Category Archives: Featured

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Where Rotary Transfers Fit, with Kris Fugate—EP. 144

By Noah Graff

My guest on today’s show is Kris Fugate, President of Revolution Machine Works, a prominent rotary transfer machine rebuilder, specializing in Hydromats. Hydromats can seem strange and overwhelming to those unfamiliar with them. Some say they their circular shape with 12 or 16 work stations reminds them of a UFO, and the machines can crank out complex turned parts like nothing else out there.

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.

Find us on Social:

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Main Points

How Rotary Transfers Work

Kris started the interview explaining how rotary transfer machines, particularly Hydromats, function and why they are such unique productive machines. How is it possible that parts which require several multi-spindle screw machines, or have cycle times of 2 minutes on a CNC lathe, can run complete on a Hydromat in 20 seconds?

Most Hydromats are configured in a rotary dial-like shape. Unlike on a screw machine, in which the bar of material rotates and the tools are stationary, on a Hydromat the bar remains stationary and the tools rotate. Each station (unit) of the transfer machine functions like a CNC lathe or CNC mill. Units can do work such as turning, threading, milling etc. Each station machines one operation and then transfers the part to the next station for the next operation. 

Advantages of Hydromats over other Turning Machines

Hydromats have individual feeds and speeds in each station, so they aren’t held captive to the slowest operation, such as on an Acme-Gridley or other traditional multi-spindle screw machine.

They usually come equipped with an inverting unit, which removes a part from a collet, rotates it and places it back in the collet so it can be machined from the other side. This feature makes Hydromats ideal for machining double sided fittings. 

Unlike a lot of other rotary transfer machines, which are set up with the stations vertically arranged in the trunnion style that resembles a Ferris wheel, most Hydromats are set up horizontally, more like a carousel. This enables modular units that can be easily swapped, making easy, quick changeovers. 

Also, Hydromats are designed with a hirth ring coupling, which enables them to maintain tight tolerances part after part. 

Revolution Machine Works

Kris’s company, Revolution Machine Works, services and sells refurbished and rebuilt turnkey Hydromats, and also supplies Hydromat spare parts. They often do entire overhauls on the machines, stripping them down to the casting. They rebuild units, and equip the machines with new Fanuc controls. While the Hydromats that Revolution provides are the non-CNC hydraulic generation, the company sometimes equips the machines with individual CNC units made by the Italian rotary transfer machine company DM2. Revolution Machine Works also distributes new DM2 machines in the U.S.

Hydromats are Tough Business

Since I went into the used machinery business over a decade ago, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about Hydromat rotary transfer machines. I’ve traveled to Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Norway to find them because you can make a nice buck if you find the right customer. Still, it’s always seemed like we had to have 10 interested customers to sell one Hydromat. It can get frustrating watching the machines sit in the Graff-Pinkert warehouse for years.

Why do customers hesitate to buy these machines that can crank out great parts by the millions. Perhaps its because they often cost a few hundred thousand dollars, and then a bunch more money to set up. Kris could relate to my experience. A rebuilt, turnkey Hydromat, has double or triple the price tag of one that Graff-Pinkert would sell, and the customers expect considerable service. 

In the interview, Kris pointed out a lot of the other challenges Hydromat customers face. The machines take up a lot of floor space—perhaps large enough to fit three CNC machines. They require at least one expert to keep them running correctly, and it can take six months to a year to train a Hydromat operator.

Kris says he and colleagues often joke that they picked the hardest way to make money.

We both agreed that it’s much easier to sell a Hydromat to someone who already has them. They have units on the shelf, expertise, comfort, and enough work for the machines. 

Yet Kris says his work is most rewarding when he is able to get a new client into the Hydromat business. A Hydromat can be a game changer for a company in the high volume parts business, yet a purchase comes with significant risk. Years ago, he ran Hydromats in his family’s machining company D & S Machine Pts. He says he can still remember how it felt when the company paid over a million dollars to buy its first new Hydromat, its biggest capital investment at the time. I can tell that being able to put himself in the shoes of his customers is helpful for Kris to sell machines, but more importantly, it’s clear that it gives him a sense of purpose.

Question: Do you prefer to buy, used, rebuilt, or brand new machine tools?

