Author Archives: Ridgely Dunn

150 Episodes Often About the Machining World!—EP 155

By Noah Graff

Today we’re celebrating the milestone of 150 episodes of Swarfcast. This is actually Episode 155. We just didn’t get around to doing this one until now. I hope you enjoy as we look back at four of our favorite past episodes spanning the last four years. Four years! Not much has happened for me? Besides getting married, surviving a pandemic, and having my first child a month and a half ago.

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Making this podcast I’ve been privileged to meet and learn from a ton of interesting people and then share our conversations with the world. When we started the podcast we racked our brain to find some interesting guests. What we quickly discovered was that rather than interviews with famous people or “experts” on manufacturing or business topics, often the interviews our audience liked the most were with owners of machining companies. Every machining company runs differently, and people love to learn how others approach the same type of work they do.

In today’s podcast I inserted some old clips of two past interviews with owners of machining companies. In Episode 63, I interviewed David Wynn, CFO of ABF Engineering, a third generation screw machine shop in South Fulton, Tennessee. Wynn’s business philosophy is to run his machining company as though it were a modern tech company. This is somewhat ironic because at the time of the interview in 2019, more than 50% of the company’s work was produced on ancient Brown and Sharpe screw machines. One of ABFs management strategies that sets itself apart from typical machining companies is its undefined work hours. Its employees have the flexibility to work when they like and choose how many hours they work, as long as they get their work done and do it well as a team.

Lloyd and Noah Graff recording 155th podcast

Another clip I included in today’s podcast comes from Episode 121, Finding Customers Through Great Networking with Jay Sauder. Jay’s company Sauder Machine in Plymouth, Ohio, makes casings for mechanical pocket watches as well as wheel cylinders for horse drawn buggies driven by Amish people. Jay is Mennonite, which has enabled him to develop a customer network of Amish companies. He also has a large customer base of companies not owned by Amish people, but he says all of his customers came to him through word of mouth, as opposed to advertising on the Web or using salespeople.

Over the past four years, I have interviewed several experts on the show who have had a profound effect on my life. One of my all-time favorite interviews was Ep. 80 and 81, with negotiation masters, Chris and Brandon Voss, who wrote the best selling book, Never Split the Difference. Chris is a retired FBI hostage negotiator who adapted his negotiation skills for use in the business world. In the interview we talked about the advantage of having one’s counterpart in a sales negotiation name price first, as opposed to starting a negotiation with a high asking price or extremely low offer. We also discussed why it is best to make the other party in a negotiation say “no” rather than “yes.” Over time, I have incorporated their techniques into my daily personal and professional life. I still sometimes watch video clips from the interview to review some of their brilliant lessons.

Another interview that has had a profound influence in how I approach my life is Episode 123—How to find Serendipity with Christian Busch. Busch is the author of the book, The Serendipity Mindset: the Art and Science of Finding Good Luck. He gives strategies to enable people to “be in the right place at the right time.” One of his techniques to find serendipity in conversations he calls “serendipity hooks.” The concept is to purposefully bring up topics that inspire connections between people.

For example, if someone were to ask me what I did for a living, instead of telling just them I was a used machinery dealer, I could say, “I’m a used machinery dealer, I also have a podcast, and I love salsa dancing.” That response would create three possibilities for interesting conversations, rather than just one that might not lead to talking about anything of substance.

Christian also emphasizes the importance of keeping one’s eyes open for serendipity. If a person believes that important “lucky” things might happen on a given day, there is a better chance they will.

Interviewing all the interesting guests on Swafcast creates a fountain of serendipity that really energizes me. I need that energy because making a podcast is often a grind! Thankfully, I have some good help to make the podcast possible. Ridgely Dunn, our Managing Editor, gets these pesky blogs and podcasts up, takes care of social media, and helps make the whole thing happen. Our editor Patricio Garcia does a good job making me sound a little smoother than I really am on the mic. Obviously, Lloyd is the great Lloyd Graff! He is the creator and nucleus of Today’s Machining World. He is my occasional cohost, mentor, and most importantly my dad.

Much of the podcast-making process is fun, and it fulfills my need for a creative outlet to some extent. Perhaps one day it will be a profitable business. But what really motivates me to make Swarfcast is the propose it gives me. I’m not a heart surgeon helping people cheat death, or a therapist helping someone cope with depression, or a philanthropist working to end world hunger. It’s easy to identify purpose in those occupations. Swafcast is my vehicle to effect a lot of people, to leave my mark on the world, at least just a little. If 500 people listen to it and 1000 people read the summary and they learn something important, or they reflect on a new idea or just have a nice 45 minutes of diversion, I feel purpose. 

