Monthly Archives: October 2020

Ep. 100 – Looking back on 99 Episodes of Swarfcast

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

Today is a special occasion. It is the 100th episode of Swarfcast

A lot has happened in our lives since the podcast began two and half years ago, and today we are going to look back at how the show reflected the world as it evolved.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

 

 

Main Points

Noah talks about the podcast’s second episode, recorded in April of 2018, in which he interviewed Miles Free, Director of Industry Affairs of the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA). He plays a clip in which Miles discusses how tariffs on metals punish American factory workers and consumers. He also talks about a Chinese law (at the time of the interview) that said any foreign company in China is required to have a Chinese partner that has full access to the company’s technology. Miles says China was relaxing this law for foreign car companies. (3:00)

Noah shares thoughts about Episode 86, in which he interviewed Mike Micklewright, Director of the Kaizen Institute. Mike enthusiastically says that reshoring is happening, but he would not provide specific examples. Lloyd says he keeps hearing about the reshoring trend from machining business owners who are quoting jobs against China, but he has yet to see much proof of it actually happening yet (See Clip Below). (5:45)

Lloyd says that tariffs didn’t result in the immediate return of work from China, but they planted the seed for companies to analyze their relationships with Chinese suppliers. He says the pandemic dramatically changed how American businesses see working with China because it made the supply chain much less reliable. (7:15)

Noah plays a clip from Episode 72 with Daniel Hearsch, Managing Director at Alex Partners, a global supply chain expert. Daniel gave his best and worst case predictions for the impact of COVID-19 on the manufacturing economy. Back in late February when the interview was recorded, Daniel felt in a best case scenario American businesses would feel pressure for 4-5 months, with the stock market also taking a hit and the government providing some intervention. However, he also describes a worst case scenario, where people don’t take the threat seriously and the virus spreads, leading to further shut downs and slowing of business in the longer term. He seemed to be predicting more of the best case scenario in the interview. (8:50)

Lloyd discusses his feelings about doing business internationally in 2020. He describes it as being incredibly difficult due to travel restrictions, even between the US and Canada. Noah relates that Graff-Pinkert has had several deals fall through because it is so difficult to cross the border to inspect machines. (11:30)

Lloyd provides a counterpoint, saying that Graff-Pinkert also sold several Davenports screw machines to Chinese companies who were in a rush to receive them. He says that the fear of deteriorating international relations may have contributed to their sense of urgency. (12:20)

Lloyd says that for him, one of the most interesting guests on Swarfcast was Aneesa Muthana, owner of Pioneer Service Inc. a CNC shop near Chicago. (Episode 33). Aneesa provided a unique viewpoint as a Muslim woman in the machining business. We play a clip where Aneesa talks about diversity in her company and how she selects the most qualified candidates instead of placing limitations on herself and her business. She says she tries to make the environment of her company a welcoming environment for a diverse workforce, which has helped her employees thrive. (12:50)

Lloyd and Noah expand on the topic of diversity and how the podcast has not been as diverse as they would have liked. They wonder whether this might be a reflection of the machining industry itself. Noah shares that regrettably few women and African American guests have appeared on Swarfcast. He suggests it is something that the podcast may try to rectify in upcoming episodes. Lloyd shares his impression that the inclusion of women in machining is more of a concern to machining business owners than the inclusion of ethnic or racial minorities. (15:30)

Noah describes his process for selecting guests for the podcast. He says he looks for people with interesting stories who have something valuable to teach the podcast’s audience. Lately, Noah says he has looked at how the show’s content can provide practical benefit to listeners. He talks about a recent episode with Mike Campo of Firetrace, which addresses how to prevent machine fires (Episode 98). (17:30)

Noah talks about another one of his favorite interviews from Episode 80 and Episode 81, with Chris Voss and Brandon Voss. Chris, a former FBI hostage negotiator, and his son Brandon, apply hostage negotiation techniques to the business world. In the clip, Chris says that part of a successful deal is making sure a counterpart feels as if they have made a great deal. He says it’s important to play the long game with negotiation, to keep customers coming back. (18:15)

