Monthly Archives: December 2020

2020, Yu Is Gone

By Lloyd Graff

What do I want to write about in the last blog of 2020? Baseball, naturally. 

My Chicago Cubs traded their Most Valuable Player, pitcher Yu Darvish, to the San Diego Padres yesterday for four prospects and a journeyman pitcher. It signaled the end of a six-year streak of playoffs or at least contention, that changed the way the world had always looked at the Cubs as lovable losers. It is likely the stars of the 2016 World Series winning team will be mostly gone soon, perhaps even before the 2021 season begins. 

I know you probably couldn’t care less about the ruminations of a lifelong Cubs fan, but the process the team management is going through is what every business owner and virtually every person with a life must go through at various times. 

A kid matures physically into an adult. He or she is confronted with a fistful of choices. Who are they? Are they questioning and rebellious, or happily passive? Do they learn new stuff easily, or is school work a strange foreign language? Are they possibly even stuck in the wrong person’s body?

Adults often choose a partner at a young age and discover the choice was a bad one a few years later. A business runs into headwinds because the market for their product shifts, like what happened recently in the oil patch. New technology obsoletes their special knowledge, or political pressure destroys their market as we saw with tobacco.

In a few days we sail into 2021. Uncertain waters for sure. The Cubbies acknowledged that the team they have been for half a decade can no longer win. 

The American government will have new management in Washington. A tough year, with everything revolving around a destructive virus, is ending. 

How about you? Are you stuck? Or are you feeling agile and motivated? Do you see an interesting, alluring new path, or are you just happy as a daisy sitting right where you are now?

Cubs star pitcher, Yu Darvish

Personally, I’m quite okay at this moment, although the machinery business was a bummer in 2020. Selling multi-spindle screw machines was a dismal path which we have veered from. Lingering too long in that briar patch left us quite scratched up. Getting rid of the players or product that you have won with for many years is tough, like trading your best pitcher for 18-year-old prospects. But it is exciting too. It gives you hope.

When you know in your bones that the old course is a certain loser, the smart thing to do is to study the options, talk to the scouts–and jump.

Happy New Year.

Question: What will you miss about 2020?

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Best of Swarfblog: Doing Business With Santa Math

By Noah Graff

The Today’s Machining World team are on break for the holidays. Meanwhile, we thought you’d enjoy this blog by Noah Graff from April 2010. We wish you a joyful holiday season, and a safe and happy New Year!

From dreambox.com

I spoke on a panel about the power of social networking and blogs at the Precision Machined Products Association tech conference on Monday. My specific segment was on how best to use videos to promote your business.

The presentation seemed well received by our good sized audience, and at the end we fielded some questions. Someone in charge of marketing at a company attending the conference asked us, “How do I justify to my boss the ROI on having a blog?” We all responded by saying that your ROI from a blog isn’t easily quantifiable, yet that doesn’t mean it can’t be a powerful tool for self-promotion.

Seth Godin’s blog April 27th (2010) summed it up in an astute way. Godin says that ROI from having a Blog or Forum is like “Santa Math.” It’s not a normal investment like paying for a college degree that could lead to a high paying career.

You have to do a blog because you genuinely want to give to a community of people.  Having a great blog or publication takes dedication, care and heart. Those efforts have to be genuine in order to create something that people love and value. This he compares to the way Santa Claus operates. Santa flies everywhere, giving presents and good cheer to people and doesn’t ask anything in return. Doing this he earns trust, friendship and gratitude. Maybe one day he can license his image and make a chunk of change to feed the reindeer and elves. But Santa wouldn’t be the loved icon he is if he was expecting money in return for giving presents to kids and brightening people’s lives.

Question: Does your business have a blog?

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Ep. 106 – The Machining World of 2020, with Noah and Lloyd Graff

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

On today’s show we’re looking back on the year 2020.

Obviously, it was a tough year for the majority of people around the world. Loved ones were taken away, and many businesses couldn’t stay afloat. There were a lot of things that sucked. But there were a few pleasant surprises along the way as well. People adapted, they embraced limitations, and even found new opportunities for success.