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Sometimes the Star Must Take Over

By Lloyd Graff

What makes a great team out of a group of good players? 

I’ve considered that question since I first started watching team sports on TV and playing on organized teams myself. I could almost feel when a team would fail, not just because they lacked the talent to win, but because they did not have the other elements it took. I’ve been searching a lifetime trying to define those elements and putting them into practice. 

Recently I’ve been watching a TV show that took the issue head on.

Ted Lasso on Apple TV addresses teamwork with a light touch, flavored by sadness and loss. Each of the major characters are dealing with loneliness and pain. The lead character, Ted Lasso, leaves Kansas after a successful career as a football coach in Wichita. His marriage has failed and he needs a change. He has been recruited to coach a Premier League soccer team which has been a perennial loser, even though he knows virtually nothing about European football. The woman who now owns the team after a bitter divorce settlement hires Ted as a vehicle of her own revenge, desiring to ruin the team her rogue husband loved dearly. 

Over two seasons, a sense of team develops among an assortment of mediocre players from around the world, and the owner’s attitude changes from contempt for Ted to genuine friendship and respect. 

When Ted Lasso arrives, the first thing he does is post up a handwritten, slightly crooked sign that says “BELIEVE.” Over 22 episodes, it takes on various meanings that describe a sense of team to me.

For a team to work, you have to believe in your teammates. You have to know they will have your back in a crisis. You have to feel they “believe” in the group as much as you do. You have to “believe” that they will not single you out as the cause of defeat.

Team Star, Jamie Tartt on Ted Lasso

Several episodes focus on the relationship of the fading star player, Roy Kent, and the young rising star, Jamie Tartt. They hate each other. Both covet the same woman who at various times has an intimate relationship with each one.

The most interesting aspect of the relationship between Roy and Jamie is that the aging Roy ultimately steps aside so Jamie can be the star and then coaches him on how to be a good teammate. “Always make the extra pass,” is Ted Lasso’s credo and it is adopted by Roy Kent. 

But in the big game, when Roy is no longer a player and the team desperately needs a win, Kent tells Tartt that it’s time for him to revert to the selfish jerk that he has tried to squelch. There are times when every good team needs the star to step up, to be the SOB that everybody used to hate and score the winning goal alone. 

A good team needs a star at times and a coach who knows when that time is. 

I’ve watched successful and failing teams in business. Respect for one another and belief in the ultimate success of the group are vital elements. But every business is tested by competition, external forces, a crisis of confidence when the leader or the star has to be tough and connect with their own self belief, and take the final shot.

You don’t have to score to be the ultimate winner. But simply “trying” is never enough either.

Question: What is the greatest team you’ve seen and why?

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Attached to Multi-Spindles, with Elliott May—EP. 143

By Noah Graff

Our guest on today’s podcast is Elliott May, engineer at BME in Port Huron, Michigan. BME builds original custom attachments for cam multi-spindles. They also rebuild Acme-Gridley screw machines.

Elliott and I talked about a lot of fascinating things in this interview. How to keep old mechanical beasts relevant, getting young people into machining, and what it’s like to work closely everyday with your dad—who’s also the boss.

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.

Find us on Social:

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Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/swarfcast/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/todays-machining-world/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/tmwswarfblog

Main Points

Custom Attachments

Elliott says that customers come to BME when they want to make a part on a cam screw machine but can’t figure out how to make it happen. The company offers an extensive line of proprietary attachments such air operated pickoff assemblies, rotary recess attachments, and synchronized slotting/milling attachments. 

Elliott’s father, Brett, started BME 15 years ago. Nine years ago, Elliott started working at the company at age 14. His first job was cutting steel bars with a bandsaw. Later he worked in shipping and receiving, and then graduated to assembling attachments for multi-spindles. After studying engineering for a few years he began working in tandem with his father engineering attachments. Generally they are tasked with tweaking attachments already in their product line to suit the jobs of specific customers. A few times a year, they are called upon to engineer more novel devices, when a customer’s job calls for something special that they haven’t invented yet.