Noah plays a clip from another one of his favorite interviews, Ari Meisel. Ari calls himself an “Overwhelmologist.” He talks about time management and automating one’s business as well as other parts of one’s life. Ari talks about how he distinguishes “owning a business” versus “owning a job.” Ari feels every business owner should strive to be replaceable. He says business owners run a businesses with their ideas, not their hands. (20:10)

Lloyd says he learned a lot from this particular episode and from working with Noah, who attempts to use a few of the principals Ari describes. Lloyd says that he respects Noah’s discipline when enforcing a work-life balance. (23:00)

Noah talks about some of the recent changes to the podcast. He has started making seasons with specific themes. Also he now asks the same question to every guest about what they learned last week. (23:50)  

Noah asks Lloyd what he learned in the last week. Lloyd says he has learned (or relearned) that people actually want to connect with him. The day before he and Noah recorded the podcast he reconnected with someone from a men’s group who he had not spoken to in over a decade. Lloyd also received a phone call from someone who read a recent Swarfblog Lloyd wrote on aging. He had never met this person but was pleased and astonished to learn how his words had resonated with the man. (24:45)

Noah says that one of the reasons he enjoys recording Swarfcast is that it might make a little difference in someone’s life. He feels if the show can entertain or teach listeners something new he has made a small impact on the world.

Question: What’s your favorite episode of Swarfcast?

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Hard to Find a Good T-Shirt

By Lloyd Graff

One of life’s mysteries for me has been the scarcity of great t-shirts.

I am not a clothes hound. My dad liked clothes. He had his suits tailor made by unintelligible Italian tailors who held pins in their mouths while they were talking. Once, he took my brother Jim and I to pick out suit fabric. We inspected bolts of luxurious fabric for our own future custom suits. I remember picking a ridiculous brown plaid. I rarely wore the suit. It never really suited me because it had padded shoulders like my father favored, to make his slender frame look more like a weight lifter’s physique.

I still have that plaid suit in my closet. It is one of the few physical items I ever kept from him, not because I like the garment, but because it was so him. I still gaze at it often, because it has so much meaning for me after all these years.

I receive several apparel catalogs every day. I seldom buy much because I hate returning stuff and the items hardly ever look or feel nearly as good as in the picture. I hate buying pants or socks, sweaters, shoes, or underwear. But I have a weakness—t-shirts.

The t-shirt is very “in” today, with many musicians and movie stars wearing them for dress. I wear mine every day as a single layer, or under a fleece or sweater. I guess I have a collection. I pare it down from time to time, but a t-shirt is the first article of clothing I choose each day. I want it to feel right. It has to be all cotton and soft. I never want to feel a seam.

I prefer Pima cotton, preferably from Peru. Some days I desire a little heft, but usually I search out the lightest, airiest jersey I can feel. The difference is maybe a fraction of an ounce, but I can assess it immediately when I lift it a centimeter.

Generally my t-shirts have no message and never a picture. I do have a shirt from a high school reunion that is not Pima cotton, but it has been washed so many times it now almost feels like it. I also have a beloved Powell’s Book Shop t-shirt from Portland, Oregon, which used to be America’s biggest bookstore before Amazon destroyed the genre. It is an ugly pea green and I adore it.

I still own several t-shirts made by American Apparel of Los Angeles. The company had a rather salacious reputation for risqué advertising and the predatory behavior of its founder,  Dov Charney, but they made feathery t-shirts for men. 

The perfect t-shirt in Pima cotton

The top of my tee collection however is held by the A-list shirts sold in The Territory Ahead catalog. They use Peruvian cotton, they run big, the colors do not fade over a decade, they sell both short sleeves and long, and they do not have pockets. They make them up to XXL and also in extra long.

Sadly the company went bankrupt a couple years ago without warning. When Territory went bust, I was truly depressed for a few hours, then I began to search for a replacement. I couldn’t find one. All I could do was hope for its return from the dead.

