Author Archives: apalmes

The Life of a Helicopter

By Noah Graff

March 6, Olaf Tessarzyk, Managing Partner/President of ZPS America, test flew a Uh1-H Huey 563 helicopter he helped build as part of the Indiana Air Search and Rescue organization (IASAR).

IASAR is a non-profit organization which restores old helicopters, which will then be used for 3rd tier search and rescue duty and air shows. Every Tuesday evening for the last five years Olaf and 36 other members of IASAR, many of them Vietnam veterans, gathered at a hanger at Indianapolis metro airport to restore the helicopter. Everyone took on different job, such as maintenance of the radio, working on the turbine, etc. Olaf got the sweet gig of being the test pilot because he was the only certified test pilot in group—he got his certification serving in the German military.

Olaf beamed as he talked about how honored he felt to be part of the eclectic group of volunteers who shared his passion for helicopters and working hard together for a good cause.

This specific helicopter has had an interesting life, one that kind of reminded me of the life of a good ole used machine tool. From 1968-1972 it had been flown in Vietnam. After that it was used for military training and finally it had been used for search and rescue. Olaf and the IASAR team either rebuilt or replaced all of the helicopter’s parts including putting in a brand new engine. Many times they would have to acquire parts by trading spare parts with other people building their own helicopters.

IASAR is entirely funded by donations, membership fees of $85 per year and corporate sponsors. ZPS America sponsored 10 memberships. Members get one helicopter ride every year, which a great deal considering that often a helicopter joyride will cost $400 or $500 a pop.

Go to for a video of the first flight.

The First Flight of the 563

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No Free Lunch

By Lloyd Graff

Today’s Machining World needs your help. We have been caught in the perfect storm of steady increases in printing and postage expenses and a disastrous recession in the machining business that has trampled our advertisers.

On the cover of the March 2010 issue of Today’s Machining World, readers will see a request for contributions similar to those made by National Public Radio.

You receive TMW and this Web site free, and you will continue to get them. But in the end, there’s no free lunch.

For a $40 contribution you will get a $10 mini MagLite as a premium. Anything less would still be appreciated, with all my heart.

So here’s the deal. Contribute what you think is fair. And do it now.

Click here to contribute.


Lloyd Graff
Today’s Machining World

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Betting On Our Economic Future with Alan Beaulieu

By Lloyd Graff

Alan Beaulieu of the Institute for Trend Research spoke at the Precision Machined Products Association Management Update and gave his predictions about the next couple of years. Beaulieu is not just any dismal soothsayer. He specializes in looking at the manufacturing world and had correctly predicted the dramatic recession we are just poking out of today.

He is quite confident we are in a sustained recovery, which will gain momentum through next year. He sees 2012 as a seesaw year.

The most surprising aspect of his talk for me was his prediction of significant inflation by 2011. Beaulieu suggested an inflation rate of 6.5 percent next year, pushed by a surge in commodity prices.

Beaulieu sees commercial lending by banks gradually easing. In his view, banks want to lend but are being restrained by government examiners who are working at cross purposes to the avowed intent of the administration to expand credit for small business.

Beaulieu sees us at a classic inflection point of opportunity to buy residential real estate. In his view, we have six months to get a historic discount on real estate. His admonition was to buy a condo or a house either to use or rent out as soon as possible because both price and interest rates are going up soon.

He had some interesting political and economic views as well. He sees Russia as a crumbing mess with a dying population and extremely low birthrate (1.1 children per woman). He sees the Euro headed back to parity with the dollar. He recommends buying gold and sees copper prices reaching for the moon because of Chinese demand.

His top categories for growth are medical, food, energy (he likes wind), security and water. He is very bullish on India.

The best thing about Beaulieu’s talk—he didn’t hedge his bets.

Question: Are you considering buying residential real estate in the next six months?

Alan Beaulieu at PMPA Management Update

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Can Machines be Too Efficient?

By Lloyd Graff

I was talking to a fan of Today’s Machining World who works at the world’s largest airplane builder. After discussing the Dreamliner’s ups and downs, he asked me if I thought machining could get too efficient. “What if x, y and z machining times got so fast you wouldn’t need any machinists,” he asked me. I laughed, but he went on.

“Lloyd, did you know that BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Audi decided that 155 miles per hour was as fast as non-professionals could safely drive on an autobahn, so they jointly decided to make that speed the maximum their cars would run?” he said.