Elliott says his father, Brett, is the “idea guy.” Brett analyzes what he wants to accomplish, then Elliott puts the idea down on paper (often CAD). They both are constantly putting their heads together to solve problems. It’s not uncommon for the two to stand at several whiteboards for long periods of time, brainstorming various drawings, trying to work out a solution. Elliott says they have a good chemistry at work, and over the years his role has changed as his knowledge and skills have grown. He admits that when he was younger and less experienced he may have been too overconfident in his ideas and he had to be put in his place. But nowadays, it sounds like he is genuinely challenging his dad in the engineering room.

Acme Rebuilding 

As a used machinery dealer myself, selling old cam multi-spindles, I grilled Elliott on a lot of the same questions we grapple with at Graff-Pinkert, our family business. I asked him if rebuilding old multi-spindles from the ground up, particularly Acmes, was a good business to be in. Graff-Pinkert still refurbishes some cam multi-spindles such as Wickmans and Davenports, but the work we do is much less comprehensive than that of BME. Also, we stay away from doing a lot of work on Acmes. The parts for Acmes can be very expensive, and the Acme rebuilding process is extremely labor intensive.

For a rebuilt Acme, BME charges several hundred thousand dollars. The price depends a lot on what kind of turnkey the customer requires, if any. Elliott says the rebuilding and attachment businesses compliment each other. Often the rebuilt machines come equipped with BME’s proprietary attachments. He says he believes the cam multi-spindle business has a significant future because the machines are often still the best option for high volume jobs, assuming companies have the personnel to run them.

Elliott May, Engineer at BME

Young People in Machining 

I asked Elliott why it’s a struggle to get young people to go into manufacturing and an even greater struggle to get them to run old multi-spindles. He says manufacturing has to shake off its bad reputation from the past, as having a top-down style of management that doesn’t care about the needs of employees. He suggests that if manufacturing employees could count on a clean, pleasant work environment, and felt supported and heard by management, more people would want to go into the field. 

Working with His Dad

I was very curious to get Elliott’s perspective about working closely with his father, as I also work with my father. I asked him if he felt like he was in a strange position as someone who is not the boss, but also not a normal employee either. It’s a position that I’ve often analyzed for over a decade. 

Despite being only 23, Elliott says he has the advantage of having the longest tenure at BME of all its employees. He also says because of his experience and confidence in his ability, he earns the respect of his coworkers. I remarked to him during the interview that he often referred to his dad in the third person as “Brett,” rather than “my dad.” He says it’s a useful way to draw less attention to himself as the boss’s son, even if everybody knows he is. I personally have seldom used this strategy because referring to my dad as “Lloyd” just feels strange. But I admit that I sometimes refer to him as “the boss,” or some other euphemism, when I’m talking about him at work.

It was Brett’s idea for me to ask Elliott to be on the podcast. I could genuinely feel his enthusiasm about the idea when he suggested it to me over the phone. I joked to him that it seemed like he was really “kvelling” about his son excelling in the business. He easily inferred the meaning of my Yiddish. 

After interviewing both Brett and Elliott, it’s clear to me that both men share a passion for the nuts and bolts, and working together.

Question: What’s something important you learned from your father?

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An American Tune

By Lloyd Graff

I had the privilege to listen to a series of interviews with Paul Simon by Malcolm Gladwell over the past week, in an audio book called Miracle and Wonder. I found it absolutely riveting, Paul Simon talking about the early days of Simon & Garfunkel and then giving us great insights into the development and fruition of his brilliant musical career.

Simon is 80 years old now. His voice has lost a little of the energy of his youth, but his mind is sharp, his memory remarkable, and his ability to inform us through Malcolm Gladwell’s well-researched questions is magnetic. And he still makes great music.

Paul Simon grew up immersed in music. His father, Lou, was a well-schooled musician who cherished classical pieces and played bass in local jazz clubs in New York City at night. It was clear from the hours of interviews Gladwell shared that Paul and his father were close. Paul’s present on his thirteenth birthday (he did not call it a Bar Mitzvah present) was a guitar. By this time he was already singing on street corners with Art Garfunkel, who lived near Simon in the borough of Queens in New York. At the age of 13, recording under the name of Tom and Jerry, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel already had a hit record.

What I found remarkable was that Paul wrote both the melody and lyrics for all of his work. He has been a storyteller and composer for almost seven decades. The partnership with Art Garfunkel ended while they were both in their 30s and had already made hit after hit albums. Art apparently left the music rat race, but Paul was possessed by his creative muse and continues to work on his musical stories to this day.