Questions: 

What is one of your favorite episodes of Swarfcast?

Would you like to appear on the show?

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Where Have All the Men Gone?

By Lloyd Graff

Why aren’t kids wanting to go to college, especially guys? 

I’ve been intrigued by this question since seeing the stats showing college enrollment continually dropping over the last decade. We are now at the point where women comprise almost 60% of college students, although in our politically correct world I am probably offensive to some if I choose a gender. 

We just received the latest bombshell from the esteemed Harvard College newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, which published an unsigned group editorial in support of boycotting Israel for its apartheid policies towards Arabs. 

I see this as related to the falling enrollment at many colleges. Harvard has given up on standardized testing because it would force them to admit too many Asian applicants with perfect scores and unblemished grades. That court case will be decided at the same time the abortion case will be ruled on by the Supreme Court. It probably will not be pretty for Harvard, which heavily favors the Bush and Obama kids and its many other legacies. Poor Harvard, but I am sure it will fight fiercely for its history, which also includes slavery.

Harvard’s fight song by Tom Lehrer

I can see the indifference about college in my oldest granddaughter who is an excellent student. She loves theater much more than the academic world. She is also having a problem finding a school where a Jewish woman who cherishes Israel can bond with a group of people who dare to come out as Jews. Can you blame her after last week’s Harvard Crimson unsigned group editorial? 

For men, the increasingly belligerent wokeism of college faculties makes the campus life I loved at the University of Michigan more of a nostalgic memory for alums than a real place for an 18-year-old kid, who also will face at least a $100,000 in school loan debt if he stays around to graduate. Heaven forbid he becomes a high school teacher or social worker. He will have debt until he’s 80 unless President Biden decides to forgive it. 

It also appears the well-publicized examples of billionaires like Marc Zuckerberg and Bill Gates who dropped out of school almost immediately to seek their fortunes as entrepreneurs may be influencing the career paths of young people. Noah recently did a podcast with a young man from Wisconsin who moved to Bozeman, Montana, at 21 after completing technical school. He worked at two machine shops for four years, making his own parts for bicycles on nights and weekends. At 26 he started his own 1-person machining company and made enough money to quit by age 40. Now he spends the majority of his time on his passions, snowboarding and mountain biking. He still does some machining as a hobby.

The old myth seems to be fading that going to college, getting a desk job in a big office, and collecting a gold tie clip after 40 years was a life to hope for. Even with the current decline in college enrollment, much because of obscene tuition costs, not enough desk jobs are available for the huge volume of college graduates trying to play that game. On the other hand, jobs in the trades are in demand and growing in popularity. 

The lefties have done a good job of turning good colleges into factories of AOC followers and Bernie Sanders lovers, but the trend seems to be shifting just when they thought they had won the culture wars and silenced questioners.

Thank you, Harvard, for making everything more clear this past week.

Question: Do you need to go college to be successful?

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You Have to Trust Your Gut

By Noah Graff

It’s strange how at Graff-Pinkert we sometimes can be so tentative about specing on a used machine that we’re supposed to be experts on but then surprisingly decisive buying something more obscure that we know very little about. 

Sometimes we find a used machine that we are unfamiliar with, but still the opportunity seems intriguing. We often have to decide how much to bid for machines at auctions of which we have only seen a few photos on the Web. We have to decide whether or not to trust strangers overseas selling machines for $50,000. Then, even if the machines we buy show up in good condition, there is no Kelly Blue Book to tell us the value of cam screw machines from 30 years ago. 

Trust your gut

I used to think that decisions were best made when a person leaves emotion out of the equation. But I’ve learned it’s scientifically impossible to truly do that. Humans can only make decisions if they have emotions. The key is to prepare as well as we can before we hold our breath and trust what our gut is whispering to us. We do research, talk to supposed experts, and role play situations internally. Then we have to have to take a leap of faith. Yes? No? Something more complicated? The key is to make a decision—to be clear with ourselves. Indecision in all aspects of life usually yields poor results and almost never feels good.

Questions: 

When do you feel most indecisive?

What’s one of the best decisions you’ve ever made?