His point about machining is that the builders make a mistake by constantly pushing machining speeds as improvements. He fears that we are losing the balance between machinist and machine.

The whole conversation sounded like a replay of the folk ballad of “John Henry, the steel driving man” who fought the track laying machines to a dead heat.

The engineer from Seattle sees being a welder as the only safe job in metalworking, because it cannot be outsourced to China and speed is limited by the melting temperature of metal.

Questions: Can machines be too efficient? Machinist or welder, who has more job security?

Johnny Cash – Ballad Of John Henry’s Hammer

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The Call

By Lloyd Graff

I was watching the new Ron Howard series “Parenthood” Saturday night when my cell phone rang with a call from the 602 area code (Phoenix). One of the key threads in the show is a story about a boy diagnosed with Asperger’s, a step on the autism spectrum.

The caller was the daughter of a first cousin who went on to breathlessly recount the story of my cousin, Don, being hit by a car at 4:30 a.m. that day and being killed.

I had written an “Afterthought” awhile back about my relationship (or lack of) with Don, who ran away from a high school English class we were both taking, 48 years ago. I never saw Don again after that.

He suffered a psychotic break that day I learned, and was placed in a psychiatric ward after my Dad literally chased him down on the University of Chicago campus.

Donnie and I were not close, but we played ping pong and softball. We were kin. His family was a crumbling mess, but I didn’t know that at the time. I had no idea Don was a fragile vessel. When the vicious English teacher humiliated him in class that day and Dan bolted out of the class I was stunned by the teacher’s callousness, but I was also stunned that Don reacted by running out of the room and the building.

It was all so crazy.

It was my intro to emotional illness.

Don’s life with schizophrenia ended at 4:30 a.m. Saturday with the impact of a Honda Accord going 42 miles per hour, according to the police report. He had no wife or children. The story on the Washington Post said he was “an eccentric man” who frequented a nearby shopping center.

Don’s niece, Elizabeth, is looking for a place to bury him. She asked me if he could be buried in a plot my father had bought in the late 1960s. I didn’t know what to say to her. As close as I had been to death 18 months ago, I had no burial plans, nor did my brother or sister or our spouses. I didn’t like having to deal with Don any more in death than I did in life. For 48 years I could not get that terrible day in English class out of my head. And now I have to live with the image of Don Graff’s “eccentrism” walking into the Honda on a four lane highway at 4 a.m.

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Do you feel like doing work today!?

By Noah Graff

Happy Monday morning! Some of you readers are refreshed from two days of R and R and ready to attack today’s tasks, while some of you others may not feel like plunging in and getting that unfun stuff done that just has to be done so you can be successful or just survive.

Check out this entry from Seth Godin’s Blog last week. Maybe it will make you “feel” better about the immediate challenges you have to tackle. Maybe not. But should that matter anyways?

“I don’t feel like it”
By Seth Godin

What’s it?

Why do you need to feel like something in order to do the work? They call it work because it’s difficult, not because it’s something you need to feel like.

Very few people wake up in the morning and feel like taking big risks or feel like digging deep for something that has eluded them. People don’t usually feel like pushing themselves harder than they’ve pushed before or having conversations that might be uncomfortable.

Of course, your feelings are irrelevant to whether or not the market expects great work. Do the work. Ignore the feelings part and the work will follow.

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March Madness Swarf

By Lloyd Graff

Tattoos on NBA players irritate me. Lebron James has 17 body tattoos that have been identified. Though it is suspected that he has others which have not appeared in photos.

I see the proliferation of body hieroglyphics as a reflection of the “look at me I’m a star” braggadocio that sullies the slam dunk league. I am an old school basketball purist who revels in team play and a flawless fast-break. I love a Steve Nash or a Chris Paul because they can score and dish and improvise the game into Brubeck jazz.

I ask myself if my annoyance with tattoos is latent racism, generational divide, or just hoops snobbery. It probably has some of all three elements. Though I see a Chris Anderson as the ultimate narcissist, a mediocre white player displaying himself like a spooked peacock.

Anybody who follows my writing knows that I am a sports enthusiast. Basketball has been a love since I watched Bob Cousy make no-look behind the back passes to Bill Russell for the Boston Celtics. I think Lebron is the most talented basketball player I’ve ever watched, but watching him take over a game with one on one play in the fourth quarter is as annoying as looking at his tattoos.

