Category Archives: Podcast

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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Swarfcast Ep. 61 – Xometry’s Greg Paulsen on Facilitating a Manufacturing Network

By Noah Graff

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Today’s podcast centers around a company that provides capacity for machining firms that lack resources to meet clients’ needs.

Our guest is Greg Paulsen, Director of Application Engineering for Xometry. Xometry provides manufacturing on demand using an artificially intelligent quoting system and a manufacturing partner network of over 3,000 companies.

Main points of the interview

(3:00) Greg explains his background in product development working for firms in the additive manufacturing sector. He discusses the his dislike in his previous job of sending out lots of RFQs and then having to wait for responses. 

(3:40) Greg explains that Xometry’s purpose is to get rid of the RFQ process for most parts using AI technology. On Xometry’s website a person can submit a 3D CAD file and instantly receive an estimate for price and lead time on a job. 

Greg Paulsen of Xometry

(4:12) Greg says that Xometry has a network of manufacturing partners that can provide CNC machining, sheet metal processing, injection molding, as well as 7 different 3D printing processes for over 60 different materials.

(5:05) Greg characterizes Xometry as a storefront that connects work with those that are best able to produce it. It has over 3,000 manufacturing partners, mostly small manufacturers of diverse disciplines. Greg says that the large number of companies in Xometry’s network quoting work enables it to determine what price is “market fair” for a job.

(7:35) Greg says it is easier to quickly determine prices on low volume jobs (1 to 1,000 pieces). He says often large companies such as Bosch use Xometry so they don’t have to worry about producing very small volumes. He says that Xometry can also facilitate high volume jobs, but clients would have to have a more involved consultation with Xometry’s staff to set up the process, rather than using the online quoting system.

(9:30) Greg says Xometry is usually used by companies who are already working at full capacity and then receive unexpected work. He says shops also utilize Xometry when they need to do work that doesn’t fall into their normal areas of expertise. 

(11:30) Greg talks about how manufacturing firms can join Xometry’s partner network. He discusses a vetting process in which Xometry pays potential partner manufacturing companies to make a sample part.

(27:50) Greg talks about another service Xometry provides that he calls the Finishing Network. Xometry matches manufacturers with partners that can provide secondary operations, anodizing for example. In these matches the clients can communicate directly with each other, unlike Xometry’s anonymous manufacturing on demand service. 

(35:40) Greg talks about Xometry’s supply services. The company can provide manufacturers with raw materials as well as tooling.

(44:50) Greg talks about Xometry’s revenue model. He says it generally inserts around a 20% margin for transactions. Its system finds the delta between the market fair price for manufacturers’ take rates and the market fair price for the customers’ take rates.

Question: What have been your experiences with manufacturing networks like Xometry?

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Swarfcast Ep. 60 – Alec Mandis, Machining in New Zealand Part 2

By Lloyd and Noah Graff

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Today’s podcast is part 2 of an interview we did with Alec Mandis, Chief Executive of Accord Precision, the largest machined component manufacturer in New Zealand. Over the years Accord has strived to set itself apart by developing a diverse group of niche products. One example is a stainless steel diving helmet made from an investment casting which took the company three years of R&D to produce successfully.

Main Points of the Interview

(2:30) Alec talks about the process to produce Accord’s stainless steel diving helmet from an investment casting. He says that five years ago the commercial diving industry needed a more durable helmet than the standard light weight fiberglass ones at the time. Accord spent three years of R&D to bring its helmet to market.

(7:15) Alec talks about why Accord spent so much time and money to develop its stainless steel diving helmet despite it being a low volume product. He says that creating a difficult product like the helmet elevated the company’s capabilities for process controls. Accord became better prepared to produce other difficult or high risk products such as those for the medical device industry. It also demonstrated the company’s abilities to potential customers.

Alec Mandis with diving helmet made by Accord Precision

(11:30) Alec says that Accord has put great emphasis on statistical process control and ISO registration for decades. The company has ISO 13485 medical device accreditation which enabled it to get FDA registration in the United States in six months, which Alec says normally takes companies four or five years to obtain.