It finally happened several months ago. When I saw the announcement on Google I called the purchasing company, J. Peterman Outfitters of Cincinnati, and gave them my name for when the t-shirts returned. With the first sighting, I ordered one of each of the five colors they started with. Sadly there were no white or black, which were my favorites.

They were delayed, but they finally arrived.

They were good—very good. Yet not quite as light and airy as the Pimas of 1999.

It’s life.

We get used to disappointment. 

Perhaps only original Jays Potato Chips are as wonderful as they always have been.

But I’ll take it. They do still fit me—to a tee.

Question: What is your favorite t-shirt?

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As Old as You Look

By Lloyd Graff

My high school class has a Yahoo group to connect with classmates from yesteryear. It is usually dormant except for an occasional obituary notice.

Yahoo recently announced that it is abolishing such groups, perhaps because Facebook has made them an anachronism. The notice has awakened our group. An old friend of mine volunteered to rejuvenate the internet group on Google, which has brought out thank-yous from around the country.

As each person pops up on the Web, I feel a sense of relief that they are still alive and lucid. Sometimes it is a spouse or friend who joins the group for a now-deceased member of the class of 1962. It is sobering to watch the names appear and wonder why some do not.

One of the tough things about the COVID-19 pandemic is realizing that the virus almost selectively kills off older people. For most young folks, it is an annoyance. The unlucky or sick or terribly obese are its targets from ages 30 to 60. From 60 to 75, you probably fare okay if you started out healthy. But over 75 it is truly a scourge, and that is where I will soon reside.

Lloyd in front of his childhood home in Chicago

I swing between the acceptance and rejection of age. One of the most objectionable aspects of Zoom and Skype is that I get to see myself as others see me. I find it different than looking in a mirror in the morning. I expect to look a bit haggard then, and the mirror usually confirms it. But Zoom allows other folks to inspect the configuration of your neck, unless you pull a Pelosi and cover up with a colorful silk scarf. They can see your hair thinning and the expanding sag under your eyes. And maybe they detect the occasional search for the perfect word that used to flow without effort.

But the really weird thing is that on a good day I can ignore all that baggage and feel 35, not 75. I want to go out and shoot baskets. I see no reason why I can’t run six miles before work. And my voice has the timbre of youth. 

I do have the privilege of continuing to work and write a blog, which most of my classmates have chosen not to do or have been forced by ailing health or arbitrary bosses to stop doing—unless they are running for President.

Acknowledging my age to myself is awfully scary. I do it, though, every day when I run through my morning prayer ritual and remember friends and family, many of whom died at a younger age than I’ve already attained. The upside for me is to consider that I probably was scheduled to die 12 years ago when I somehow survived a heart attack that is lethal for most people.

Now I get to be what people used to think of as old. I get to wade in the lovely illusion of youth. I daydream of the swish of 10 straight 3-pointers rotating off my fingertips.

Life is strange. I relish it. I cherish it. It’s an amazing privilege to be able to dunk at 75.

Question:  Do you feel younger than your age?

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Ep. 99 – Machining a Successful Product for 160 Years, with Howard Smith

By Noah Graff

Today’s Show is part one of a new season in which we’re talking about companies that produce their own products. Our guest is Howard Smith, owner and CEO of Wilson Bohannan, a 160-year-old padlock manufacturer.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

Main Points

Howard talks about Wilson Bohannan’s products. The company makes brass key padlocks with stainless steel shackles, as well as other locking devices. The padlock business is still the company’s most important product. The company began in 1860, making padlocks for railroad cars. At the turn of the century, as the railroads were consolidated, it turned its focus to utility companies and heavy industry. Its products are designed for extreme weather conditions—freezing cold, wet, desert, etc. The locks range in size from an 1-1/4” to over 2” wide. Howard says the locks vary in security, from a “glorified seal” to sophisticated highly secure locks with computer chips in the key and lock. (3:30)