He began work on his latest album, Seven Psalms, on the 25th anniversary of his father’s death in 2020. 

Gladwell teased out the history of Simon’s biggest hits like Bridge Over Troubled Water. The name of the song was derived from a line in a gospel song recorded by Claude Jeter in 1958. He went to New Orleans to talk to Jeter and eventually recorded it at the old studio that Jeter had used in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. 

Art Garfunkel sang the song almost solo in their last album together before they broke up. Supposedly, Paul Simon was jealous of the fame Garfunkel received from the song because it was his creation, even though he had insisted that Art sing it because he could give it the “white choirboy treatment.” Simon was the genius who wrote the song, directed all of its versions in various studios, selected the musicians, collaborated on the final sound editing, and sang harmony with Art in the final verse, but it was Art who got the applause and foot stomping at the end of concerts. Simon felt creative envy because he felt it was “his song.”

Gladwell’s interviews do not focus on Simon’s personal life, his marriages, or his home life growing up in Queens. Simon talks about his music, his creations, and the many influences that shaped them.

While I was curious about his life, I hungered to get a feel for his creative compulsion and desire to tell his stories with a combination of anger tempered by tenderness. The Boxer was partly inspired by the Bible but was written at a time when he felt he was being unfairly criticized. What I found fascinating was that the part of the song everyone remembers, the plaintive refrain, “lie la lie,” was inserted because Paul couldn’t think of a lyric that fit. The power of serendipity rises up in the song that he considers one of his best, as a filler when he thought his muse had deserted him.

I was moved almost to tears by these interviews because even though I don’t know that much about music, I could relate strongly to my own telling of stories coming from the many strands in my life. I’ve always wanted to write, but the material that I longed to weave together came from family traditions, sports, putting together deals, raising a family, and living a marriage. 

I wanted to clap when Simon and Gladwell ended with the music of American Tune, the song written by a child of Hungarian immigrants, which is about the promise of the melting pot of America and it falling short of its promise. Simon wrote it at the height of the Vietnam War. It was a time that left its mark on me. It made me think of a high school friend of mine who had died in an F-15 fighter in the skies above Laos.

Question: What is your favorite Paul Simon song?

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As The World Turns

By Lloyd Graff

What a year I’ve been blessed to experience. 

First big thing for me is that I am alive, not suffering from dementia except for occasionally forgetting Cubs players’ first names, and I’m still writing this blog most weeks, which a few people evidently still read. 

When you see your peers dying and failing, these are major things to be grateful for every single day. 

Enough personal thought. 

This has been a huge year in a lot of ways. From a business standpoint this has been the best year Graff-Pinkert has ever had. We paid off all our debts, gave the biggest raises, and the biggest bonuses, and still had leftovers. 

This is after an awful 2020 that seemed like the end of the line for our business, and was for many. How did this happen? 

First, I must admit we took advantage of the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program loans, and it actually worked like it was supposed to for us. It gave us liquidity when we needed it, kept workers working, and came promptly. With government failures rampant, this was a program that worked brilliantly for smaller businesses.

COVID-19 has been a tragedy for millions of people, but from a business point of view it has been a great boon to many folks in the machining world. 2021 will be seen as the year when reshoring–bringing back work from China–became a reality and not a prediction. It happened because bigger firms finally saw the downside of dependence on China for the sake of a few pennies per part. 

When you are dependent on a container traveling thousands of miles with a possibility of a lot of bad things happening on the way, your company is fragile, which means your job as CEO is in jeopardy, which means that the company private jet might have different passengers soon. Suddenly China did not look nearly as attractive, and jobs finally came back to the United States and Mexico. 

Companies needed machine tools, and some of that business trickled down to our used machinery company. Also, the U.S. and the rest of the world began to live with COVID and its deviant variants.

The major professional sports franchises figured out how to maneuver around absences and quarantine. Zoom video conferencing became a lifesaver for businesses in a million different ways. 

****

From a political point of view, 2021 will be remembered as the year China began its long-term decline as a dominant world power, as we saw with Russia in the 1970s and ‘80s. 