(12:50) Alec says his best trait for running his business is his ability to manage people. He says it is essential to communicate with employees and create strong relationships with them. He says it is important to help them when they need it but push them when possible.

(13:50) Alec says the thing he would most like improve upon is a work-life balance in his personal life. He is trying to spend more personal time with family but says it is difficult while running a business. He thinks New Zealand has a pretty balanced work schedule. Accord’s employees work 40 hours a week over a four day work week, but Alec still works five days a week.

(16:55) Alec says that New Zealand’s geographically remote location has spurred the country’s innovation and self-sufficiency. He says the country has the best magnet manufacturer in the world and is a world leader in the production of MRI machines. The country also shines in the agricultural and dairy sectors.

(18:40) Alec explains that the nickname “Kiwi” for a New Zealander comes from the kiwi bird, which is native to the country.

Question: Can a small machining company afford to do extensive R&D?

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Swarfcast Ep. 59 – Alec Mandis on Machining in New Zealand

By Lloyd and Noah Graff

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Today’s podcast is part 1 of a two part interview with Alec Mandis, Chief Executive of Accord Precision, the largest machined component manufacturer in New Zealand. Accord exports precision products around the world, with 30% going to the United States. Alec described to us what it’s like to run a machine shop in a country of 5 million people, more associated with rugby and sheep than manufacturing. After the interview we started scheming how we could get down there for a sales call.

Main Points

(3:40) Alec gives the history of Accord Precision. The company has around 50 employees. It is based in Auckland, New Zealand, and was started 45 years ago. It is one of the largest machine shops in the country.

(4:10) Alec estimates there are 30 to 40 machine shops in New Zealand, which he says is quite a lot when you consider the country has a population around 5 million people.

(4:45) Alec describes types of products Accord Precision makes. The company produces a wide range of part sizes from a variety of materials including various steels, aluminum, bronze, stainless steel, brass, composites, and plastics. The company has been transitioning over time from automatic screw machines to 4-axis and 5-axis CNC lathes.

(6:35) Alec gives an overview of New Zealand. He says that in recent years New Zealand has become more known around the world. The country’s landscape varies throughout the island. He says a person could ski in the mountains and surf on the ocean in the same day. The country receives 20 million tourists per year.

Alec Mandis

(8:45) Alec discusses New Zealand’s indigenous Māori population and the diverse immigrants in the country from all over the world. He says his shop’s workforce reflects this, with people from South Africa, Europe and Pacific Islands.

(15:45) Alec talks about the Accord’s progression to CNC machining.

(17:15) Alec says that the cost of skilled labor in New Zealand is similar to that in the U.S.

(18:10) Alec says that Accord is able to export to the United States because of its various ISO certifications and it is FDA registered in the U.S. so it can make compliant products for medical companies.

(19:40) Alec talks about the Accord’s origins. Its original business was supplying components to the appliance industry. Later the company diversified, making faucets, and products for the electrical, marine, and medical sectors.

(20:00) Alec talks about growing up in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). He started a family in South Africa and eventually emmigrated to New Zealand.

(21:30) Alec talks about New Zealand’s rugby team’s custom of doing a traditional Māori dance before games.

(24:25) Alec talks about Accord Precision’s preference for Haas equipment. He said that Haas is the only major CNC machine tool builder that has opened a spares and service center in New Zealand, and it is only a 10 hour flight from New Zealand to Los Angeles. He says that Haas machines may be slightly lesser in quality than DMG or Mazak, but Accord has been able to machine excellent complex components using them.

Question: Are you a fan of Haas machines?

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Swarfcast Ep. 58 – Romas Juodvalkis, Centered on Centerless Grinding

By Noah Graff

On today’s podcast we delve into the world of centerless grinding, a vital process in precision machining that some less informed folks label as a dirty, dark art. Our guest is Romas Juodvalkis, founder of Allways Precision, one of the largest Cincinnati centerless grinder rebuilders in the United States. 

