Category Archives: Machining

Online Auctioneer Dennis Hoff's take on feelings of buyers and sellers

In the 2008 January issue, Today’s Machining World did an interview with Dennis Hoff, president of Hoff-Hilk Auction Services, an online auctioneer which sells commercial and capital equipment exclusively. In the interview Hoff gives an insider’s perspective on the online auction business, discussing the effects of auctions on both the buyers and sellers from both a monetary standpoint as well as psychological one.


In this video Hoff addresses how site coordinators for an auction sale often must play “psychologist” to help sellers cope with the pain or angst which often accompanies selling their businesses. 


In this video Hoff says candidly that while both buyers and sellers often don’t feel auctions are fair, he thinks that after an online sale the sellers generally feel more satisfied. He attributes this to the convenience of bidding online, which brings more people from far off places to compete in the sale.

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Tata Motors $2,500 car unveiled. “The People’s Car”

On Jan. 10, 2008, Tata Motors unveiled its revolutionary $2500 car, the Tata Nano, also being called “The People’s Car” by its maker.

The vehicle measures 3.1 meters in length, 1.5 meters in width and 1.6 meters in height. It has a mono-volume design, with wheels at the corners and the power-train at the rear in order to provide both maneuverability and space on the inside to accommodate families.

The Nano has a rear-wheel drive, all-aluminum, two-cylinder, 623 cc, 33 PS, multi point fuel injection petrol engine. It’s the first time that a two-cylinder gasoline engine is being used in a car with single balancer shaft. That might seem pathetic compared to industry standards but in a country in which millions use motor scooters to transport families it will revolutionize the lifestyle of India’s masses. According to, $2,500 is three times higher than India’s per capita income, and the average pay for a Tata Motors factory worker is $5,500 a year.

Read the “Next” feature in Today’s Machining World’s December issue for further insight on the $2,500 car from auto industry experts.

In this video of the car’s unveiling, Mr. Ratan N. Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group and Tata Motors compares the innovation of “The People’s Car” with the moon landing, the invention of the bicycle and the evolution of today’s personal computer.

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The 3-D Printing Revolution

The December 12, Wall Street Journal discussed how 3-D printing machines are now becoming available to consumers to produce objects in their homes as diverse as iPod covers, action figures or ash trays. Such machines also known as rapid prototyping machines have been in use by manufacturers, scientists, and professional artists for years but this is ground breaking because it brings the power to produce objects quickly at low volume to the common person.

Video about consumer 3-D printers


Last year Today’s Machining World did an interview with the late Larry Rhoades, former CEO of Ex-One, a company that produces 3-D printing machines which can print metal parts and tools for rapid manufacturing using powdered metal as opposed to the softer material which the traditional 3-D printing machines use.

An Excerpt of an interview with Rhoades, the visionary behind 3-D metal printing.


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Botox Matters to the Machining World

One of the best early indicators of the American economy may be breast implants, tummy tucks and LASIK procedures. According to the December 8th Wall Street Journal, cosmetic surgery is a dead-on indicator of consumer confidence. Confidence is not a perfect match for consumer behavior, but uninsured cosmetic procedures are expensive, put off-able acts like car buying and condo shopping.

The Journal tells us that breast building is soft, and the fat has been sucked out of the liposuction racket for the moment, so we can expect the stock market to droop.

Cutera, the Brisbane, California laser maker, says that their earnings picture has darkened like liver spots, which may translate into weaker house remodeling sales and affect our world adversely.

Never underestimate the importance of Botox. It’s one more wrinkle in understanding the path of the machining world.

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Machining like a Soup Stand

I recently made a trip to downtown San Francisco and discovered a new approach to fast food that seems to be prospering — the soup and oatmeal take-out restaurant.

Take-out Soup Restaurant Review

This is limited menu to the extreme. One location was an eight foot wide hole in the wall. Oatmeal was served until 10:00 a.m. and then replaced by soup. The soups rotated daily. When they run out of one, that particular variety was finished for the day.

