Category Archives: Podcast

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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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Ep. 64 – Automating a Machining Business with David Wynn

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is part two of an interview we did with David Wynn, CFO of ABF Engineering and Machining, a third generation screw machine shop in South Fulton, Tennessee. Dave makes a lot of his profits on mechanical screw machines that are older than him, but he emphasizes using advanced technology to automate his business’s processes.

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Main Points of the Interview

(2:15) David says it is important that his employees be driven individuals. He wants people who can work independently in a loosely structured shop environment. His employees can divide their work amongst each other as they want and structure their time how they want as long as they meet production goals. Dave says the more power you give your people, the better they perform.

(3:55) Dave says his goal is to one day have someone else handle the day to day responsibilities of his company so he can focus on growing the business by improving customer relationships and automating business processes. He says he would like to be able to step off the face of the earth for 30 days and and then return seeing the company running smoothly as though he never left.

(8:20) Dave discusses his goal to automate every part of the business that takes his mind away from the key tasks at hand. He says his shop has one button that turns off the all the lights, regulates air conditioning, turns off exhaust fans and everything else necessary to leave the building.

(10:20) Dave talks about the parts he is making on his Brown and Sharpes. He says if he has a high production run he can often can get a closer tolerance on a Brown and Sharpe than a modern CNC machine because the machine is rigid like a tank. 

(13:35) Dave says he does not see his company as competing with China. He says his parts are not commodity parts because he often does short runs of 500 pieces or less. He jokes that “a Brown and Sharpe was a CNC before CNC was cool.”

(14:20) Dave says he feels the machining business in his blood. He thinks the machining bug has been passed down to his 5-year-old son who has been coming to the shop every day since he was born.

(18:20) Dave says he is glad he went to business school rather than going straight into the machining business out of high school because it taught him to determine the values of assets. He says his dad had actually forced him to go to college.

(20:35) Dave says he sees purpose in the machining business because every mechanism people use has parts that have been machined. He appreciates creating tangible products rather than merely creating liquidity in the finance industry.

Question: Is a college education important for running a machining business?

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Ep. 63 – Running a Machine Shop like a Tech Company with David Wynn

By Noah Graff

Today’s Swarfcast is part one of an interview we did with David Wynn, CFO of ABF Engineering and Machining, a third generation screw machine shop in South Fulton, Tennessee. After earning an MBA, David joined his family’s business 17 years ago. His stated mission is to run a machining business composed of old cam screw machines as though it were a tech company.

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Main Points of the Interview

(2:40) Dave gives a history of ABF Engineering and Machining. The business was started by his grandparents and father in 1976. They primarily ran Brown & Sharpe screw machines.

(4:45) Dave talks about the machines in his shop. He said the company has Haas lathes, CNC Swiss, and a CNC mill, but still more than 50 percent of the company’s work is done on Brown & Sharpe screw machines. The company is running 15 Brown & Sharpes currently, but Dave says he has about 100 in the building.

(6:30) Dave gives a brief education about Brown & Sharpes. He says what makes Brown & Sharpes productive is that an operator can work with the turret and other tools simultaneously. The machines are extremely rigid, and have a gear driven 5Hp motor.

(12:47) Dave explains how building a cam for a Brown & Sharpe screw machine is similar to writing a CNC program for a Swiss machine. The main difference is the CNC program is immediately implemented while the cam takes days to build.

(14:45) Dave talks about how he came into the business. He had never stepped foot in the shop before he turned 18 years old. While in college and grad school he began working at the company. He earned an MBA, but instead of going into the finance industry he fell in love with the machining business and decided to do it full time.

(18:40) Dave talks about how ABF Engineering and Machining changed after he and his father bought it from his grandfather. He says they chose to focus on creating a new culture based on teamwork and innovative work practices. They prefer to hire people who fit into the company’s culture rather than hire based on an applicant’s talent.

(21:55) Dave talks about the company’s unconventional practices for 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 work as a team. He says that most outsiders look at him like he is a space alien when he tells them about some of his policies.

(28:40) Dave says that usually the people who are most successful at his company are the ones who put in a lot of hours at the shop and also at home. One of the characteristics he looks for in a great employee is someone who is constantly trying to better herself.

Question: Do you know how to run a Browne and Sharpe?

 

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Ep. 62. Small but Profitable Swiss Shop with Travis Erickson

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast guest is Travis Erickson of Precision Components of Oxnard, California. Precision Components runs Tornos CNC Swiss lathes, specializing in producing custom mil-spec contacts primarily for the aerospace industry. Travis and his father handle all of the company’s machining and quality duties and employ only three people in their shop.

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Main points of the interview

(2:50) Travis explains the core of his company’s business, custom mil-spec electrical contacts that go into circular connectors for large OEM aerospace companies. The company produces parts ranging from 16mm all the way down to .0013mm.

(4:45) Travis talks about the Tornos Swiss machines at Precision Components. The company has nine DECO 10, a DECO 13a, an EvoDECO 16, and an old ENC 162 which Travis says is practically older than him. Travis says his father bought the first Tornos DECO sold in the United States in 1997 or 1998, a DECO 10 that is still running in the shop today. Travis says the company’s EvoDECO 16 cost around $400,000 new after freight and options. He says possibly other Swiss brands could do the company’s work, but he has no plans to switch because he knows Tornos machines produce the tolerances he needs.

Travis Erickson of Precision Components, Oxnard, CA

(7:24) Travis talks about the history of Precision Components. His father started the company in 1988. Travis says he is 34 years old and has been working at the company for 11 years since finishing college at U.C. Berkley. The company is literally right around the corner from the Haas Automation factory, but it has never had the need for any Haas machines.

(9:45) Travis says Precision Components doesn’t advertise with a website, despite his degree in marketing. He says the company has a core group of reliable customers, and right now he is not concerned with striving for huge growth.

(10:30) Travis says aside from he and his dad there are only three guys who work in their company’s shop. They handle tasks like parts cleaning, tumbling, deburring, light assembly and monitoring the machines. Travis’s Dad is the primary machine setup person and operator, while Travis handles quality and the company’s business responsibilities. Travis says the company at one point had 11 total people, including two setup guys, but it downsized in 2009-2010, and the setup people left to explore other opportunities. He and his father realized that the company could operate successfully with a much leaner but efficient workforce.

(15:05) Travis says he thinks the machining business will slow down next year because of the Presidential election. He says that the “big boys” like Boeing and Raytheon typically buy a lot of inventory leading up to an election and then wait to see what happens before they start funding new projects.

(17:10) Travis says he knows it will be important to grow more and invest in some employees in the near future now that he is starting a family.

(21:30) Travis talks about the challenges of running a machining company in California such as state taxes, hazardous waste permits and wild fires (which caused this podcast interview to be postponed a week).

Question: Do you wish your machine shop was larger or smaller?

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