Question: Do you feel that body ink is symptomatic of a thuggified cult of personality NBA or am I a hopelessly out of touch Frank Sinatra white guy in a Lil Wayne’s world?

Chris Andersen & his tattoos

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Time to Develop Young Machining Talent

By Lloyd Graff

The most stunning conclusion I reached from the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA) Management Update Conference last weekend in Phoenix is that the precision machining operations business is good right now. Whether it was the automotive contingent, the aerospace guys from the coasts, the mixed baggers, the brassers or the ammo and firearms suppliers, the PMPAers were generally happy. What a change from a year ago.

The PMPA’s statistics show the same reflection of business. Sales levels are still off peak levels but profits are solid because of significant gains in productivity. The pruning effect was referred to by almost everybody I talked to. Weak employees have been shed. Processes have been sharpened. Companies are lean and hungry.

Contrary to the idea that nobody is hiring, the folks in Phoenix were looking. What they were seeking is youth and energy. Skills are a plus but they can be developed. We are at a point in the business cycle where you can find smart eager young people who are ok with starting out on the cheap and working their way up.

Dave Knuepfer of DuPage Machined Products outside of Chicago is hiring high school kids as interns hoping one out of three will stick. Ron Bracalente of Bracalente Manufacturing in Trumbauersville, Pa., is hiring engineers out of school for $13 per hour and fast tracking them up the pay scale if they can cut it.

Precision Machining is shedding its old skin coming out of this recession. The focus in Phoenix was not about adding machine capacity, it was about acquiring young talent during one of those rare windows of opportunity.

Question: Are you using this period to acquire young talent?

Richardson Ng, 2nd year Mechanical Technician at Centennial College, watches the sparks fly off a grinder in Precision Machining lab.

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The Machining Business is Coming Alive Again

By Lloyd Graff

The Valley Ho Hotel, Site of the PMPA Management Update. (Photo Courtesy of Miles Free)

Groups like the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA) are still dominated by old white guys who can’t jump, but it’s beginning to turn over in a few ways. One of the nice things about going to a conference like the PMPA Management Update in Phoenix last weekend is to see an organization evolving.

Owners, many second and third generation machine guys themselves, are looking to rejuvenate their businesses with young talent. I heard this from almost everybody I talked to at the conference. A lot of older shop workers have retired or been pruned. The managers of many PMPA shops are looking for fresh talent out of local engineering schools, tech schools, high schools—wherever there are kids who want to work hard and are willing to use Lava soap. You can’t advertise specifically for youth, but in America today you can shop the abundant talent pools, looking for what you want. For 30 years, the constant lament at these gatherings has been “you can’t get talent.” In Phoenix, the belief was that at this moment you can get “potential” that you can develop.

I talked to several young guys—30 is young to me now—who are running things at their shops and feeling good about it. Dave Thuro is pretty much running things now at Thuro Metal products in Long Island N.Y. The company is pushing hard on exporting to Europe and Mexico. Eli Crotzer of Hi-Vol Products, LLC, an automotive cold header turned Hydromat shop in Livonia, Mich., came into the machining world through the private equity door. He says he’s about as technical as a baked potato, but he’s learning fast, selling off one shop in his boss’s portfolio and looking to more ongoing operations.

Aaron Bagshaw of W.H. Bagshaw Co. Inc., carries on the company name after 140 years in the business. He’s adding CNC bargains to his successful line of pins. He was proud of the five Nomuras he just “stole” for $23,000.

Machining is getting a life again right now as the know-nothings write it off.

Creative destruction is alive, under the rubble.

Question: Do you feel the machining business coming back to life?

White Men Can’t Jump

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Helping and Hatin

By Lloyd Graff

Very interesting action on my blog about Hans Peters looking for a Citizen CNC programmer for his plant in Tennessee. Generally, people in the machining blogosphere wanted to be helpful to a fellow traveler new to machining. But there were the assorted grumps who were offended by the piece because they resented me singling out Peters for special treatment.

I get a perverse charge out of the criticism, especially when it’s nasty. In a world where so many people live life painting by the numbers, it’s sort of refreshing to know that I got some folks to start “hatin” on me about a machining blog. These discerning folks connect with my inner scowl.

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