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

 

 

Main Points

Lloyd says that one of the first things that comes to mind when he thinks of 2020 is his fear of getting COVID-19. He says his brain is constantly occupied by considering all of the safety precautions he has to take. (1:55)

Noah says he is tired of everyone talking about COVID-19 almost as much as he is tired of the actual presence of the virus. (2:30)

Lloyd says one interesting trend he has noticed in 2020 is that despite Tesla’s stock quadrupling and the media’s dire predictions about man made climate change, Americans are buying a lot of SUVs and trucks, rather than electric cars. He says this should be a positive signal for the precision machining industry that the internal combustion engine is going to stay relevant for a while. (3:13)

Noah and Lloyd comment about a weak cam multi-spindle market in 2020 and remark that CNC multi-spindles are too expensive for a lot of endusers. (5:10)

Lloyd talks about how the PPP was a successful governmental program despite the fact that some fraudsters took advantage of it. He says the PPP was essential for medium and small companies when business fell apart in April. He says if it had not been for the PPP small businesses would have been decimated and the supply chain would have been in disarray. However, it was not as successful for various small businesses who didn’t have relationships with good bankers. The big question now is if the PPP money will be taxed. This will affect a lot of businesses, including Graff-Pinkert. (5:30)

Noah says used CNC Swiss machines were a very hot item in 2020.  Lloyd says companies had great years if they were in the firearms business or doing medical work related to fighting COVID-19. However, medical work for applications other than fighting the pandemic was soft because many medical procedures were postponed while hospitals focused on fighting COVID-19. Also the commercial aerospace business was soft because of Boeing’s internal problems and less people flying. (7:30)

Noah and Lloyd remark that despite the CNC Swiss boom, Graff-Pinkert recently bought several cam multi-spindles including an ACME-GRIDLEY 1-1/4” RB-8 and 1-5/8” RBN-8. Lloyd says that it could be a good year in automotive because of a strong demand for SUVs. (11:15)

Lloyd says a surprising trend in 2020 was that the stock market thrived despite the pandemic. Not only are all the major stock indexes at all time highs, profits for major companies are also expected to be at all time highs. However, this does not include the oil companies, who had terrible years. (12:40)

Lloyd says that using Zoom to communicate with family was something significant for him in 2020. He has not seen has not seen his grandchildren in California for a year, but he feels like he has stayed close to them. (13:40)

Noah talks about he and his wife, Stephanie, moving in with his parents for the month of October while their condo was having work done. The ability for Stephanie to do her work via Zoom made it possible. While Noah went to the office at Graff-Pinkert, Lloyd, Risa, and Stephanie all enjoyed sharing a communal workspace at home. (14:30)

Lloyd says he personally knows many people leaving big cities like New York to move near their parents because the ability to work remotely has enabled them to go wherever they want. He says rent prices in New York are decreasing and real estate markets in places like Phoenix, Arizona, or Boise, Idaho, are booming. (16:00)

Noah says one thing he is looking forward to in 2020 is continuing to produce the Swarfcast podcast. He says it is fulfilling to him to provide listeners with helpful knowledge and entertainment. (18:40)

Lloyd and Noah reflect on whether more young people are going into manufacturing. Noah says he meets a lot of young people when selling machines. Still, he is not sure whether the owners of the companies he meets are indicative of the overall workforce in the machining industry. Lloyd ponders why more African Americans don’t go into the machining business. (19:20)

Lloyd says in 2021 he is looking forward to not talking about COVID-19, not fearing the pandemic, and being together with his family again. (21:30)

Noah says he appreciates that the pandemic has influenced he and his wife to spend more time with his brother and nephew because they have less choices of people to see and activities to do. He hopes they continue to do this after the pandemic ends. (22:00)

Noah and Lloyd discuss their favorite TV shows they binge watched in 2020. Lloyd says Outlander was his favorite show. He also liked The Right Stuff and Tehran. Noah also liked Outlander and Tehran, and lately he has gotten into watching The Mandalorian. (24:30)

Noah and Lloyd end the interview saying that one of the best parts of 2020 was getting to work together—usually. (27:30)

Questions: What are you looking forward to in 2021?