China has had enormous vitality and growth for 25 years. The Communist regime provided economic freedom to allow the entrepreneurial and creative class to thrive as long as they stayed in line politically. But with the persecution in Tibet, the genocide and enslavement of the Uyghers, the jailing of protesters in Hong Kong, and President Xi consolidating power to become dictator for life, the failures we saw in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Venezula are visible. 

Some see China now reaching for world domination. I feel fortunate to be witnessing the beginning of its long-term decline. 

I wish you all a wonderful year ahead and look forward to an upbeat and hopeful 2022.

Question: What has been the highlight of your year?

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Some Good Fiction for Christmas

By Lloyd Graff

When I think about it, which is not too often, I realize that people in business live in a fictional world.

Many of the numbers that bankers base their lending decisions on are backward-looking constructs that follow accounting rules that are almost meaningless in the actual functioning of a business. Inventory, depreciation, and earnings are meaningful yet meaningless artifacts in the real world that are supposed to show value. As most business owners will admit, with inventory lingering on their shelves, and capital equipment aging ungracefully on the shop floor, the values on the year-end report have little to do with their actual value.

On the other hand, an old lift truck or rumbling overhead crane, which might have no value on the books but are used everyday, may have tremendous importance in running a business. Inventory, which will likely never sell, may be carried on the books for a fortune, but probably should be scrapped. The bosses need to show value to justify their loans.

When I look at my own books at the end of the year, I have to ask my accountant, who plays by the dumb rules because he thinks he has to, to tell me what is really important. In other words, did we really make any money, not fictional money? 

In recent years, I have been involved in selling several viable businesses. Usually the crucial number for both buyer and seller is the previous year’s EBITDA,  which stands for Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortisation. 

I have come to learn that from an income generating point of view the term has limited meaning, but it is the number that the lender, who usually puts up all or most of the money to buy the business, considers to be the holy grail. For the buyer, it is the number he or she will use for depreciation, which will have an enormous effect on the future income taxes to be paid. 

The irony is that the parties in the deal know EBITDA is a fiction as far as predicting the future income-producing capability of the business. That will be determined by the people who will run the business. Are they good managers? Do they have people skills?

Are the people at the top creative? Can they retain their customers and find new ones? Are the key people ready to retire or walk away? If the boss is retiring, is that a good thing or the company’s death knell? 

Yet for buyer, seller, and lender, it is EBITDA that often makes or kills a deal and usually determines the pricing.

If accounting is useless for small businesses, I can only guess how phony it is for big public companies, yet stock prices are often dictated by price to earnings ratios. The earnings are affected by thousands of little lies in huge corporations. 

Maybe the fictions balance out over time. Or perhaps they multiply.

Question: What would you like me to write about next year?

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Why Manufacturing is Leaving China, with Andrew R. Thomas—EP 142

By Noah Graff

Our guest on today’s podcast is Dr. Andrew R. Thomas, best selling author and Associate Professor of Marketing and International business at the University of Akron.

Thomas says today reshoring is finally happening. After decades of sending manufacturing work to China, Western companies are finally realizing this strategy is often not the answer for generating better profits.

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.

Find us on Social:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/swarfcast

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/swarfcast/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/todays-machining-world/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/tmwswarfblog

Main Points

Why Manufacturing First Left the U.S.

Thomas challenges the claim that most Western companies sent manufacturing operations to China solely out of greed. Starting in the 1990s many U.S. manufacturers, particularly small and medium sized companies, were pushed to move operations to less expensive labor markets because of a change in the dynamics of the American business model. For 30 years, business schools and consultants preached to maximize efficiencies and focus on core competence. They prescribed the “Toyota model”—outsource what you don’t do well and focus on what you do best. 

In the 1980s and 1990s big box stores like Walmart signed large contracts with American manufacturer suppliers. At first, the suppliers prospered from having such large customers, but after a few years, the Walmarts began to squeeze them on price. The suppliers did not have negotiating power because they no longer had a diverse group of smaller customers to compete for their business. They were forced to seek cheaper labor overseas just to survive. For decades, reshoring did not even appear to be an option for Western companies.

The Pandemic and Labor Markets

Because of the supply chain problems brought about by COVID-19 and the country’s increasing wages, China is no longer the answer for many Western manufacturers to produce the cheapest parts. Thomas points out that manufacturing work is currently coming back to the West, but not exclusively to the United States. Much of the work leaving Asia will land in Latin America and Eastern and Central Europe. In those regions labor is cheaper and more abundant.