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Sports Refuge

By Lloyd Graff

The war in Ukraine is a genocide. The economy is a perplexing complex of boom and missteps. Politics has degenerated into angry posturing and eliciting cheers from your fans rather than changing the minds of voters who are capable of listening to challenging ideas. 

Today I will write about SPORTS.

***

The NBA playoffs are in mid-flight, and I am loving it. 

The game has evolved. The caliber of play is much better than I have ever seen. Defense is active, incredibly athletic, and mobile. It has to be better, because the 3-point shot has revolutionized the game since Daryl Morey as General Manager of the Houston Rockets used statistics to deduce that a good three-point shooting team would win more often than even a disciplined screen and drive team. Players 7ft tall are shooting and making 3-point shots. Guards like Steph Curry win the MVP award and get endorsements for cryptocurrency exchanges. The NBA has become a world game that now challenges soccer, with immense popularity even in China.

NBA teams draft players come from around the world. Giannis Antetokounmpo, AKA the Greek Freak, is reigning MVP and should win the award again. He is 27 and so phenomenal his team, the Milwaukee Bucks, put his brother on the squad just to cheer. He is not good enough to play much, but nobody cares. 

With the 24-second clock dictating the speed of play, fast breaks are cherished, but when the pace slows up enough to set up plays, the old days of big guys with hook shots playing the pivot are now over. Wilt Chamberlain would have had to alter his playing style. Today’s game is pic, roll, drive, and pass to the corner for the 3-ball. New stars like Nicola Jokić, Ja Morant, Luka Dončić, and Devin Booker invigorate the game year after year. Streaming networks are currently featuring various series based on Kevin Durant, Jerry Buss, and Magic Johnson. LeBron James has become a billionaire with NBA and Nike money. The NBA is the world game, the NFL is the American white guys game, and Major League Baseball is still looking for the next Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.

***

Kenny Pickett’s hands

The NFL just held its annual draft. Despite the enormous emphasis on the passing game, only one quarterback was picked in the first round. Kenny Pickett of the University of Pittsburgh was chosen by the Steelers as the likely replacement for Ben Roethlisberger who has been playing since the Vietnam War. Pittsburgh ownership has always been unorthodox in how they run the team. They keep head coaches for 20 years. Mike Tomlin was the first black head coach and is still there. Now they have drafted a quarterback with the smallest hands in the game. Will he prove the cynics wrong?

Ending the NFL discussion, the North Dakota State Bisons likely will soon have produced two starting NFL quarterbacks, Carson Wentz and Trey Lance. Wentz plays for the Washington Commanders (not Redskins) and Lantz for San Francisco. What are the odds of that?

***

Last, a little about baseball. 

Major League Baseball continues to slip in popularity, but as an old white guy, I still love the game. They keep tinkering with the sport, but the players and managers cannot seem to make it better by jiggering with it. Computer analysis of millions of pitches and thousands of games have shown that shifting infielders can deprive hitters the chance to get on base. This approach has crippled most left-handed hitters who pull the ball. It is almost impossible for them to hit a ground ball through the shift into right field for a hit. 

Add to this today’s pitchers’ improved ability to throw sinking fast balls to the bottom of the strike zone or just below it, and the catchers’ talent for “framing pitches,” making them appear to be strikes. This has reduced batting averages by 50 points. 

One of the beauties of baseball is that the players adjust over time. We are starting to see left-handed hitters learn to hit to an empty left field side, but power hitters who get paid for pulling home runs are still struggling.

Baseball could eliminate shifting. It is being tried in the Minors, but the game is very slow to change. 

I keep watching. The Cubs could be contenders in 2024 or 2025.

I miss you, Ernie Banks.

Question: Who will replace Tom Brady and Aaron Rogers as the great quarterbacks of this decade?

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How a Machinist Entrepreneur Retired at 40, with Tyler Jarosz—Ep. 154

By Noah Graff

Tyler Jarosz sent me an email about a month and a half ago to ask if Graff-Pinkert would be interested in a used little parts washer he no longer needed in his machine shop. He found out about Graff-Pinkert from listening to Swarfcast, which I’m proud to say is the only podcast he has ever listened to.

At 40 years young, Tyler recently retired, closing Twenty6Products, his 1-employee shop, which had been lucrative enough over the last decade and a half that he can now spend his time doing whatever he wants. For the most part, that’s going mountain biking and snowboarding near his home in Bozeman, Montana. I knew Tyler had an interesting story. How does a someone start a 1-person machining company and make enough money to retire at 40? What kind of person would take that path?