Noah asks if it’s possible to break locks by shooting them with a gun like in the movies. Howard says it’s possible to engineer a lock that when shot with a gun collapses the mechanism and the casing around the key barrel to stop it from breaking. He says that Wilson Bohannan actually won a customer who shot a magnum rifle at one of the company’s locks but was unsuccessful at opening it. (6:45)

Howard discusses the company’s computer chip locks. The chip in the key and the lock talk to each other, allowing the owner to change the combination via computer or cell phone. (7:25)

Howard talks about the history of Wilson Bohannan. He says the company was founded in 1860 in New York by Wilson Bohannan and his son Todd. He says it was a good time to start the company because from the 1870s to 1930s it was the Gilded Age of America, when manufacturing had few restraints, regulations, and taxes. (8:20)

Howards explains that Wilson Bohannan was his wife’s great great grandfather. He started working at the lock company 47 years ago in the accounting department. He is the 6th family generation of owners, and his daughters are the 7th generation. (9:00)

Howard discusses how locks have stayed relevant and how they have changed over the years. He shows Noah a few of the locks the company makes such as a cable lock, a shrouded lock that has a component around it that protects it, and an interchangeable core padlock. (10:20)

Howard Smith, owner and CEO of lock manufacturer, Wilson Bohannan

Howard states that while innovations like computer chips and bluetooth have kept locks relevant and added functionality, the mechanical components remain the heart of the products. He says that computers can be hacked and magnets demagnetized, but a quality mechanical lock will still require a key, giving the analog components an advantage over other technologies. (13:50)

Howard says that Wilson Bohannan has an extensive R&D department, which is focused on continuous improvement so that its products remain relevant. He says that the company remains competitive by gauging what customers want by going to trade shows and by tailoring products to individual customers’ specific requests. For instance the company had a customer who needed a lock for an irrigation system. It had another customer in the oil business who needed a shackle lock with a loop to keep leaded and unleaded gasoline separated. (15:40)

Howard talks about Wilson Bohannan’s facility and the machines used to manufacture its products in house. Every component of the locks is manufactured and assembled starting with the raw materials at the company’s 40,000 square-foot factory in Marion, Ohio. The company employs around 70 people, working three shifts, five days a week, and can make just about any lock on its machines.(17:35)

Howard says that outsourcing components, even to other US companies would compromise the integrity of Wilson Bohannan’s products. He says keeping everything in house protects the products’ quality and allows the company to make products to order. (18:40)

Howard refers to Wilson Bohannan as a job shop because it tailors its products to the specific needs of customers. He says making products to-order helps the company avoid the expense of having to buy and store large lots of component parts and allows it to produce custom products more quickly. For certain parts that require larger volumes the company has a Tornos MultiAlpha multi-spindle and two EPIC Hydromats. (19:30)

Howard says Wilson Bohannan considers itself as a small business, making just 5,000 locks a day. He says Master Lock makes hundreds of thousands of locks per day to stock retail stores like Lowes and Home Depot. Howard says Wilson Bohannan tried selling locks to Lowes and Home Depot in the 1990s, but it was not a successful business model. (21:25)

Howard describes the evolution of the lock making business. He says that over 100 years ago there were hundreds of lock manufacturers in America, and 40 years ago there were around 30. He says that in the last 10-15 years, everything has changed. Now there are around five padlock makers in the US. Most of these companies mass manufacture and widely distribute their products, whereas Wilson Bohannan has always built custom locks, which enabled the company to stay successful. (23:30)

Howard says that the company doesn’t worry about intellectual property theft. Instead, it focusses on reinvesting in talent and equipment, and maintaining a good company culture.

Howard discusses how Wilson Bohannan remained a family owned business by buying out its early stockholders. Today, just three family members run the business, Howard and his two daughters. (27:10)

Howard says he is excited about the current reshoring of American companies and the improving infrastructure in the US to revitalize its manufacturing sector. (31:00)

Howard says that Wilson Bohannan has not considered buying out other lock manufacturers. He says it prefers to grow its business through technology and innovations. (31:45)

Howard states that he is not in the business just to make money. He says he has no interest in ever selling Wilson Bohannan. He says he is proud of the company’s identity as an American made business where the focus is on building something useful that benefits the lives of employees and customers. 