While the United States and Western Europe provided a safety net to businesses and unemployed workers in 2020 and 2021, poorer countries did not have the resources to do so. Thomas says in countries such as Panama, where he lives much of the time, the only government assistance people received was a modest stipend for food and necessities, and free rent. These desperate conditions have made people in poorer countries eager to work.

Andrew R. Thomas, Author and Associate Professor

American Legacy of Global Leadership

According to Thomas, since the United States was founded, Americans have always had the notion their country was special. They believed it was important to share their values and lead the world.

This identity was solidified in 1944, when 44 allied nations sent delegates to the Bretton Woods conference in New Hampshire. The conference set up a framework to regulate an international monetary system. It created the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. It ultimately established a dominant economic position for the United States and the U.S. dollar.

More than just setting up an international economic framework, Thomas says Bretton Woods spawned a gentleman’s agreement between the United States and its allies based on four guaranties. 

—If a country allies itself with the United States, the U.S. will provide that country with military protection.

—The U.S. will provide countries with capital to rebuild post war economies. 

—The U.S. will encourage open trade.

—The U.S. will secure the world’s supply chain with its Navy.  

Much of these foundations are still present today despite claims of the last few U.S. presidents that they want to meddle less in international conflicts and focus more on the domestic economy.

Self-Reliance from New Energy Security

Thomas says one factor changing U.S. international trade is the current revolution in fracking technology. A trillion and a half dollars in private capital has been invested to build an infrastructure for fracking. For the first time in recent memory the U.S. has a choice to not be carbon dependent on foreign countries, which would give it considerable power.

It will be interesting to see how much the United States’ legacy as the world’s watchdog lives on, while its ability to focus its energy inward grows.

Question: Have you seen reshoring in your business?

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Bitcoins in Your Duffle Bag

By Lloyd Graff

A few years ago, I asked a  pawnbroker acquaintance if he would sell me a little certified high-quality gold. 

It was not an investment. I was not betting on the appreciation of the precious metal. It was strictly a “what-if” purchase, contemplating the possibility Risa and I would have to flee our home. Currency might rapidly erode in the event of an invasion, a tyrant, or a natural catastrophe, “but gold would always be accepted as valuable” we reasoned.

We had watched too many Holocaust documentaries, read too many books about refugees perhaps, but the images of gold sewn into duffle bag compartments enabling people to survive the worst, haunted us both, so we invested some of our savings in certified weight gold ingots.

Our pawn shop owner friend told us he’d sold gold fairly often for exactly the same reason to occasional clients like us. 

If it had been 2021 when I considered a “what-if metal,” I probably would have made a different choice. I would have bought Bitcoin.

So much has changed in the three years since we bought the gold. As an investment, Bitcoin has gone up close to ten times what it was worth then. Gold is up 20%. 

More and more places accept the digital currency today, probably more than do gold, and if you had to flee within minutes, all you would need to take is your cell phone and your passwords to access the Bitcoin.

Many people, often my age, are Bitcoin skeptics, but younger people are not. To them, digital money seems more rational than $100 bills, bank accounts, stocks, or corn silos. Gold in a suitcase, if you have to pass through a TSA line at an airport, sounds like lunacy in a national emergency.

At a family gathering during Thanksgiving, Bitcoin, and not the Bears or Cubs, was the primary topic of table conversation. Recently, when Mark Cuban was asked where he was putting his money these days, he said “digital currency and gaming” because that is what the kids are interested in, and he always likes to invest where young people are putting their money. 

Cuban is usually right.

***

Nobody has offered to buy a Citizen nor Star Swiss screw machine from us yet in Bitcoin, but it will probably happen next year.

The Chinese Communist leaders seem to be terribly afraid of Bitcoin, which means the leaders probably have a big stash of Bitcoin to go along with their Swiss bank accounts. For sure Putin owns Bitcoin.

Jamie Diamond and Warren Buffett say Bitcoin is phony. I wonder how much they have bought secretly. They may feel that legitimizing digital currency would harm their business interests.

I don’t know if Bitcoin and Ethereum and other wannabe Bitcoins will stand the test of time, but will gold save me if it seems like America is going to fall apart? If climate change really is an existential threat will anybody take gold in the great flood? 