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Tyler grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. He was diagnosed with learning disabilities when he was young. In high school, the kids in the school’s learning disability program were taken on a tour of the local technical college where Tyler was exposed to machining. He immediately fell in love with the trade. After graduating from tech school in three years, he headed straight to Bozeman, Montana, where he could enjoy the outdoor hobbies he loves, mainly mountain biking and snowboarding. 

He got a job in a machine shop right away, starting at the bottom, loading parts into a CNC machine. On weekends, he rented the shop’s Haas mills to make break levers for mountain bikes, which he then sold to local bike shops. Later he designed and sold his own bicycle pedals machined from anodized titanium. 

Tyler Jarosz, Former Owner of Twenty6Products

At age 26, after four years working at two shops, there was enough demand for Tyler’s products for him to start his own machining company. He had gained such a great reputation from the consistent quality of his bike parts, that a more diverse customer base started seeking him out. He says it was scary to go off on his own, but he had confidence in himself, which he attributes somewhat to competing in snowboarding and mountain biking events when he was younger. 

During his 15 years in business, Tyler never employed any more than one person in his shop, and that person was more or less a button pusher. His business philosophy was simple. He trusted his own quality and commitment, and by having virtually no employees it cut out overhead and a lot of management burden. After a few years, he at least had the sense to farm out managing the company’s book keeping. Tyler has never taken a business class and never read a business book. He sums up good business as having common sense. He hired a financial advisor, who laid out a plan to reach a fast retirement, though Tyler says he didn’t necessarily expect to do it as soon as age 40.

One of Tyler’s secrets to his success was his commitment and laser focus on his work. He always put in 10-hour days, five days a week. He says he held himself accountable to be “a good employee,” meaning if he took off two hours out of his day to go to the doctor, he would make up that time later.

Tyler Jarosz in Bozeman, MT

Tyler says he is passionate about machining, so of course, I asked him, why he would stop doing it for a living. He replied that he hasn’t stopped machining, but now machining is a hobby. He does it because he wants to, not because he has to. Retirement has finally given him the time to do his other passions whenever he wants—mountain biking and snowboarding. When I spoke to him the first time, he was outside digging his own bike trail. Sometimes he likes to listen to Swarfcast while digging. He had never listened to any podcast prior to retiring. Another thing he really enjoys in retirement that he says he used to not have time for is sharing a cup of coffee with his wife in the morning. She is a therapist who works 20 hours a week, which enables she and Tyler to spend a lot of time together.

Tyler’s new relaxed yet active life sounds lovely, and he comes across as very at peace and content. But I begged the question, is this existence enough? Is merely getting to do the simple things that give him pleasure whenever he wants enough to make him happy? What about effecting other people other than himself? What was his purpose? Tyler responded that being outdoors doing what he loves is his purpose right now. He also added that in the past he has enjoyed going to speak to high school students about careers in machining and he even gave a student the opportunity to work in his shop. He also was conscious enough to recognize that he can’t predict the future. Right now this is where his life’s journey feels right. I feel like he really means that when he says it. That I really appreciate. He goes for what feels right, despite that path being different from what the majority of us would likely do.

Tyler is unusual, not just because he was successful enough to retire at 40. Lots of people could retire at 40, but just don’t. So many people say they just need to finish this one last thing and then they will have time to rest and “enjoy doing all the things they’ve always wanted to do.” They say they need their kids to graduate, or they need to make just a little bit more money to feel secure. They need to pull off just one more bank heist. Tyler said the same thing. He put his life on hold. He sacrificed 15 years of working non-stop to reach the point where he could stop working. But unlike so many others he actually meant it when he said he would retire. He didn’t have ambitions to get richer or accomplish more goals. He reached the moment he could stop working so he could enjoy his passions and spend time with his wife. Then he cashed in his chips.

Personally, I think the ideal career path is to work in a job where you enjoy what you are doing every day and are not waiting for something else. Those gigs are rare I think, but they do exist.

In any case, what I really admire about Tyler is the confidence with which he seems to approach his life’s path. He was interested in machining, so he learned to do it. He wanted to move to Montana, so he went as soon as he could. He started his own company alone, despite having no experience or formal education about running a business. He took a chance on himself that if he worked hard enough and smart enough that the time and sacrifice would pay off. 

