opt to buy used or rebuilt multi-spindles. He says the Indian machining market is growing and companies there often have a better knowledge of multi-spindles than those in China.

(23:10) Michele says that believes China’s manufacturing industry will still be superior to India’s in the foreseeable future. He says China is unrecognizable from when he first went there 20 years ago, while India still seems much the same.

(25:45) Michele says think that in China people don’t have enough freedom but in Western Europe people have too much freedom and take their freedom for granted. He says that in China it seems like people are happy, while many Europeans and Americans complain that their standard of living has fallen.

(28:00) Michele says that luck has played a big role in his life. He feels grateful to have grown up in a good family in Italy and that he has had a lot of good career opportunities of which he has taken good advantage.

Question: Do you do business in India?

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A Quiet Car Please

By Lloyd Graff

Is it a lot to ask of a car to be able to have a conversation or listen to music while driving on the expressway?  Maybe so, because I can’t seem to find a car that can enable me to do so.

My wife’s lease is up on her 4-door Camry, and we are searching for a vehicle to replace it that does not require a scream to answer a question.

The problem of cabin sound appears to be multifaceted.  One issue is that I wear hearing aids which amplify background sound which can drown out human conversation.  There are adjustments to modify this issue in the control module in my phone, but that is impractical, particularly while I am driving.

Another complication appears to be the 4-cyclinder engine in the Camry which is noisy and seems to have to huff and puff to push a 4-door, full-sized sedan from place to place.

Tire noise on fast highways is another noisemaker.  It grinds through the floor relentlessly.  Add in meager sound insulation in the doors and you have the almost debilitating drone of a Camry and evidently most of the cars being sold today.

Toyota Camry, Lloyd’s wife’s noisy car

Going electric is an option, but that does not address most of the sound generation that drives me into silence.

Does anybody know of a viable option for people with a noise aversion?

*  *   *   *   *

Major League Baseball’s spring training begins again this week in Arizona and Florida.  This is a blessed event for me.  It is a sign of hope that another brutal winter in Chicago is finite. Hallelujah.

It also means hope is alive for another successful season for my beloved Chicago Cubs who have a new manager, David Ross, who was a second-string catcher during the Cubs recent golden period of 2015-2017.  I loved the former manager, Joe Madden, but the team seemed to need a change and a $5-million-dollar-a-year boss whose contract had expired was an easy target.  Madden quickly caught on with the Los Angeles Angels.

Another hopeful sign for 2020 is the hated Houston Astros have been found out as cheaters who used high tech to steal catchers’ signs and then used crude banging of a garbage can lid to alert their hitters to a fastball or off-speed pitch.  In the 2017 World Series they devastated Yu Darvish, then a top pitcher with the Dodgers, by informing hitters of what kind of pitch was coming.  People thought Darvish was “tipping” his pitches, but really it was the devious Astros who stole his catchers’ signs.  The incredible improvement in batting contact made by Houston hitters should have alerted Major League Baseball to the chicanery of the Astros, but the baseball honchos did not act until former Astros players spilled the information.

It is possible the Boston Red Sox may have done similar dirty tricks in their World Series season in 2018, but the verdict has not come down.  Their manager, Alex Cora, did get fired, however.

*  *   *   *   *

The battle for the Democratic Presidential nomination is fascinating and scary.  It appears Bernie Sanders will face off against Donald Trump, with Michael Bloomberg possibly running as a third option.

Many people think this match-up is a sure win for Trump.  I’m not so sure.  More later.

Go Cubs.

Question: What car would you buy to get a quiet interior?

 

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Ep. 69 – Life of a Machine Tool Builder with Michele Tajariol

By Lloyd and Noah Graff

Today’s guest on Swarfcast is Michele Tajariol, an old friend of ours and co-owner of TAJMAC-ZPS, one of the world’s most prominent producers of multi-spindle screw machines.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

In the interview, Michele discussed how his family’s business grew from a used machine tool dealer in Italy into a diversified multi-national machine tool builder. He also recounted his career path, first working with his father in Milan, followed by a short stint in Chicago working at Graff-Pinkert, and finally moving to the Czech Republic where he became the manager of ZPS’s factory.

Main Points of Interview

(5:10) Michele talks about the history of his family’s business. Tajmac was started by his grandfather Amadeo in the 1930s, producing mechanical lathes during World War II. Later, Amadeo became a rebuilder of single spindle machines, and sold used turning equipment. Michele’s father Andrea and his uncle, who would later leave the company, joined Tajmac. In the ‘90s, Tajmac began distributing new multi-spindle machines from ZPS a Czech machine tool builder. The company sold machines in Italy, Germany and the United States. (In the United States during that time ZPS multi-spindles were known as Euroturns).

(6:55) In the early ‘90s, Tajmac bought Wickman, the British multi-spindle builder, when it went bankrupt. It was Tajmac’s first experience producing new machine tools. In 2000 Tajmac bought ZPS. The company was in financial trouble, and Michele’s father liked the rigidity of the machines and the price.

(9:45) Michele says his father taught him the importance of loving your job, even if the job wasn’t your original dream. Also he says it’s important to do a job in the manner you like so you can continue to do it longterm.