What favorite TV shows did you binge watch in 2020?

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Greeks and Turks Fighting COVID-19

By Lloyd Graff

The Aegean Sea is 186 miles wide, separating Greece from Turkey. The countries have a different alphabet and language, and for a thousand years they have hated each other. 

But today’s blog is about two Turkish doctors and a Greek veterinarian who came together to rescue us from COVID-19.

The story starts with Uğur Şahin, whose parents moved to Cologne, Germany, from Turkey to work at the Ford factories in the mid-1960s when Uğur was 4 years old. At a young age, Uğur committed himself to developing a cure for cancer, and became a doctor and scientist. 

His wife, Özlem Türeci, two years younger, also came to Germany as a young child. Her father was a surgeon at a small Catholic Hospital. She wanted to emulate the selflessness of the nuns she had observed in her dad’s hospital and also became a doctor and researcher.

The two dedicated scientists eventually met one another and fell in love. They got married during a lunch break and then rushed back to their medical research.

They were recognized for their impressive research, but like many visionaries they could not find the freedom and support they wanted working for a large pharmaceutical company, so they started their own company in 2001.

They received the backing of twin billionaire brothers, Thomas and Andreas Struengmann, to finance a company called Ganymed Pharmaceuticals. The brothers previously had made a fortune backing the early developer of Lipitor and saw a future in the research of Şahin and Türeci.

The Turkish doctors eventually became enthralled with a line of research developed in the United States at the University of Pennsylvania called messenger RNA, which they saw as a pathway to developing a variety of drugs and possibly leading to a cancer cure based on using the body’s immune system. They started a second company in 2008 called BioNTech, which included messenger RNA in its range of cancer research technologies.

They sold their first company in 2016 to Astellas Pharma to focus on messenger RNA at BioNTech. The Struengmann brothers continued to support BioNTech and now control 47% of the company. The significant fortune that Şahin and Türeci have aquired does not mean much to the couple, who bicycle to work from their modest apartment near their office in Mainz, Germany. To them, the money is primarily a vehicle to fuel their research.

Drs. Özlem Türeci, Uğur Şahin, and Albert Bourla

This is where the Greek connection begins. The research on messenger RNA at BioNTech showed promise for a flu vaccine to Dr. Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, the American drug giant based in New Jersey. Like many huge Pharma companies, Pfizer possessed the pieces that a relatively peanut sized company like BioNTech lacked. Pfizer also had loads of cash and manufacturing plants, including a vaccine facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which was underutilized. Many of Pfizer’s major research efforts had failed to produce a breakthrough drug in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Also its enormous acquisition of Wyeth in 2009 was considered unsuccessful. 

Pfizer’s board was desperate for fresh leadership, with its huge money making drugs having only a few years left before they went generic.

Dr. Bourla, though he had worked at many different divisions in several countries, was something of an outsider. With a background in veterinary medicine, he was brought in to shake up the behemoth Pfizer in 2018. One of his early moves was to establish a relationship with the young startup in Germany, BioNTech, run by the two Turkish doctors.

Albert Bourla grew up in Thessaloniki, Greece. He is the same age as doctors Şahin and Türeci. His ancestors were Sephardic Jews who had emigrated to Greece after being thrown out of Spain 600 years earlier. In World War II 45,000 Jews living there were rounded up and killed by the Nazis from 1941 to 1943.

Dr. Bourla’s family fled to the mountains, joined the partisans, and survived the war. They decided to return home after WWII. Albert Bourla grew up in Thessaloniki and studied veterinary medicine at the city’s university. After college, he joined Pfizer in the field of veterinary medicine and held several positions throughout Europe and in the US, culminating in becoming the head of vaccines for Pfizer.

Bourla still has a summer home near Thessaloniki, where goes back each year to be with the family and friends he left behind. But he did not go back this summer because he was all in with the two Turkish doctors from Germany, with whom he had become close friends. Dr. Şahin says some of his contractual arrangements with Pfizer are still unsigned because he has complete faith in Dr. Bourla to live up to them.