Bitcoin? Maybe they will take it if you throw in one of those gold trinkets as a tip.

Question: Do you think Bitcoin is the real deal?

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Reflections on the Machining World in 2021 — EP 141

By Noah Graff

As the end of 2021 approaches, Lloyd and I spent this podcast reflecting on the last year. Though the pandemic continued for a second lap, a lot of companies in the machining business enjoyed a tremendous rebound. Thankfully for us, our used machinery business, Graff-Pinkert, did really well too, which we needed after a miserable 2020.

If you find time to listen to this episode, we hope you will enjoy our rambling. We like to think there are at least a few interesting parts of the conversation.

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.

Find us on Social:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/swarfcast

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/swarfcast/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/todays-machining-world/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/tmwswarfblog

Main Points

My Mentor

When I introduced Lloyd at the start of the podcast, I referred to him as my dad, my boss, my mentor, and my partner. He responded by saying he considered me as mentor to him, which seemed a bit strange, as he has been selling used machines since before I was born and he’s one of the smartest people I know.

He told me that I have taught him about engaging customers on a deep level as well as negotiation principles from one of my favorite business books, Never Split the Difference

I told him that I’ve tried to learn from the way he envisions potential deals. He is skilled at knowing when to take a chance on imperfect equipment that other buyers shy away from.

A Good Year for Graff-Pinkert

I’m happy to say that 2021 was an excellent year for Graff-Pinkert, which we really needed because 2020 was so horrible. Interestingly, much of our best business was selling old cam multi-spindle screw machines—Acme-Gridley machines and a lot of Davenports sold to Mexico. Two or three years ago, nobody wanted these machines. We had a few nice ones that sat in our warehouse for years. But in 2021, were fortunate that while other dealers were hunting for the same popular modern CNC equipment, we were looking for different types of machines, machines that are often older than me, which many sellers were more than ready to part with. 

Stitch em up, Sew em up

A big trend we saw in 2021 was the huge production of medical and gun parts, sometimes even by the same companies. Those parts have huge demand right now, while the automotive sector remains cold. 

Personally, Lloyd and I are not “gun people.” But at the end of the day, we accept that guns are how our customers make a living. Some of our most important relationships happen to be with companies producing gun parts. 

Lloyd says in the machinery business he often grapples about which companies he feels comfortable doing business with. Graff-Pinkert does not sell machines to Russia nor many other countries where we feel the governments are unjust. Yet, ironically, we still sell machines to China despite the country’s human rights violations and current genocide of the Uyghurs. 

Onshoring 

Another milestone of 2021 is that there was finally real manufacturing work coming back from Asia to North America. The supply chain bottlenecks have meant that US companies can no longer feel secure they will get the materials and products they need. Ford Motor Company is even building its own chip making factory.

Lloyd recently bought stock in Ford Motor Company going into the new year. He says when Ford hired former Tesla visionary Doug Field, it was indicative that the company will succeed in selling electric F150 trucks in 2022, beating its American competitors in the electric truck race. Meanwhile, the European automotive companies seem inept at getting a viable electric car on the street.

Noah Graff and Lloyd Graff of Today’s Machining World

An Unvaccinated Machining Industry?

One thing we observed in 2021 is that despite the wide availability of COVID-19 vaccines in the US, a great number of people in the machining industry have preferred to stay unvaccinated. I’ve asked some of Graff-Pinkert’s unvaccinated customers why they’re not vaccinated, and I get a number of answers. Some people say they don’t want to take the vaccine because they feel the government is trying to take away their freedom, others say that the science is unproven. My opinion is that most people are strongly influenced by those with whom they spend the majority of their time. I live in the city of Chicago, and all of my friends and family are vaccinated. They would tell me I was nuts if I was not vaccinated. However, if all of the people I was closest to were unvaccinated, I suppose it’s possible I would follow their example. 

Nonetheless, I have my views. I know several unvaccinated people and I still like them, but their decision bothers me a lot because I believe they are putting me, my family, and the general population more at risk. 

Personal Stuff

Announcement! I’m ecstatic (and overwhelmed) to say that my wife, Stephanie, is pregnant with our first child, and she happens to be the biggest anti-anti-vaxxer I know! I digress. Becoming a future father after a long time of unsuccessful “trying” is by far the most important thing to happen in my life in a long time. 