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Main points of the interview

(3:00) Romas discusses founding Allways Precision 27 years ago as a repairer and rebuilder of Cincinnati centerless grinders. He says the company over the years has grown its capabilities and now provides automation devices, both for the grinders it sells as well as other types of machines. The company now builds grinders with CNC capability that have as many as 11 axes for doing complex features on parts.  

(5:00) Romas discusses more about the advantages of his CNC retrofitted centerless grinders. For example, instead of doing four passes on a part to get all the dimensions a machinist can do the job in one pass.

(6:30) Romas discusses various uses of centerless grinders such as grinding bar stock so it can be run in the collets of a CNC Swiss machine or finishing off parts that have already been machined to obtain better tolerances. 

(7:25) Romas discusses the advantages of using centerless grinders over cylindrical grinders. 

(9:20) Romas discusses the lack of proficiency of most machine shops at operating centerless grinders. He says people are a little scared of centerless grinders because they don’t understand the process. He talks about which machining companies can justify having centerless grinders. He says they are only worth owning if a company has a high enough volume of parts and skills to run the machines efficiently. 

(12:30) Romas says that centerless grinding is not difficult to learn. His company is usually able to train people to use his machines in three days. 

(13:30) Romas says that all types of metals can be centerless ground. He also has customers who centerless grind plastics, glass, ceramics, carbide and diamond. He says anything that needs to be round with precision can be ground.

(14:55) Romas says Allways has been growing constantly and estimates he only has around 10 competitors, and they all vary in their specialties and work standards.

(16:44) Romas says that most of the best centerless grinders available are rebuilt Cincinnati grinders since Landis bought out Cincinnati in the ‘90s. He says Landis built only eight centerless grinders last year while he sold 25 rebuilt ones. He says some centerless grinders are built overseas but most of them are poor quality and will last only a few years before they should be thrown out. Allways Precision uses Cincinnati centerless grinder castings from all the back to the 1940s because they were built so well. Allways stabilizes the castings, rescraping, refitting, and realigning everything.

(19:45) Romas talks about the B&R CNC control Allways puts on its machines, which he says can be continuously updated. He says it is a big improvement from controls such as Allen Bradley or Windows, which become obsolete after a few years.

(22:45) Romas says Allways rebuilds one machine every two weeks and has 350 machines in its inventory available for rebuild. 

(23:00) Romas says prices for machines from Allways range from $50,000 for used machines in good working condition to $350,000 for full rebuilds with CNC controls. 

(23:45) Romas talks about Allways’ business as a robot integrator for CNC machines and centerless grinders.

(25:20) Romas talks about the safety features on his rebuilt machines. 

(26:20-31:50) Romas talks about his company’s emphasis on educating customers and potential customers on how to get the most out of Cincinnati centerless grinders. He says that with a few days of proper training he can dramatically improve a shop’s output.

Question: Do you have a desire to learn to centerless grind?

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Swarfcast Ep. 57 – Jerry Gates on Running Well Oiled Machines

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is about reducing friction in our machining and our lives. Our guest is Jerry Gates, founder of Gates Engineered Lubricants, a company near Houston, Texas, which produces metal working fluids, industrial lubricants, and rust inhibitors for a variety of applications.

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Main points of the interview

(3:15) Jerry explains the metal working products his company sells such as forming fluids, cutting fluids, corrosion inhibitors, and cleaners. The company’s flagship product, Aladdin 334, is used for deep hole drilling applications such as ejector drilling, trepanning, and gun drilling.

(5:10) Jerry explains the ejector drilling jobs faced by TimkenSteel, one of his company’s significant clients. TimkenSteel drills holes from 2 inches up to 14 inches in diameter through bar stock as long as 60 feet. This requires a mineral oil based product with extreme pressure additives and anti-welding additives because of the long duration of the cut.

(6:15-10:30) Jerry talks about his background. He is the son of a carpenter. He worked in construction but changed his career to selling industrial supplies. He began his training in coolants and lubricants with Master Chemical. Later in his career, Jerry worked for Castrol’s marine division, where he learned more about industrial lubricants.