He is all in in what he does. He believes in himself. He believes he is doing what he should be doing at that moment. I think that is a key to happiness.

Question: What would you do if you could retire right now?

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Twitter’s Climate Will Change

By Lloyd Graff

Elon Musk is buying Twitter. 

The announcement came the same day that Twitter announced that it was blocking climate change deniers.

I don’t know for sure if there really is significant climate change going on caused by fossil fuel usage, and I doubt anybody does. To me, the economic and societal rationale for Twitter is to provide a vehicle to discuss just about any topic online. When the “progressive” managers of Twitter felt the topic was too dangerous to allow differing opinions, it left itself wide open to a brilliant business person like Musk to step in with his fortune, his reputation for remarkable business success where others have failed, and his contrarian opinions.

From a business standpoint, Twitter stock floundered in recent years, but it’s still a pivotal franchise in the online world of connection, alongside Google and Facebook, which are phenomenally profitable. I think Musk sees an opening that others, especially Twitter’s in-group of managers, have missed, to allow for a wider berth of freedom of speech and disagreement. 

Over the past few years, particularly with climate change and COVID-19, “follow the science” has become code for don’t dare disagree with the consensus view. Musk, the contrarian, saw the moment to challenge the followers.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and Now Buying Twitter

Elon Musk’s business career has made him America’s richest man and an American icon. He is an immigrant from South Africa. He left as a teenager to avoid the draft, not wanting to defend apartheid in its last days. His father was an engineer and his mother was a fashion model. Musk moved to Vancouver to go to college, then transferred to Penn to get his degrees in physics and business, and then attended Stanford for three days of grad school. He knew his career would be as an entrepreneur, and what better place than Silicon Valley to pursue it. 

Musk sold a video game back in South Africa when he was 14 for his original bankroll. He developed an Internet mapping program after leaving Stanford, which he eventually sold to Compaq Computer. He used that stash to start an online money transfer system with other developers that morphed into PayPal, which eventually was bought by eBay.

That large bankroll enabled Musk to make a significant investment in Tesla in 2004 and become the company’s Chairman of the Board. Contrary to popular belief, Musk did not start Tesla, though a lawsuit settlement agreed to in 2009 allowed him to call himself a cofounder. The folklore says that Musk and original Tesla co-founder, Martin Eberhard, saw an electric car prototype powered by 7,000 Sony camcorder batteries and asked the inventors if they could license the technology.

Tesla was not based on a new idea. General Motors had seen the opportunity to build such a vehicle in the 1990s and built a creative early version called EV1 from 1996 to 1999. They likely stopped building them for a number of possible reasons, one being that they feared it would destroy the image of their highly profitable gasoline powered cars. The company subsequently destroyed every single electric car they had built, fearful of leaving a speck for an industrious dude like an Elon Musk to study. One EV1 is in the Smithsonian, and Director Frances Ford Copola was allowed to keep his.

The irony was that by 2010, the idea of carbon fuel powered cars destroying the planet was catching fire around the world. Yet, until the last few years, selling Tesla cars had not actually made a profit. The company had stayed afloat by collecting Federal grants for each gas powered car sold in America. 

How poetic that Twitter, which has become the mouthpiece of climate change believers, was bought by Elon Musk, whose battery powered car was subsidized by billions of dollars from the sale of gas guzzlers.

That’s business. 

That’s Musk, laughing all the way to the bank.

Question: Should people be able to say whatever they want on Twitter?

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Does That Advice Really Make Sense?

By Noah Graff

I am a proud dad! I promise not to write too many blogs about becoming a father, but today I am because it’s quite an amazing experience and often thought provoking. 

At this very moment, I’m battling grogginess from a lack of sleep. Since the day Abraham was born, doctors told us to wake him up every two and a half hours to feed him because he needed to eat eight times a day.

It all seemed so ludicrous to us. It’s unnatural for both the baby and the parents. Why interrupt sleep we asked?

Forty-eight hours after Abraham was born, the nurse in the recovery room told us that he had lost 7.5% of his birth weight and if it fell below 10% we should be concerned. It would have been nice if she had elaborated on the fact that every newborn baby loses weight at first. When we left the hospital we were going to do our damnedest to fatten Abe up.