He says that Wilson Bohannan will represent the State of Ohio at the Made in America Showcase at the White House (Oct. 5 this past week). (32:40)

Howard says he worries about the future of America, especially with the current political climate and the pandemic, but he still remains confident that things will soon improve because of the entrepreneurial spirit of American businesses. He says he hopes that soon people will feel safe walking around again and being neighborly with each other. (35:00)

Question: Do you lock your door during the day?

 

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What it Boils Down To

By Lloyd Graff

This was a good year for applesauce. My farmers market guy, Mr. Hardin from near Kalamazoo, selected a bushel of apples, Honeycrisp, Mac, Fuji, Cortland, Jonagold, Gala, and a few Golden Delicious. Risa and Noah’s wife Stephanie peeled them, Noah and I sliced them up, and then we boiled them into the applesauce which will never last until next October.

Applesauce is a ritual for us every year. It’s a punctuation mark for the end of summer. College football is a mess, back to school is back to chaos, but for apples in the Midwest it has been a wonderful year, though not for the orchard man who relies on farmers markets to get a decent price. COVID-19 has crimped the crowds. Markets where I go in the Southern Suburbs of Chicago are drawing half the normal attendance because of fear and masks and a general fatigue.

But nothing deterred us this year. The ritual of making sauce was more compelling than ever in 2020. We aren’t the only ones. Ball Corporation, the famous jar maker, is painfully short of lids for the canners. People are searching the Web from eBay to Etsy to find extra jars and lids, and it is generally fruitless. Even plastic containers are short for winter storage.

I don’t think it is so much that folks fear shortages or think they will save money. It’s the participation in a yearly ritual, performed as a group with family and friends, that attracts people.

The Graffs gathered for traditional applesauce making.

When I was growing up, the biggest sign of fall was pulling out the football, corralling a group of guys, and heading to the park for an afternoon of touch football. Three on three, maybe four on four, counting “one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand” before you could rush the quarterback. We used to play on the street to add a little zest to the game. Parked cars were part of the challenge. Sorry to pull age, but Fortnite is pretty hollow next to catching a high spiral between a Chevy wagon and a Mercury convertible.

If you were religious, you had the fall holidays to miss school. But this piece is about the secular rituals that separate the seasons.

Today, people barbecue all year round. Growing up, the barbecue began in June. It was a charcoal affair. Kingsford did not own the market then. A mushroom was just a toadstool, cauliflower was for boiling, and propane resided at country homes. 

The finished product.

But even then, my mom made applesauce in October, and we loved it. It was demonstrably better than Mott’s, with its preservatives and possibly even corn syrup (I can’t bear even saying the words). It’s the ritual of it, the sacred event that you took for granted until you got old enough not to take any yearly event for granted.

Thanks, Mr. Hardin. The apples were superb this year. But the sauce won’t last past March.

Question: What are your sacred rituals?

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Ep. 98 – How to Prevent Fires in Your Machine Tools with Mike Campo

By Noah Graff

On this week’s episode of Swarfcast, we’re talking about preventing fires inside of machinery. Our guest is Mike Campo, Midwest Regional Sales Manager with Firetrace International, makers of fire suppression systems and solutions. Fire suppression systems keep businesses, people and equipment safe by automatically detecting and suppressing fires in high-risk equipment, like CNC machines, vehicles and wind turbines.

