Author Archives: Ridgely Dunn

Machinery Matchmaker

By Noah Graff

I often see machine tool preference as a kind of religion, and my game is not to try to convert people. In the used machinery business, my usual strategy is to be a matchmaker rather than a missionary. If customers ask for an ACME 1-5/8” RB-8 I don’t generally attempt to sell them a Wickman 1-3/4”. If a customer is a devout Tornos user, I doubt I can convert them to Citizens.

A few years ago I trekked through the mountains of Slovenia with a customer to buy a Schutte SE16 spindle stopper sitting in a barn. We could hear cows mooing through the wall. It was the machine the customer asked for and I didn’t even attempt to sell him a different brand.

I wonder, is it a better business for me to try to provide the exact product a client asks for (when there may be only a few available in the world), or attempt to convince a customer the product I already possess is just as good or better than what they requested? Perhaps I just don’t have the expertise for the missionary business.

Would it be more fulfilling to be a missionary?

Question: Do you like like using more than one brand of machines in your shop?

Schutte SE16 in Barn in Slovenia

Share this post

Best of Swarfcast – Ep. 32 – Work Less and Do More, with Ari Meisel

By Noah Graff

In 2020, I intend to feel less overwhelmed and work smarter, not longer. Today we are featuring one of my favorite podcasts from 2019, “Work Less and Do More, with Ari Meisel.”

Scroll down to listen to the podcast with Ari Meisel.

Like many people, I get overwhelmed at work. Sometimes I don’t get the work done I want to do, so I stay at the office an hour or two extra. By the time I get home I feel like I don’t have enough free time for relaxation and other activities.

I have been repeatedly listening to a book called The Art of Less Doing, by Ari Meisel, today’s podcast interviewee, which has had a real positive effect on my life. Meisel, who calls himself an “overwhemologist,” has a mission to cure the inefficiencies of folks like me so we can have more success professionally and have a lot more free time. He preaches that the secret to having the time to run a successful business and having free time to relax is to become “replaceable” through automation and outsourcing. He says that if a business cannot be run without you then you don’t own a business, you have the privilege of owning your own job.

In the book and with his coaching firm, Less Doing, Meisel provides resources for people to automate processes and then outsource tasks when necessary by using a virtual assistant. He says the ideal is to automate a task before giving it to another human being to accomplish. Some automation methods can be simple, such as creating automatic bill payments, having supplies automatically queued to be sent at the same time once a month, or having email automatically sorted between junk and important contacts.

Ari Meisel on Replacing Yourself

Ari Meisel, author of The Art of Less Doing

Meisel also believes in the merits of a virtual assistant. This was something I had not really considered before and felt a little embarrassed to try, but several months ago Graff-Pinkert hired a man in Albania to work for $10 per hour. He looks online for new contacts to add to our database and he advertises our machines on the Web. In addition to speaking Albanian he speaks English, Swedish, and Turkish, which may come in handy for Turkish customers in the near future. This has freed me up to talk to customers and focus on more complicated tasks. I admit that he sometimes does a more complete job than I would on certain tasks because my attention would have been diverted. Meisel says that the brain is not designed to multi-task, so this result makes sense.

In addition to automation and outsourcing advice, Meisel prescribes a scientific approach to working efficiently based on brain research. He says it is important to find one’s personal peak time to work, which can vary significantly among people. Mine seems to be from about 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. He also believes that setting time limits makes a huge impact on productivity. Studies show that people often make work take the exact amount of time they are allotted, which is why many people, such as myself, work the most efficiently right before a deadline. Data also shows that the brain often works better in sprints, so rather than trudge through a to-do list, only stopping when one task is finished, it is best to work in 25 minute increments, taking five minute breaks in-between.

The idea of working less hours and becoming replaceable can be difficult for people to swallow because doing more work makes us feel valuable in our workplaces and society, but Meisel teaches that once you learn to do less, you can accomplish so much more.

Questions: Could your company survive without you?