As one would predict, waking ourselves up every few hours for the last two weeks often has seemed like a fool’s errand. We have told lots of people about the waking/feeding mandate, and almost everybody has said to us, “That sounds crazy, just feed him when he wakes up. Don’t awaken that cute slumbering beast!”

Noah with his son, Abraham

I’m always asking Stephanie if we can just wait a few more hours between waking Abe. I reason with her that it is simply common sense. Billions of people for thousands of years have been letting their babies sleep. They wait for the baby to wake them up, rather than wake up the baby!                                      

This prescription reminds me of other counterintuitive health trends like intermittent fasting. Some plans restrict eating to one 6- to 8-hour period each day. Others say to eat regularly five days a week and then limit oneself to one 500-600 calorie meal. Does that really make sense!!!???

Yet, then I remind myself about so many of the modern best practices for new babies that would not have seemed like common sense to me but are now considered conventional wisdom. Newborn babies can’t sleep on their stomach, you can’t put a blanket or stuffed animals in a crib with them, and you are not supposed to bathe them for the first few weeks of life. 

I was very amused by one piece of advice from our pediatrician who told us it was ok to not change a baby’s diaper if all they did was pee in it. Pee is sterile and contains urea that can help remove dead tissue in some wounds to help healing. A Chicago Cubs fan like me, he brought up an article written back in 2004 about Dominican outfielder Moises Alou who would pee on his hands to deal with blisters.

All this wackiness, which in reality may not actually be that wacky, reminds me of Woody Allen’s 1973 masterpiece, Sleeper, about a guy who wakes up after being frozen for 199 years. When he is revived, the doctors in the future tell him that the wheat germ he used to eat for breakfast was bad for him, while deep fat, steak, cream pies, hot fudge and tobacco are healthy. According to today’s food science, part of that statement isn’t so ridiculous anymore.

In any case, I’m happy to say that yesterday we went to the pediatrician for Abraham’s 2-week checkup, and the doctor said he is doing great. He now weighs over eight pounds, which is heavier than his original birth weight. The doctor also told us that at night we are now allowed to wait for him to wake us up, rather than us purposefully waking him up. Great news as that is, I’m not optimistic that we will feel well-rested anytime soon.

Question: What’s the strangest medical advice you have tried following?

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Are We the Promised Land?

By Lloyd Graff

My family celebrated Passover this past weekend. It is called the “Holiday of Questions” for many reasons, but especially to pull children into the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt, hoping to reach the Promised Land despite all obstacles. 

My 6-year-old grandson is an inquisitive boy, and we enticed him to join the storytelling by promising him a prize for each good question he asked or answered. (He was the only youngster present).

The questions quickly gravitated to the Israelites being slaves in Egypt. He wanted a smart 6-year-old’s definition of slavery and slave masters and why the slaves desperately wanted to leave to get freedom. 

I wanted to educate him this Passover because I think he has no understanding about what bondage is, yet a drama similar to the Passover story continues to be played out all over the world and very dramatically here in Texas, Arizona, and California, as today’s equivalent of slaves pour into the United States. 

The Rio Grande river near Del Rio, Texas, could even be compared to the “Red Sea” or the “Sea of Reeds,” which the Israelites waded across to reach the promised land of Israel. Instead of Egyptians chasing them as in Cecil B Demille’s The Ten Commandments, they walk into a new country, facing armed officers, both with fear and hope.

Immigrants wading across the Rio Grande

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” is in the poem etched on the back of the Statue of Liberty. Could any verse be more representative of the slaves from communist Cuba and Venezuela wading across the Rio Grande, as well as the brutalized people from Honduras and El Salvador escaping tyranny and drug lords. And now refugees from Ukraine are congregating in Tijuana waiting to enter the country they pray will give them the chance to live in relative peace and prosperity.

I see this huge immigration to America as an economic opportunity for our country to restock with similar kinds of people as my grandparents and great-grandparents when they were crammed into the steerage of boats after walking to the ports of Russia and Lithuania in the early decades of the 1900s. Some went to Israel and South Africa, but most came to New York and Chicago because they had family who could give them a bed until they got a job. My great uncle Simon Pinkert met his wife, Ida Graff, in one of those Chicago houses. He was a baker who worked at night. She worked in the big house’s kitchen. The story goes that they both slept in the same bed, he in the morning and she at night, and then they met on the Sabbath. They had 12 kids, eleven survived. All were successful.