Mike says that machine tools are most at risk for fires when running oil based coolant while unattended. Suppression systems aim to hold back the fire, helping to mitigate the damage and allowing time for emergency personnel to respond.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

Main Points

Mike shares his background. He has been in the fire protection field for 43 years. He began his career in the engineered fire systems business, protecting data centers and telecommunications centers. He eventually went on to work at Firetrace International, a fire suppression system manufacturer that specializes in protecting critical small environments like CNC machines and wind turbines. (2:50)

Mike talks more about the niche market of working with what he calls micro environments. He says that the Firetrace system is designed for small enclosures, not rooms or spaces where there are people, such as a residential structure. (3:40)

Mike says that sprinklers are a valuable type of fire suppression for structures and are often mandated by local fire codes. He says Firetrace works heavily with the wind energy business to help protect wind turbines, which have structures that do not lend themselves to using sprinkler systems. He says that though an insurance company or local ordinance may instruct a business to purchase a fire suppression system for specific equipment, there are generally no official laws requiring a machine shop to install fire protection systems on its machines. (4:45)

Mike says the biggest risk for fires in machine shops occurs when machine tools are running unattended using oil based coolant rather than water soluble. (8:40)

Mike says that machine tools running oil create an oil mist that can ignite. Mist collectors can help evacuate some of the mist, but any kind of activity that would cause a spark in the oil mist such as a broken tool or failure of an oil pump, could lead to a violent fire. (10:50)

Mike says fires often occur when machining titanium, stainless steel, and aluminum because a lot of friction can occur, which can lead to broken tools. (12:10)

Mike explains that various Firetrace fire suppression systems correspond to different sizes of machine tools. Different volumes of space inside the machines require different amount of chemicals necessary to suppress fires. Larger machines necessitate larger tanks. (13:40)

Mike describes how the Firetrace systems work. A man in Great Britain developed a thermoplastic tubing that could hold pressure for a long period of time. Initially this technology was applied to create a fire suppression system for engine compartments of farming equipment. When pressurized, the tubing becomes a linear pneumatic heat sensor, so that if the tube comes into contact with high heat or flame, the tube ruptures, releasing the pressure that is holding down a piston in the fire protection tank. It releases and then dispenses chemicals to control the fire. (16:00)

Mike points out that Firetrace’s system “only works when it fails,” meaning that it will only go off only when the tube loses pressure. Thus Firetrace systems should not produce false alarms or go off when they are not supposed to. (18:00)

Mike says that Firetrace fire suppression systems target Class B and C fires. Fires are classified into four types, A, B, C, and D. Class A fires occur in materials such as wood and paper. Class B, fires are caused by flammable gasses or liquids, such as oil based coolant. Class C fires are electrical fires, which can occur in the electrical cabinets of machine tools. Class D fires are metal based fires. Those can occur when machining certain metals such as magnesium. Mike says that Firetrace’s system is not designed suppress metal fires, and the most common way to put out those fires is applying sand-like powder. He says if you see a yellow fire extinguisher next to a machine it’s probably meant to put out metal fires. (18:50)

Mike talks about the chemicals used by the Firetrace system. He says Firetrace’s goal is to have a clean fire suppression system that leaves no trace after use in the machine. (20:30)

Mike says that Firetrace is usually purchased aftermarket, though a few machine tool builders offer it as an option for purchase. (24:35)

Mike says the wind turbine business has been very successful for Firetrace. The company sees mostly electrical fire applications in the turbines. (27:25)

Mike says that the Firetrace has been very busy lately. Medical and automotive industries make up the majority of the company’s machine shop customers, while the Aerospace sector has fallen off since COVID-19 hit. (28:40)

Mike says that the cost of a fire suppression system for most CNC machines is $6,000 to $7,000.. He says that Firetrace’s systems are engineered to be simple, as they have no electrical components. Installation typically takes 2-4 hours. (29:25)

Mike says there are several competitor fire suppression systems which emulate Firetrace’s technology, as well as some others that function differently. He says that some systems that come installed on used machines coming from other countries might not be in compliance with US regulations. (30:35)

Mike talks about something he recently learned. He says COVID-19 has presented him with challenges that come when working from home. He says he has been honing is patience for working a lot in close quarters with grandchildren (who he says he loves dearly). (34:50)

Mike states that Firetrace is a simple technology, but the company is constantly performing R & D. He says although the system rarely fails, pressure leaks can present a challenge, whether it’s a leak in the suppression system or in the machine itself. (38:40)

Question: Have you experienced a machine fire in a CNC shop?

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