Share this post

Ep. 67 – Connecting Manufacturers Through the Cloud with Sunny Han

By Noah Graff

Our guest on today’s podcast is Sunny Han, founder and CEO of Fulcrum, a cloud based enterprise resource planning system, or ERP, for small to medium sized manufacturing companies. Besides creating a great ERP, Han says his true aspiration is to create a vast network of manufacturing companies, enabling them to work together seamlessly.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

Main Points

(2:35) Sunny explains that Fulcrum is a cloud based ERP software for small to medium sized manufacturers. He says the software lends itself to companies with at least 12 employees on the shop floor. Some of its customers have up to several hundred million dollars in revenue. He says that a lot manufacturers have ERP software, but often it’s antiquated, sometimes installed back in the 1980s.

(6:05) Sunny explains the purpose of ERP software. He says that traditionally an ERP is defined as one place where a company can store and sort its data. It’s a place to store quotes, sales orders, info on trouble shooting a specific part, etc.

Sunny Han of Fulcrum, a cloud based ERP

(7:10) Sunny says Fulcrum’s software has the same features of traditional ERPs, but it can also automatically interpret data to advise the user how to be more productive. It automatically shares management data such as which employees are better on a specific machine, the optimal moment to buy material, the most efficient workflow for a part, etc. Nobody has to read and analyze reports because the machine does that for you.

(9:20) Sunny says he has been working with technology since he was 7 years old. In the early ‘90s, his parents were grad students at the University of Minnesota, which gave him the chance to spend time in the school’s computer lab. There, he thought himself basic computer programming (with a little assistance from the college students in the lab). In middle school and high school he built websites, but in college he did not major in computer science,

(12:25) After receiving his undergrad degree, Sunny became interested in business and worked for several years as a consultant, during which time he encountered a lot of manufacturing companies. He wrote custom software and custom ERPs for those clients, which inspired him to start Fulcrum.

(17:10) Sunny explains why Fulcrum is built in the cloud. He says that 70-80% of manufacturing companies today still use an on premise ERP system, requiring someone physically on site to maintain it.

(19:35) Sunny explains Fulcrum’s master plan to connect manufacturing companies and what inspired this goal. He said he realized during his consulting days that companies were not connected enough with venders and customers. He tells a story about going to China (his birthplace) and seeing markets where venders could network with customers in person. All of the companies had a space in one physical room, and agreements for supply chains could be planned and signed in minutes. He says that the United States doesn’t have a networking platform like this. People don’t know who all the companies are, and as a result they don’t collaborate like they should. He says we could double the manufacturing GDP in the United States with only a 20% increase in efficiency and throughput. This would result in less reliance on outsourcing overseas.

(23:25) Sunny discusses his ambition to create a manufacturing environment where all information is shared between firms. He understands this can be scary for manufacturers because it could expose them to competition, but he says that when the value of a group rises, its members prosper.

(25:55) Sunny says he knows that it is impossible to get every company to adopt Fulcrum’s ERP system, but his plan is to make it capable of working with other ERP systems.

Question: Do you wish there was more community among manufacturers?

Share this post

Bad Guys in Retreat

By Lloyd Graff

Sometimes the bad guys lose.  Lately, it seems like the bad guys are on a losing streak.

Look at Iran.  Not only did the fiendish master terrorist in a general’s uniform, Qasem Soleimani, get his just due at the hands of an American drone, but people who hate the despotic regime have been emboldened to engage in mass protests against the government.  A month ago the police and army put down demonstrations by mowing down hundreds, if not thousands, in Tehran but also in other cities.  They imprisoned many more, but they haven’t silenced the people. The economy is gasping under American sanctions.  The disgust for the religious regime in a country of millions of secular, educated people is widespread.  The Persian culture has not always been oppressed by mullahs and terrorists.  Persia had a wonderful history of tolerance, art, and peace before the religious crazies took over in 1979.

Thankfully, for the moment at least, the Iranian bad guys are in retreat.

*    *     *     *     *

Hans Gruber of Die Hard 1

For China the story is somewhat similar.  In Hong Kong the weekly demonstrations, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of people, continue against the local government and the communist regime in Beijing.  The original spark, an extradition law to the mainland, has been rescinded, but the hatred of the communists by young and old, and the fear of the bad guys in Beijing crimping the traditional freedom fostered by British rule, keeps the multitudes coming out in masks week after week to brave tear gas and worse.