My wife’s maternal grandfather came on a boat at 16. He traveled the country as a peddler for years, and then started a clothing store in Raleigh, North Carolina.

I know many people see the undocumented immigration from Mexico as scary. They think the dirty and wretched folks wading across the border without papers pose a threat to this country. 

I see it differently. Our legal immigration system is a mess. We are supposed to have a lottery to admit 55,000 people a year. Last year we documented half of that number because the bureaucracy was missing in action, supposedly because of COVID-19. Many people entered the country on tourist visas and never left, hoping to find a legal way to stay or otherwise work the system to keep their ticket to hope. 

Many politicians and media hacks play immigration fear for personal gain by making illegal immigration seem to be our downfall. I see it as our future. The workforce has lost an estimated 3.5 million people in the last few years. Many people who could work have chosen for some reason not to work. These are not prisoners. They are dropouts for many reasons such as childcare, government welfare programs, laziness, depression, opioid and marijuana addiction, and many other causes. America desperately needs a shot in the arm to our workforce. Most of the waders across the Rio Grande are young and have many dreams. It wasn’t easy to get here. 

I am grateful we have our “Sea of Reeds” to give a chance to millions of people “yearning to breathe free.” Some will fail. Some will eventually go back to their old homes. But I believe most of them will contribute to the America my 6-year-old grandson and my newborn grandson will share with them.

Question: Should we send undocumented immigrants back?

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How to Navigate Material Shortages in Swiss Machining, with Steve Tamasi—EP. 153

By Noah Graff

Our guest on today’s show is Steve Tamasi, owner and CEO of Boston Centerless, a distributor and manufacturer of ground bar stock. I asked Steve why there is such a shortage of raw materials for precision turning manufacturers and what companies can do to deal with this problem. We also talked about how the war in Ukraine is affecting metals prices. What is pig iron, anyway?

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Main Points

Boston Centerless

Steve characterizes Boston Centerless as a value added distributor of precision bar materials, usually used in Swiss style screw machines. The company provides material for companies of all sizes from one employee to large OEMs. Boston Centerless provides bar for just about any material, but it specializes in stainless steel, titanium, aluminum, and red metals. The company even supplies plastic bars.

A One Stop Shop for Material

Steve says traditionally machining companies have bought material from a mill and then sent it to centerless grinding houses to be ground to their specifications. 

Steve Tamasi, Owner of Boston Centerless

Boston Centerless has a different business model because it sources the ground material for customers. Customers don’t have to have negotiate with multiple mills to purchase their bars and don’t have to worry about quality control from several sources. The company secures and procures material and takes care of straightening, grinding, chamfering, cutting if necessary, heat treating, and non-destructive testing. Tamasi says Boston Centerless seeks to simplify customers’ workflow and guarantees the quality of the material. If customers have material issues they only need to call one party to solve their problems.

History of Boston Centerless

Steve’s father started a centerless grinding business in 1958 after immigrating from Italy in 1946. Eventually his customers started asking him if he could supply material, rather than just grinding the material they provided. This laid the foundation for Boston Centerless’s business model today. The company bought bars from a mill that were slightly oversized, which then were ground down to the manufacturers’ desired specs. 

In the 1960s and early 1970s manufacturers realized that if they ground the bars before machining, they could achieve much better tolerances. CNC Swiss machining emerged in the ‘70s. 

Steve joined his father in the business in the ‘80s after working for Agathon, a high-end grinder manufacturer from Switzerland. 

The Importance of High Quality Material

Machining companies have to have both high quality material and it must be cut to the correct dimensional tolerances. Without both of these characteristics the quality of parts suffers.

Steve says starting the machining process with quality ground bars can compensate for a lack of skilled labor or mediocre equipment.  

Why is there a material shortage?

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of the major mills that produce high quality stainless steel and specialty metals let go of their most experienced people when demand fell. 

When demand later skyrocketed because manufacturers had gotten rid of excess inventory during the downturn, mills were caught off guard and unable to satisfy demand. They were called upon to produce more high quality material than in normal times but with fewer good people. Steve says it takes a long time to train people at the mills, and it is even difficult to attract unskilled labor right now. Constrained capacity is the reason for the material shortage, not a bottleneck at the ports. 

Right now, companies have to order certain materials 12-15 months out. Pre-pandemic material orders typically were six months out. Lead times are also being exacerbated by panic buying as companies want to insure they have material in the future, even when they don’t have the current work. 