The other soup outlet had a dozen tables, more staff, longer hours, but also stuck to the oatmeal and soup theme. I think the approach will spread to other cities that have a lot of walking traffic. Today, the number of people who leave home in a rush without eating breakfast is huge. The oatmeal fix trumps the Egg McMuffin for the nutrition oriented Generation X and Y’ers who are the bulk of the clientele. Soup is time consuming to make but cheap per serving. For a low rent spot, the margins could be stunning for an owner operator.

An interesting analogy in the machining realm is taking shape at Tim Timson’s shop in Willetts, California. Tim is a 60-year-old screw machine junkie. For several years he has been bargain picking older National Acme screw machines. He sets each machine up for a specific job in a big old building in an old lumber mill town, a two and a half hour drive from the Bay Area. He has 30 multis now which he keeps running with four people including him and his wife.

With this kind of cheap overhead operation he can compete successfully on price. With the machines constantly set up he has extremely fast turnaround time, especially if he keeps several bars of metal in stock.

It’s not exactly soup and oatmeal out of a nook in San Fran, but it has the same elements for success. Tim’s shop’s production is cheap, accessible, and high quality. The formula is as old as porridge and broth.

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The China Syndrome

Two decades ago, a cashmere sweater was a soft symbol of wealth and status warn by pipe smoking duffers at the club. Eventually women also wanted to wear the wool from the shaggy goat. The boosted demand beyond the capability of shepherds filled in the production shortfall.

But the sharp folk in Bentonville Arkansas who run Wal-Mart believed that cashmere was not the exclusive wool for the rich, and decided cashmere sweaters should be brought to the masses. It was the perfect Christmas present. They asked the disintermediating question, “Why not sell a $49 cashmere women’s sweater, or a $39 or even a $29 one?”

And the Shepherds in China and Mongolia heard them. A herder with 30 goats living in a tent soon had 300 grazing goats. He did what capitalists everywhere do – expand to meet the demand. And shepherds reaped the reward of Wal-Mart’s audacious bet on the desires of its customers to have buttery sweaters for $30 to $40. And soon the Asian shepherds had small homes and televisions and toilets and life was good.

Except 10 times more goats ate all the green grass, and the bigger herds needed to move to greener pastures. The old land turned to dust and the wind blew. Huge clouds of dirt miles long and wide lifted off the ground, browning the local air and ultimately circling the earth. The shepherds had to leave their newly built homes to search for new grass, and China and the world was a dirtier grittier place. But Wal-Mart got their cheaper wool, and you and I got our comfy cardigans.

The net gain for the Chinese economy was real in this case. New sweater factories were built. Girls got jobs at the sewing machines after fleeing the poverty of rural China. The sewing machine firms sold product and the machine guys sold them components for bobbins and stitches. The shepherds tasted prosperity and the goats found more company. But the gains were diminished by the communal degradation of the air pollution. That is not in the Chinese growth statistics, but the people  on the ground know it’s real. This is the yin and yang of “Wild East” growth. Eventually the Chinese people will not take it anymore.

By the numbers, growth will slow and the markets will no longer fawn over the Chinese stocks. The Olympics will come and go. Wal-Mart will still sell cashmere sweaters. I don’t know if they’ll cost more or less than they do today

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Gene Haas and Michael Vick — Tragedies of Character

Two young men still at the top of their games copped pleas on August 27, 2007. They will both be going to Federal Prison despite their fabulous wealth and instant name recognition. They gambled their freedom and careers with bizarre acts of recklessness abetted by cronies without the strength to say no to them.

Gene Haas, the unlikely billionaire of American machine tools, and Michael Vick, the quarterback who redefined the position in the NFL, both saw their freedom slip away when their associates flipped to the prosecution. Even the shrewdest legal talent money could buy couldn’t keep them out of jail.

Haas’ hubris led him to tax evasion to cheat the U.S. treasury out of millions of dollars because he thought he was wronged on a patent dispute. Vick electrocuted pit bulls which he had gambled on and buried the bodies on his land.