The beauty is that the authorities appear to be at a loss to figure out how to deal with the protests.  They fear that they will spread to the mainland and Macau and pose an “existential threat” to the communist regime that can seemingly accept capitalism in a controlled fashion but abhors political freedom in the 70th year after Mao’s revolution.

Another jab in the face to China occurred over the weekend when the strongly anti-communist candidate won by a landslide in a free election in Taiwan.  Modern Taiwan was founded in 1949 by Chinese who fled Mao and settled in Taiwan, still claimed and coveted by Beijing.

*    *     *     *     *

Closer to home in Venezuela, the country which is even richer in oil than Iran and is so poor and corrupt under incompetent socialist dictators that people are hungry, millions head to the borders to escape as the pathetic Nicolas Maduro clings to power.  The Cubans, Russians, and Chinese are sending in assistance, but the dictator’s hold appears very fragile.

*    *     *     *     *

Why are the bad guys reeling?  The details are different in each country, but one theory that makes sense to me is that Internet access, which brings most people information about how other people live and provides the possibility of change for a better life, fosters discontent with dictators and oppression.  Young people in Iran, Hong Kong, and Venezuela all know that their parents or grandparents once had a much better life.  In Hong Kong and Taiwan, they know how their relatives are living in China, even though the last 25 years have brought relative prosperity to China.  They don’t want to give away their freedom, and they are willing to fight for it and vote for it.

It is hard to assess the role of the United States.  President Trump has pressed economic sanctions against Iran and Venezuela but has been cautious militarily.  He has stayed on the sidelines with Hong Kong.  He appears to be hoping stupidity, corruption, and tyranny will sew its own destruction.

Let’s hope so.

Question:  Can you imagine voting for Bernie Sanders for President?

 

Share this post

Ep. 66 – Work Holding that Works with Rick Miller

By Noah Graff

On today’s podcast we interview Rick Miller, owner and cofounder of Elijah Tooling, a company that sells innovative CNC work holding equipment.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

Rick has a knack for for coming up with unique products and has several patents in the work holding sector. He says that innovative ideas are vital for success, but getting customers to buy into those ideas is what makes for a successful business.

Main Points (Time codes according to audio)

(3:05) Rick talks about the origin of his business. Before producing work holding equipment, he and his brothers started a programming company for milling machines in 1990, but the business failed.

(7:00-9:30) Rick discusses the captive fasteners Elijah Tooling produces for CNC milling. They reduce the need for bolts and clamps in work holding by standardizing processes. He said it wasn’t a new concept, but the ability to buy a product off the shelf for that purpose was novel at the time. The company today has three patents on work holding products.


(9:30-13:00) Rick gives technical details on some of Elijah Tooling’s Products and discusses various applications they are used for.

(13:15-15:30) Rick discusses the ROI on his work holding fixtures. He gives one scenario in which one of his customers could save $4,000 per month by using his products.

(15:30) Rick talks about the challenge of getting customers to adopt his products. He says that often coming up with great ideas is easy, but making people understand why they would want a product is the most difficult task. On the video he talks about a T-slot vice the company created that wasn’t successful in the market place.

(19:20) Rick talks about a product Elijah Tooling produces called a zip bushing, which is a combination of a bushing and a threaded insert that come together in a fixture.

(21:20) Rick talks about his creative process. He says inspiration often comes from talking to customers about which existing products need to be improved.

(24:10) Rick talks about Elijah Tooling’s use of social media and videos that talk about the company’s products and business. He works with one of his sons who has a social media marketing company. They found that for the videos to be effective it was necessary for him to host them.

(27:00-37:30) Rick talks about sabbaticals he takes to find inspiration. He goes away for a week completely alone—no friends, no family, and no TV. He reads, he journals, he eats and sleeps when he feels like it, and does a lot of praying. On a recent sabbatical he decided he was going to eliminate all debt from his life.

(38:00) Rick says one of Elijah Tooling’s main focuses in 2019 was figuring out the company’s “why.” He wanted himself and his employees to understand their purpose.