(10:40) Jerry talks about what led to him founding Gates Engineered Lubricants in 2005. After decades working in the industrial supplies business, he switched careers to sell insurance, but former clients still called him to consult them on their metal working needs. He helped a former Castrol client with its injector drilling problem, which led to him founding his company.

(15:25) Jerry says it is easier for his smaller company to solve customers’ problems because he can focus on executing their specific applications. He says his larger competitors are often set in their ways, using older methods that are less specifically tailored to clients.

(15:55) Jerry talks about improving TimkenSteel’s tool life for injector drilling from 40 feet to 450 feet since Gates took it on as a client 12 years ago. He says his company is usually able to increase clients’ tool life 30-40%.

(16:45) Jerry talks about how Gates’ oil differs from competitors in metal working fluids. His company’s oil based machining products contain no chlorine or animal fats, which he says are still used by 90% of shops. We joke that this makes his oil “kosher.” He says products with animal fats and chlorine are hard to dispose of, bad for the environment, and have been banned by the European Union.

(21:30) Jerry talks about vegetable oil products. Gates offers a few of them, but it focuses more on mineral oils because vegetable oils have the same disposal problems as other products.

(29:30) Jerry discusses the complications that resulted from the Trump administration’s roll backs on environmental regulations. He also talks about the negatives and positives of the Obama administration’s environmental policies.

Question: Are you happy with your tool life?

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Swarfcast Ep. 56 – The Screw Machine Guy, Part 2

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is part 2 of an interview we did with Wes Szpondowski, plant manager at Wyandotte industries, a 60-year old screw machine shop in Wyandotte Michigan founded by his grandfather.

Wes talks about his aspirations to keep Wyandotte relevant for the next forty years. He also discusses the fatal traps a machining company can fall into if it’s not careful.

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Main Points of the Interview

(3:18) Wes discusses Wyandotte’s preferred quantities for jobs. He says the company’s sweet spot is 15,000 to 20,000 pieces, as opposed to million piece orders.

(4:08) Wes talks about Wyandotte’s automotive work. He says the company is Tier 2 or Tier 3. He says that American car companies always try to take every cent they can from suppliers, while Japanese automakers are less greedy and gravitate toward forming longterm partnerships.

(7:20) Wes says the shop has no plans to buy million dollar machines. It doesn’t have the work to justify those machines or the stomach for the risk. He says that the company can’t survive running mostly Acmes, not because of the inferiority of the machines but because it will be too difficult to get the next generation to work on them.

(10:10) Wes says he plans to buy LICO machines for Wyandotte. He says they are like Brown & Sharps that can do more sophisticated parts with a quick setup time. He said LICOs are much faster than typical CNC lathe and he thinks it’s a machine that young people would enjoy running. He thinks that $250,000 to $350,000 is a price range that is sensible for his company.

(17:40) Wes says he likes to examine the course of events that led machining companies to go out of business. He calls it “auction forensics.” He says people often repeat the same story—the grandkids ran the company into the ground and the company bought expensive equipment that did not pay off.  As a grandson of Wyandotte’s founder, Wes says the story gives him extra impetus to work hard and make responsible equipment decisions.

(21:52) Wes talks about his first job at Wyandotte. He had to work his way up from the bottom and was not even given a full-time shift to start. Some of his coworkers liked him, and others felt threatened by him.

(25:50) Wes gives his thoughts on whether or not he will have partial ownership of Wyandotte in the future. He says ownership is a possibility, but in any case, he is grateful for the privilege of working at the company for so long and being plant manager.

(27:00) Wes says he is able to relate to the company’s employees because he started from the bottom.

(28:10) Wes talks about his admiration for his uncle who owns Wyandotte. He respects that he is almost 80 years old and still comes to work everyday.

(30:30) Wes likes his role as plant as plant manager at the company. He sees himself working as plant manager for the foreseeable future because the company does not have a replacement with his skills both for working with the machines and with the employees.

Question: Do you think we’re headed for a recession?

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