The two Turkish doctors and the Jewish Greek animal doctor had just one abiding goal this year–kill COVID-19 and save millions of lives. The first shots were given in New York City on Monday, where Albert Bourla lives today. We all rejoiced, including Greeks and Turks together.

Question: Will you take the COVID-19 vaccine?

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Ep. 105 – Selling Cow Bone to Medical Manufacturers with Mary and Jim Rickert

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is the first episode of our new season about companies related to medical manufacturing.

Our guests are Jim and Mary Rickert, owners of Prather Ranch in Fall River Mills, California. Prather’s closed herd, in which no female cattle have been introduced since 1975, enables it to sell cow bone and other organic matter to medical manufacturing companies that require material from disease free animals.

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

 

 

Main Points

Jim and Mary Rickert talk about the history of Prather Ranch, which has been operated as an agribusiness since the 1860s. They bought the ranch in the ’80s. (3:30) 

Mary and Jim explain that Prather Ranch has a closed herd, which means that no new female cattle have been introduced for a significant period of time. It is a quite large ranch, with 2,600-2,800 cattle. The primary ranch hasn’t had any females introduced since 1975, and Prather’s backup closed herd has not had any female animals introduced since 1992. The animals are constantly tested for illnesses, and if they are infected they are removed from the herd. Also Prather Ranch only uses its own trucks to transport animals between ranges to further prevent infection coming in from the outside. They say their ranch is the truest example of “herd immunity.”   (4:10)

Jim and Mary talk about the Prather Ranch’s primary business, selling organic beef. The ranch even has its own slaughter house, which no other ranches have, to insure the meat undergoes the strictest health standards. (8:40)

Jim and Mary talk about their secondary business. In addition to selling beef to consumers, Prather Ranch supplies companies in the biomedical sector with raw biomaterials that come from its cattle. Biomedical companies want to buy organic materials from Prather Ranch because they can feel secure that the livestock don’t have diseases, such as Mad Cow Disease. (10:00) 

Prather Ranch first started selling organic material from its livestock in 1990 to the Collagen Corporation, which was manufacturing collagen for cosmetic procedures. (11:00)  

Jim and Mary talk about customers that took bone from cow femurs and machined into bone screws, pins, or plates. Then those parts were supposed to dissolve inside the recipient body. People at the time also were using bones from humans, but it was hard to get enough quality bones from dead people. Mary and Jim think that bovine raw materials are generally superior than that of humans because people can know about the animals it is coming from—the animals are in a controlled environment, unlike people. (13:00) 

Jim and Mary say that the bone screws and similar products made from cow bone unfortunately sometimes are rejected by recipients because their bodies recognize they are foreign materials. Human bone can also be rejected. These types of bone transplants are less popular now and have been supplanted by synthetic bones made in a lab. (15:15)

Jim and Mary talk about a startup company currently working on a new technology that overcomes the body rejection, which is in Stage 3 of testing. 

The following is a summary of the technology:

When a person’s bone is crushed, the company machines a slightly smaller replica out of cow bone using a 3-D scanner. Then undifferentiated T-cells are extracted from the patient’s body fat. Then they 3-D print new cells based on the extracted T-cells around the reconstructed bone. Through a series of other complex processes they join the new cells to the reconstructed bones. Afterward, the patient’s body hopefully will accept the new reconstructed bones. (16:50-21:30) 

Jim and Mary talk about other biomedical technology that companies are trying to develop using bovine products to improve the people’s quality of life. Jim and Mary say that it gives them purpose to be able to give animals a healthy comfortable life, produce healthy meat, and contribute to manufacturing products that can help people’s quality of life. They say they have been officially certified since 2003 that their animals are raised in a humane manner. (21:30)

Noah asks a few beef questions. Jim and Mary say that in their opinion male and female beef tastes the same. They say the taste of beef is dependent on how gently the animals are treated—less stress means better flavor. Mary’s favorite cut of beef is Filet Mignon, Jim likes New York Strip, Rib Steak, and some hamburger if it is dry aged with the proper type of added fat. (24:00)

Jim and Mary say they have recently learned about how to handle employees who have contracted Covid-19, as two of theirs just got the virus. (26:30) 

Mary says at restaurants she is hesitant to order beef because she knows too much about the typical beef producing process. Jim says he is a lot less picky. (27:00) 

Question: Carnivorous readers—What is your favorite type of meat or favorite cut of beef?