(39:45) Rick says in 2020 Elijah Tooling will be focusing on growth by improving the company’s systems and reenforcing trust with its customers.

Question: What tool would you like to see invented?

Share this post

The Power of Bad

By Lloyd Graff

When I take my daily shower, I devote my energy to groaning and swearing at the walls. My pent up pain, not really directed at any one thing, is drowned by the noise of the water striking the floor. It is one way to dissolve the negativity that feels so powerful inside me early in the morning.

I towel off quickly and flop back into bed exhausted from the hot water and the verbal expiation, continuing my groans. After ten or fifteen minutes flat on my back in bed,  I do my fifteen minute prayer and meditation ritual, eat breakfast, and head to work, where I need to listen, solve problems, create money making possibilities, and also prepare to write this blog.

Pain and negativity get in the way of all those behaviors. Hopefully the cleansing shower helps reduce my negativity that is a permanent pebble in my shoe.

I think dealing with negative emotions is a problem every person feels. I was reminded of this by a beautiful essay that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on December 27th. Written by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister, the essay summarized their new book, “The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It.”

The new book by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister

The authors’ thesis is that we are genetically programmed to worry because if the cavegirl didn’t worry almost incessantly, she would starve or be eaten for breakfast. Vigilance and worry are bred into us so we can literally have our daily bread. But it can make for a lousy life.

Parents, even “good parents,” often reinforce the fear in their kids: “You want to succeed in life, you better ace that test.” The news media reinforces negative feelings because it’s rarely news if it isn’t something bad.

The task in business is to keep the “bad guys,” ie. the Bank, the competitors, and the purchasing agents, from chopping our legs off, while keeping our team positive. It ain’t easy, and a few mistakes, sometimes just one, can spell ruin for a 25 year firm.

Tierney and Baumeister argue that one bad thing, even if softened by several good things, can ruin your day. Their rule of thumb is that it takes four good things to compensate for one bad one, so if you are unkind to a spouse or co-worker, think about several nice actions to compensate.

They point out how one bad apple in the office or on the shop floor can pollute a business, especially with the power of social media and gossip.

They stress the value of sharing good news, but I also think that sharing the hurt can also be powerful because most people understand pain and can alleviate it just by listening with compassion.

One other fascinating point they brought out is that older people seem to be happier and more grateful than younger ones. I find this a bit counterintuitive, but they argue that we tend to remember the happier stuff when we are older. Maybe, but the aches and pains sure do hurt at times.

Personally, I am deeply aware of my negativity bias. I don’t know if I ever felt the Chicago Cubs would win a game, but I am still a lifelong fan. My business life requires a constant façade of confidence and belief and yes, I do convince myself I can be a winner at times. In a business that requires taking daily risks, I need a team that is not needy, is not afraid to confront me, but does not dwell on failure when bets don’t come in.

I am curious how the readers of this blog deal with negativity. Can you douse it? Can you identify it and somehow make it your friend? Or are you one of those rare souls who knows the sun will shine on them every day?

Question: How do you make things less bad?

Share this post

Best of Swarfcast Ep. 33 – A Successful Woman in the Machining Business

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

Happy New Year! As much of the Swarfcast team is on vacation through the holiday season, we’re sharing a few of our favorite podcasts from 2019. This week, we feature an episode we did with Aneesa Muthana, the owner of Pioneer Service Inc., a CNC machine shop located in Addison, IL. The episode originally aired in March of 2019.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

Lloyd and Noah write: “On today’s podcast, we interviewed Aneesa Muthana, owner of Pioneer Service Inc., a CNC machine shop that features 26 Star CNC Swiss lathes. Aneesa shared her fond memories of being raised on the floor of a centerless grinding shop, M&M Quality Grinding, founded by her Yemeni immigrant parents. While other girls were playing with Barbie dolls, Aneesa relished learning to use micrometers and cleaning out oil tanks from Cincinnati centerless grinders. At 23 she left M&M, where she had once thought she would stay forever, and bought into Pioneer Service Inc. a Brown & Sharpe shop owned by her uncle.

Aneesa Muthana of Pioneer Service Inc.