Lloyd says he’s grateful to have celebrated the 13th anniversary of his near fatal heart attack in 2008. He’s also grateful to continue doing work he enjoys at a high level at the age of 76 along side me. We’re both thankful that we have a great family we love spending time with, who we finally visited in person this year.

I look forward to doing this podcast next year. I’m often desperately looking for new guests, so please contact me if you know of someone who would be good. FYI, I also happen to be picky about who I interview. Desperate but picky. The story of so many people’s lives.

Question: What is something you will remember from 2021?

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Pasta and Precision Parts, with Antonio Adiletta — EP 140

By Noah Graff

Pasta machines operate a lot like cam screw machines, Antonio Adiletta told me when I interviewed him for this week’s podcast.

Antonio is co-owner of Arcobaleno and GAM Precision in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After growing up in Italy, Antonio moved to Canada and then eventually emigrated to the United States with his wife and business partner, Maja. He has manufactured, sold, and serviced fresh pasta making machines for 26 years, and for the last decade, he has simultaneously run a CNC machine shop.

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When Antonio started his career in manufacturing at a young age in Como, Italy, he apprenticed at a company that produced fresh pasta machines. For folks unfamiliar with fresh pasta, not all pasta comes as dry noodles in a box. Fresh pasta is soft and looks like dough. When restaurants boast that they serve “homemade pasta” they’re talking about fresh pasta. Often fresh pasta noodles are formed with an extrusion process, which is great for producing tubular shapes, like rigatoni, spaghetti, or penne. The other main method for producing fresh pasta noodles is the lamination process (rolled process), which is used for flat noodles like pappardelle and fettuccini. When I asked Antonio to tell me his favorite pasta noodle, he explained that choosing the right pasta depends on the marriage between the specific pasta noodle and the sauce. For tomato sauce, he likes spaghetti because of its thin diameter. For meat sauce, he says gnocchi or short rigatoni (mezze maniche) are ideal counterparts.

As an apprentice in Italy, Antonio set up and serviced industrial pasta machines weighing as much as 5,000 pounds. Often he worked on machines that made tortellini and ravioli because those machines required more fine tuning than those making simpler noodles. Decades later, when Antonio bought his machining company, GAM Precision, he realized that Brown & Sharpe screw machines operate using the same principles as tortellini machines. Like operating a Brown & Sharpe, in which a cam indexes the turret, in a tortellini machine a cam indexes the stuffing or moves the filling injector. 

Antonio and Maja Adiletta, owners of Arcobaleno and GAM Precision

Antonio eventually moved to Canada where the Italian pasta machine company that employed him had opened a distribution office. He worked there several years setting up and servicing machines. In 1995, he started his own company, which built industrial fresh pasta machines in-house. In 2002, Antonio and his wife moved their business to the United States. At first they continued to build their own line of machines. However, after a while, they decided that business model was too labor intensive, so they went back to distributing machines from a supplier in Italy.

In 2012, Antonio and Maja purchased GAM Precision to diversify their business. It seemed like a good fit because they already owned some CNC equipment and had experience in manufacturing. Within a decade, they have modernized GAM from a cam screw machine shop to a highly automated CNC job shop, featuring some of the most powerful Citizen Swiss CNCs on the market.

Pasta Extruder + Mixer from Arcobaleno

Antonio says in the United States Arcobaleno has no competitors who can match its service in the industrial pasta machine space. However, the pasta machine business is challenging because unlike precision parts customers, who consistently demand more product, pasta machine customers often don’t need to buy new machines for many years because they are so durable. This means the company has to constantly look for new customers. 

At the end of the interview, Antonio walked around his showroom to explain various industrial pasta machines in his product line. He also showed me some colorful consumer models sitting under a Christmas tree. He told me about the challenges of making gluten free pasta—“because the gluten is really like a glue, that holds it together.” We compared the lighter gnocchi made in southern Italy to that of northern Italy composed of a much higher ratio of potato to flour. He preached the importance of salting the water abundantly before cooking pasta—enough to make it taste like sea water. 

Antonio knows that it’s the little details that produce perfection.

Question: What’s your favorite pasta dish?

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