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Is It Free?

By Noah Graff

I was recently listening to a podcast interview with Robert Cialdini, a professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State and author of best selling books about marketing, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

One of Cialdini’s principles of persuasion is reciprocity, which he says is both hardwired in people and instilled in us by societal norms. He says that when people give to us we have the urge to give back. He quoted a study on the podcast that reported if an owner of a candy shop greets guests with a piece of chocolate they buy 42% more candy than if he gave them a friendly greeting without the free candy.

In Graff-Pinkert’s used machinery business, it’s hard to give customers free samples of machine tools—though it’s not unheard of. It’s more likely to have reciprocity in our business when we work with other dealers. There is an understanding that when one dealer brings you an opportunity to partner on you should try to return the favor down the line.

A few months ago I was talking on the phone to a fellow machinery dealer who in the past I had always enjoyed talking to, but had never done a deal with before. We got on the subject of a book we had both heard about called Dead Wake, which tells the story of the Lusitania sinking. A week later, I received a package from Amazon with the book. He hadn’t told me he was going to send it, he just did. Now I feel like he and I have an interesting bond.

In the case of the book gift, I see it as more than just a gesture to get a reciprocal response. Just because someone sends you a book it’s not a reason to come to them with a machinery deal. But Cialdini has another principle of persuasion—liking. Getting the book made me feel like the guy liked me. Cialdini says that when you feel like someone likes you, you feel comfortable with them and you are more likely to want to do business with them.

I know the guy who gave me the book was not trying to manipulate me. I think he’s just a thoughtful person who probably wants to grow a relationship. What I take from this experience is that if I have even a slight urge to do something nice for someone, no matter who it is, I should stop hesitating and do it.

Question: When have free samples gotten you to buy more stuff?

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Best of Swarfcast: Using Blockchain in Manufacturing with Jim Regenor

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the podcast is Jim Regenor, founder of Veritx, a company which helps clients dramatically reduce lead times and increases readiness for military and airline customers with blockchain technology.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

With today’s 3-D printing technology parts can be produced on site so clients don’t need to wait for products to be sent by land or sea. All that needs to be sent is the digital information for how to produce the parts on site. Blockchain insures the digital information is correct.

Main Points

(3:30) Jim gives background on his company Veritx which he established in August of 2019. He characterizes the company’s product as “a digital parts catalog for regulated industries that reduces long lead times and increases readiness for military and airline customers.”

(4:35) Jim talks about a proof of concept with the Department of Defense where blockchain could reduce the lead time for an F-15 part from 265 days down to 6 hours from order to delivery. He says that the United States military still uses some aircraft from as far back as the 1950s, so being able to deliver spare parts efficiently can be difficult when many of the original aerospace suppliers have gone out of business.

Jim Regenor, founder of Veritx

(8:00) Jim gives his background. He spent 31 years as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He was on the Security Council for the Bush and Obama Administrations, and he also ran a large logistics operation, with 15 locations in 11 countries across three continents—many of them war zones. He said he was moving roughly 570,000 tons of cargo and about 2 million people a year, and found himself constantly needing spare parts.

(9:25) After he got out of the Air Force, Jim ran the military aftermarket division at a Tier 1 aerospace company called Moog Aircraft Group. The company had acquired a 3-D Printing business in Michigan and realized that 3-D printing would become an enabler for digital 4.0 schema and how industries would interact. This led him to world of blockchain.

(11:00) Jim says that 3-D printing coupled with blockchain enables what he calls the fourth modality of logistics. Instead of transporting physical parts by land or sea, digital information to make the parts is sent on the cloud. Then parts are manufactured on site with 3-D printing. Blockchain enables the information to be sent properly.