Aneesa shared her views on a number of topics, including how women are treated in the machining industry, her preference to work with Star CNC Swiss lathes over Samsung and Brown & Sharpe machines, and the significance of the hijab she wears.”

Question: What are you looking forward to most in 2020?

Share this post

New Year, New Product

By Lloyd Graff

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes it almost impossible for a small company to develop an effective drug and bring it to the marketplace.  It’s one of the main reasons drugs are so expensive in the United States and introduction of new drugs is so slow.

Yet once in a blue moon a relatively small pharma company, living on borrowed money and borrowed time, defies all the odds and slithers a potential blockbuster drug through the laborious regulation, testing, and lawsuits of fat pharma that wants to squash potential competition, and dashes to the finish line.

This happened a few weeks ago when Amerin Corporation’s Vascepa won expanded approval for heart patients, not only with elevated triglycerides but also for diabetics and millions of other Americans with elevated cardiac risk.

This is after Pfizer, which makes Lovaza, the current favorite artificial fish oil capsule (which I have taken for 10 years) has sued them, and the FDA has taken its sweet time to get the tests done to expand its recommended use for the majority of heart patients who currently take statins.

The first statins came out 30 years ago and have probably given heart patients worldwide hundreds of millions of extra years of life.  Fish oil and synthetic versions have also helped, but the reduction of cardiac events shown by this fish oil substitute with some kind of secret sauce developed out in left field called Vascepa has stunned and confused the complacent drug companies and probably the FDA, which may explain why it has taken so long to get it into the mainstream pharma world.

Yet this is typical of innovation. It almost always starts in a garage or workshop as an idea.

I think of Google boys, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who had no money after leaving Stanford in 1996 but had some goofy ideas about how to make the internet more useful for people.  Sergey asked his future sister-in-law Susan Wojcicki, who had a home with a garage near the campus, if they could camp out in it and keep their computers there.  Susan, who is now in charge of YouTube, probably said, “Sure, but clean up when you’re done.”  Soon after Google was born.

Innovation is still coming from little people, tinkerers, creators who just hope they can solve a problem, make something better, or invent something cool.  Often they are doing it not to make a mint of money but because they get satisfaction, joy, maybe a sense of fulfillment.

YouTube started that way, so did WhatsApp and Instagram.  All were gobbled up by Google or Facebook long before they generated a profit because folks like Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg know the value of a great idea even in its nascent state.  So did Tim Cook at Apple when he paid a billion dollars to Dr. Dre for his earbuds and fledgling music service, which were a great idea but a mediocre product before Apple put its name and technology behind them.

Big companies are generally lousy at innovating but good at improving manufacturing and marketing.

I was reminded of innovation when I read on the PMPA (Precision Machined Products Association) listserve a request by a reader of the Swarfblog, Randy Lusk.  Randy had a part he wanted to run on a Miyano BNE-51SY, and he wanted to shave the part.  His research indicated there was no tool sold that would do this so he was thinking of improvising with a 62H Slitters Shave he used on a 1-3/4” 6-spindle Wickman multi-spindle automatic.  He figured it would work if he could build a base to allow it to fit the Miyano.

If there isn’t a product on the market, “well, there ought to be, so I’ll make it,” is the mindset of a guy like Randy and a myriad of other folks in the precision machining community.

If you take the macro view, this is what the Chinese are not good at, and they know it.  Their approach has been, “If we don’t have it, steal it.”  This approach can be very useful in the short run, but it is a failure long term unless America continues to allow them to steal technology in exchange for access to their market.  An educational and political system which preaches conformity and orthodoxy at all costs ultimately collapses, I believe.

To Chairman Xi in China, trade issues can be negotiated, finessed, and circumvented.  For him, the existential problem facing China is the desire for freedom exhibited by the people of Hong Kong.  If he sends in the tanks and mows down the protesters, China will be seen as a hapless butcher that fears its citizens.  It will be another Tiananmen Square disaster.  And protest could spread to the mainland.  If he lets it continue to burn and gain strength in Hong Kong it could spread to Macau and then to the mainland.