Haas and Vick were both single men who defied the conventional wisdom of their games. Haas told the world he would build a vertical machining center in L.A., sell it for less than the Japanese builders, cut the price year after year and service it like the Maytag repairman.

Vick said the quarterback was a running back who scored points with his feet. He destroyed defenses built to thwart skilled white boys who played the vertical passing game.

Haas and Vick are iconoclasts in their respective worlds. They broke the defining rules of their peers and they were vilified by the established players. Both guys loved to stick it to the reigning authorities who mocked their unorthodoxies and said they had to fail because they were different and too difficult.

Maybe when you keep showing up everybody else in your field, make huge money, and travel the country in private jets, you think that society’s rules are for the little people. You’re going to do what you’re going to do, and you’re untouchable. It’s so Macbeth.

But in America, Presidents get impeached, and billionaires do go to jail, and quarterbacks plead. The judicial system is still painfully stacked towards the rich and famous, yet on August 27, two of our richest and most famous men conceded their freedom at federal court houses. Haas and Vick — two four letter words synonymous with greatness — and utter stupidity.

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Gene Haas Trial Coming

The Gene Haas tax evasion trial is projected to begin in September. It has been stalled by continuances, but both sides evidently want it to happen now.

Denis Dupuis who was Gene’s top deputy was indicted with him. Dupuis has made a deal with the Feds to testify for the prosecution.

The Haas Automation company has attempted to distance itself from Gene’s travail and appears to be going strong. My dire predictions about the possible impact of the case on the Haas business have proved wrong to his point.

My understanding is that Gene Haas still owns the Haas Automation company. Today’s Machining World will be following the trial closely, because the outcome will affect the machining community. Haas, the man and the company have embodied the resourcefulness and resiliency of American manufacturing as much as any person or company over the past 25 years. The trial certainly demands our interest and scrutiny now.

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The Labor Shortage

The labor shortage of skilled machinists is not a singular phenomenon. Heavy equipment operators who maneuver excavators, dozers, and cranes are also scarce. Power Equipment of Chattanooga, Tennessee, is doing something about it in its area. The company contributed $600,000 worth of Kubota machinery to Chattanooga State University to equip operator courses, according to Larry Moon of the company. He says that the classes have been oversubscribed every time they have been offered. This is a smart move for Power Equipment, which has several branches in the state.

On the machine tool front, Haas Automation has been the most aggressive in donating equipment to colleges and universities. This has had the double barreled effect of developing brand awareness for machinists and engineers while enriching the pool of operators in the field.

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Rube Goldberg is Alive and Well

“Rube Goldberg” is alive and well in Harry Potter’s neighborhood. Three blokes in their mid-twenties, graduates of elite Cambridge University, have developed fantastic mechanical chains of devices, like sliding chess pieces, dropping hammers, and perfectly aimed darts that keep the crazy sequence going on video. They reckon four to five million people have watched their clever automation process on screen.

Their contraption videos are a brilliant effort to promote the young company of these clever mechanical engineers who specialize in manufacturing and design creativity. I urge every reader to go to their website, to see their hard work.

I talked to Tom Baynham, one of the creative engineers, about the group’s business plan, and how the popular videos fit into it. He says they are in the manufacturing and design creativity business. They are currently working on a project for a firm providing portable machine tools for the oil industry. They have spent time at the Mazak plant in Japan and see a future for their innovative approaches to making things.

He says that their videos have brought them notoriety and networking opportunities in manufacturing circles, but my sense is that they have not grasped the potential of the films.

They have a superb opportunity to turn their site into a huge social networking venue for people interested in mechanical things. This could lead to opportunities in toys, construction, even apparel – judging by the young guys from Threadless. They also could try the citizen contest method, which could culminate in an interesting show approach.

What these fellows have done is discover the latent interest in intricate mechanical contraptions. This implies big opportunities for machining companies to popularize and humanize their websites with similar creative efforts.

If I was looking for a company to make something, and found a group with the creative acumen of a Rube Goldberg master, I would definitely give them a shot at my work.

It is not a big leap to connect the dots from wacky contraption to perfect machined parts.

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