(11:30) Michele talks about his experience coming to work Graff-Pinkert in 1999. At age 22 Michele had been working at Tajmac for three years. Lloyd Graff suggested to Michele’s father that it would be an interesting experience for Michele to try working in the machinery business in the United States for three weeks. He ended up remaining in the United States for four months. Michele enjoyed working at Graff-Pinkert where he felt a similar familial atmosphere to Tajmac, he enjoyed Chicago and he also met a girl in the city.

Michele Tajariol, Co-owner of TAJMAC-ZPS

(15:10) Michele talks about joining his family’s business. He said his father never put pressure on him to work at Tajmac. Michele did not like going to college in Milan where he only attended school for one year. He needed to work somewhere, and the machinery business seemed like a opportunity.

(16:20) Michele talks about how he came to work at the ZPS factory in Zlin, Czech Republic. The first manager Tajmac hired to run ZPS didn’t work very well for the first year or so. At 25 years old, Michele went to Zlin with some friends for a holiday weekend. He loved the city and was single, so he decided it was a good opportunity to live and work there. After a short time working at ZPS, the second general manager the company had hired was also unsuccessful. Michele then decided it was best for him to try running the company.

(22:30) Michele says he thinks he is just an “OK general manager” but considers himself a “good owner” who knows multi-spindles well. After 20 years he says he finally feels that he has a decent proficiency in the Czech language.

(24:30) Michele talks about all of the types of machines the TAJMAC-ZPS produces at its factory in Zlin. The company produces multi-spindles, Manurhin sliding headstock machines, CNC machining centers (multipurpose, horizontal and vertical), and gantry bed mills. It also builds plastic injection molding machines for Negribossi. The company also has its own foundry.

He says the most profitable machines the company builds are its multi-spindle screw machines, but those machines also take the most skilled labor and engineering because they are so complicated.

(27:20) Michele says ZPS is one of the only machine tool companies that makes every part in its machines starting with the casting. He says this is not the best business model, but it produces the best quality machines.

Question: Do you prefer to buy new or used machine tools?

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Tesla Worth More Than Toyota?

By Lloyd Graff

Tesla stock sold for $169 per share in June of 2019. People were wondering if Tesla was today’s DeLorean.  Its 2025 bonds were paying 7%.

Today, Tesla stock roared past $900 per share.  What happened in seven months, and what does it mean for the machining world?

Obviously, the short sellers got killed. The stock has a rather thin float for a significantly traded company, which makes it volatile. But even the doubters, and there are loads of them, must admit now that Elon Musk has done an amazing job in building a car company from scratch.

There were hot moments when cash was short, and he pushed everybody to work overtime to hit the production goals for the Fremont, California, plant on the mid-priced Model 3. Then he surprised most people by surpassing sales targets. He did the impossible again by building the enormous battery plant in Nevada and somehow putting up a huge plant near Shanghai and rolling the first cars out before the end of 2019.

Meanwhile, GM and Ford are lumbering along with their electric car plants in the Midwest, while Tesla is starting its European plant in Berlin.

I have always been a Tesla skeptic and never bought the stock, but now I must admit that Musk has an astounding track record on cars and somehow finds time to build his SpaceX dream into a viable entity, too.

Tesla Roadster 2020 Prototype

The aspect of Tesla which I think most people have missed is the amassing of data for producing a viable autonomous car. Tesla has had a few fatal accidents with its self-driving cars, but Musk, the supreme risk taker, evidently has made the calculation that getting to the end line first in both electric and self-driving is worth the damages incurred when screwballs push the envelope or fall asleep. Google’s Waymo has been much more conservative, avoided tragic accidents, but is a distant second to Tesla in data derived.

The Europeans like BMW and Audi, the cautious American car companies, and the ultra-conservative Japanese are way behind and stumbling. The $900 stock value of Tesla is the world waking up to the farfetched idea that Tesla may have a tremendous first mover advantage in both electric and self-driving vehicles that few people thought possible even a year ago.

It is possible that neither category becomes enormous, but it seems likely to me that at least one of them is the jackpot.

On the other side, Exxon stock is down 12% so far in 2020, and oil prices are sputtering. Electric vehicles gaining traction and, to a lesser degree, the rise of self-driving taxis, mean fewer machined parts.  In our machine tool business we see people hedging their bets on automotive work. It isn’t going away, but it certainly does not look like a growth business unless you are in the Tesla orbit.

Our customers who are heavy in auto and small truck are looking for diversification, which has pushed them into Swiss-type machining and away from multi-spindle screw machine work. The brutal competition for high-volume auto work has also forced our clients to take automotive expertise to other more appetizing areas.

Yet the conventional wisdom that automotive work is an idiot’s game may turn out to be wrong, too. The automotive supply chain’s reliance on China is showing itself to be vulnerable. The Trump tariffs, Chinese theft of intellectual property, the threat of the Hong Kong demonstrations spreading, and now the Corona Virus epidemic are exposing the danger of becoming too dependent on China outsourcing.

Despite Tesla stock hitting $900 on Tuesday, it would be a mistake to give up on old school gasoline vehicles driven by human beings, at least for the next 10 years.

Question: Is automotive work too risky to be in?

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