(14:10) Jim characterizes blockchain as a distributed ledger. He gives an example of several people in a room in which one person owes another person 10 dollars. Every person records that 10 dollars is owed in their ledgers. If the person who owes money tries to lie and says he only owes 9 dollars, the people in the room have records to prove he lying. This concept means that information can be sent through a decentralized transparent system and cannot be corrupted. All records are transparent so that there is a consensus. For blockchain applications, sometimes hundreds or thousands of computers keep the ledger. This can be used to establish value for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, but it can also work well for other applications such as logistics because it enables people to track the entire lineage of an asset.

(17:20) Jim gives an example of Walmart using blockchain to track the supply chain of its lettuce from harvest to store shelves to combat the E. coli problem last year.

(19:00) Jim says that many companies are using blockchain right now and data can be tracked with user interfaces. He says for the supply chain for aerospace blockchain records the entire process, starting with the initial requirements being sent to a designer. Then each stage such as the design of a part, manufacturing, quality control, etc. is recorded individually. Everything is transparent and correct, insuring a good final product. If people realize there is a design flaw, it is easy to go back and find the mistake because each stage has been recorded with blockchain.

For more information about Veritx go to veritx.co or email Jim Regenor at jim@veritx.co.

Question: What’s your experience using blockchain?

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How to Spin a Dreidel

By Lloyd Graff

Scott Livingston spun a dreidel for me on one of his CNC Swiss machines and sent it to me for Chanukah. 

It probably rotated at about 3,000 RPM on an L20 Citizen, turning round stock into the traditional square, spinnable top. My dreidel has a body made from aluminum, but Scott’s family company, Horst Engineering, in Hartford, Connecticut, also makes them from titanium and stainless steel. The stem of the dreidel is turned from solid ground bar stock, the thread connecting the stem to the body is rolled on a Hartford thread roller. It also has a cross hole. The diamond knurl on the stem for gripping is produced on the same equipment his firm uses to make the handles of surgical instruments. The dot-peened logo is marked in the identical way it is done to identify critical aircraft hardware components.

I doubt Horst Engineering will make a dime on my $52 dreidel, but that isn’t the point. My blue dreidel, with the four Hebrew letters on its sides, is a dramatic illustration of the talent and creativity the 75-year-old company possesses. It is something to take to a show, to hand to an engineer who might show it to a purchasing agent or give to an investor. 

My artistic dreidel, which I could sell on Etsy or Ebay if I were Scott, addresses a huge problem for most of the smallish job shops who possess incredible skills that the layman does not have a clue about. How do you find an audience who will even listen? How do you get noticed by a potential buyer? How do you display your products in a seemingly effortless way to illustrate that your company is something special?

We confront this issue every day at Graff-Pinkert and Today’s Machining World. How is one used machinery dealer different from any other? Can you really advertise cutting oil or a CNC lathe in a meaningful way in print, or even in a video? It is a challenge, yet it is not impossible if you really think about it. You can do it without falling into cliches or copycat marketing.

I believe Scott Livingston’s dreidel could be a vehicle to accomplish this for his company, though it was originally conceived as part of a family business effort to celebrate its own accomplishments.

Horst Engineering’s dreidel is not its first foray into developing its own product. Scott Livingston and his wife are avid bikers (he rides 16 miles to and from work every day in Connecticut). They are heavily into cyclocross, a sport in which peddling enthusiasts bike through challenging terrain, punishing themselves and their equipment. He has developed a line of footwear spikes called cross spikes, made from titanium that can withstand the mud, dirt, and ice these bike nuts encounter while racing . They are made with the precision of the company’s aerospace and medical products. (Listen to this episode of Swarfcast for Scott’s description).

Will they make Horst a household name? Certainly not. Will they make the company a candidate to go public? Highly doubtful. 

Yet the products give Horst an identity. They give it a calling card, a brand. If Scott Livingston cares to use them to their fullest, the spikes and the dreidel can be a magnet for the kind of specialty work that job shops dream about.

Question: Has your company given anything away for free lately?

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