Advice for Dealing with the Material Shortage

Steve advises manufacturers to take a longer view of their businesses. They should communicate with customers that they need to project 12 months out. They also should go to suppliers to find out what their time frame is and then communicate that information with customers.

Boston Centerless can suggest alternative materials to use if customers provide them characteristics of the materials they need. Its experience and vast network of mills gives Boston Centerless as a good a chance as any source to find a supplier because they know so many different suppliers. They also have the ability to do spot buys from multiple sources.

Effects of the War in Ukraine on Material Supply

Currently there is a world shortage of pig iron, an essential ingredient in steel production. Ukraine and Russia happen to be two of the world’s largest suppliers for the natural resource. Scrap metal is an alternative to pig iron, which is causing scrap prices rise.

(According to Wikipedia, pig iron, also known as crude iron, gets its name because the traditional shape of the molds used for pig iron ingots is a branching structure formed in sand, with many individual ingots at right angles to a central channel or “runner.” They resemble a litter of piglets being nursed by a sow.)

Many of the raw materials to make titanium comes from Russia. Nickel is another element abundant in Russia. It is important in stainless steel production and other alloys for machining. It is also a prime component for lithium ion batteries.

Question: How are you dealing with the raw material shortage?

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Best of Swarfcast: Starting a Machining Company is Hard, with Jon Perin—EP. 136

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the podcast is Jon Perin, owner and President of Perin Industries, a young CNC machining company in Webster City, Iowa. Jon, started Perin Industries in 2018, after a 12-year career as a hospital administrator. Like many entrepreneurs, Jon has had to face some daunting challenges. Starting out, he aggressively bought new state of the art CNC equipment to make parts for the medical sector. When he had trouble penetrating that market he successfully pivoted to fire arms work.

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

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Main Points

When Jon Perin started Perin Industries in 2018, he planned on making parts for the medical industry. Early on, Perin Industries devoted a lot of resources to obtaining ISO 9001 and AS9100D certifications. Achieving those certifications was costly, so before the company could start the process of obtaining medical work certifications it had to start producing revenue. Also, Jon realized that medical customers prefer to work with companies who have established track records and experience, so he steered the company to work in more general industry. 

Jon grew up around his father’s screw machine shop and learned to run ACME multi-spindles in high school. His shop is right across the street from his father’s shop, which is now primarily managed by Jon’s sister. Jon attended college in Florida and after graduating went to work as a hospital administrator for 12 years. Working in the hospital environment played a part in Jon’s interest in making medical parts. Jon says he appreciates the manufacturing business’s simplicity compared to that of the health care field. He says it is easier to quantify success working in manufacturing because success can be measured by the quality of parts produced.

Perin Industries has eight full-time employees. In addition to managing the company, Jon does CNC programming and setups. He jokes that he is also the janitor. He says his employees are becoming more capable to perform setups, which will free him up to focus on more administrative tasks in the future. 

Jon Perin, Owner and President of Perin Industries

When Jon started his company, intending to do medical work, he purchased state of the art complex CNC equipment, including an INDEX C200 twin spindle/3-turret lathe he bought new for around a million dollars, and a Traub TNX65/42 twin spindle/4-turret lathe that he bought used for around $500,000. He says that after attending Design-2-Part trade shows around the US he concluded that the opportunities for Swiss work and traditional screw machine work were extremely competitive and dominated by established companies. This influenced him to invest in sophisticated turning centers.

After being unsuccessful in penetrating the medical sector, Perin Industries pivoted to the fire arms business, primarily making parts for Glock barrels and slides. Jon says that many companies produce the same parts using Haas machines. However, using his turning centers Jon can single-op the parts, making them in less than a third of the time as his competitors. Getting into medical work is still Jon’s longterm goal. He also aspires to one day buy his dad out, which would open his company up to many new types of customers.

Jon says he preferred to start his own company rather than go into business with his dad, but he says one of the main reasons he has been able to keep his startup company going is having good mentors such as him. Jon’s first year in business he made some costly mistakes, many of which experienced companies are also guilty of. Sometimes he took the wrong types of jobs, he bought equipment too early, and some jobs took him twice as long to set up than he had planned. Through it all, Jon’s father and another mentor have guided him to stay resilient. Jon says he’s grateful his company didn’t make enough bad decisions to fail. He plans to keep learning from the past and push forward.

Question: If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would you say?

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