He has a huge problem going into 2020, and the U.S. should do nothing to help him with it. They haven’t been trained in China to adapt old shave tools to modern equipment.

They also don’t know how to deal with dissent.

Question: What new thing have you created?

Share this post

Best of Swarfcast Ep. 39 – Machining Parts for the Amish

By Noah Graff

Happy Holidays! While much of the Swarfcast team is on vacation through the New Year, we’re sharing a few of our favorite podcasts from 2019. This week, we revisit Episode 39, in which Noah interviews Jay Sauder, owner of Sauder Machine in Plymouth, Ohio. This episode originally aired in May.

Noah writes, “One of Sauder’s specialties is making hydraulic wheel cylinders for Amish horse-drawn buggies using sophisticated CNC equipment. Sauder and his 10 employees are all members of the Mennonite church. Earlier in his life, Jay himself drove a horse and buggy, but today he chooses to drive a pickup truck. However, all of his employees ride bicycles to work.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

Jay told me that the company buys used equipment almost exclusively and seldom buys a machine for a specific job. He purchases equipment when he considers it a good value and fit for his company’s expertise. The company also is unafraid to use a variety of brands and controls, such as DMG, Traub, Haas, INDEX, Mazak, Matsuura, and Hurco because his workers are not bothered switching from one control to another. He enjoyed telling me about two 1988 CNC Traub TNA 480 Turn-Milling Centers that the company is currently refurbishing in-house.”

Question: What is the most unusual job you’ve had?

Share this post

Ep. 65 – Our Take on the Machining World of 2019

By Lloyd and Noah Graff

In today’s podcast Lloyd and Noah Graff reflect on their experiences in the machining world of 2019. What did we see this past year? What did we learn? How did it feel?

Scroll down to listen to the podcast

Main Points

(2:07) Lloyd says when he thinks of 2019 he thinks of his “constant battle between despondency and hope.” He feels like one deal can make or break a year in the used machinery business. 

(3:45) Lloyd and Noah talk about the importance of journaling about their days. Lloyd tries to do it in the middle of the work day while Noah prefers to do it at night. Both agree that by journaling they realize they did indeed accomplish things, and have significant conversations and experiences on a given day. 

(6:00) Noah and Lloyd talk about the grim political news of 2019. Lloyd says everything is focused on conflict. Noah says in 2019 he found he was happier and more productive by minimizing his news intake.

(7:00) Lloyd says ironically one of the more fun parts of 2019 was watching the Chicago Cubs games and sharing the experience with family by texting and calling during the games. He also says one of his greatest pleasures is working with Noah, and that he would not work in the machinery business without having Noah question and push him. He says the day he can’t handle being questioned is the day he should retire.

(10:50) Noah talks about his personal growth with self-help books such as Dale Carnegie’s How to Make Friends and Influence People. Noah and Lloyd talk about their strategies on how to make others feel important and comfortable in conversations.

(15:50) Lloyd says one of the most significant experiences of 2019 was being conned by an international customer. It was a lesson in the importance of doing due-diligence and that it is impossible to know who to trust, even after meeting them in person.

Lloyd and Noah reflect on another year in machining

(23:13) Lloyd predicts what used machines Graff-Pinkert will focus on selling in 2020. He believes in focusing on the “unloved machines” such as multi-spindle screw machines rather than all late model CNC equipment because older equipment has potential for better margins. However, he still preaches caution because machines are “unloved” for a reason. 

(25:00) Lloyd says the European automotive industry seems to be betting on electric cars much more than that in America. The unchartered territory has made high production machining companies in Europe nervous and indecisive about what work to go after in the next few years. 

(28:30) Noah remarks that the values of multi-spindle screw machines seem to have fallen dramatically in the last year. High quality European screw machines sold for incredibly low prices in a few recent auctions. Lloyd says it demonstrates buyers are cautious, but he thinks people’s mindsets could change in the near future.

(36:00) Noah says he is grateful he gets to create Swarfcast. He thanks the show’s loyal listeners and proudly announces the podcast has its first paid advertiser, Firetrace. He gives his pitch for listeners to subscribe, share, and rate the podcast.

Question: What is one thing you will remember from 2019?

Share this post