Category Archives: Products

Ep. 98 – How to Prevent Fires in Your Machine Tools with Mike Campo

By Noah Graff

On this week’s episode of Swarfcast, we’re talking about preventing fires inside of machinery. Our guest is Mike Campo, Midwest Regional Sales Manager with Firetrace International, makers of fire suppression systems and solutions. Fire suppression systems keep businesses, people and equipment safe by automatically detecting and suppressing fires in high-risk equipment, like CNC machines, vehicles and wind turbines.

Mike says that machine tools are most at risk for fires when running oil based coolant while unattended. Suppression systems aim to hold back the fire, helping to mitigate the damage and allowing time for emergency personnel to respond.

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

Main Points

Mike shares his background. He has been in the fire protection field for 43 years. He began his career in the engineered fire systems business, protecting data centers and telecommunications centers. He eventually went on to work at Firetrace International, a fire suppression system manufacturer that specializes in protecting critical small environments like CNC machines and wind turbines. (2:50)

Mike talks more about the niche market of working with what he calls micro environments. He says that the Firetrace system is designed for small enclosures, not rooms or spaces where there are people, such as a residential structure. (3:40)

Mike says that sprinklers are a valuable type of fire suppression for structures and are often mandated by local fire codes. He says Firetrace works heavily with the wind energy business to help protect wind turbines, which have structures that do not lend themselves to using sprinkler systems. He says that though an insurance company or local ordinance may instruct a business to purchase a fire suppression system for specific equipment, there are generally no official laws requiring a machine shop to install fire protection systems on its machines. (4:45)

Mike says the biggest risk for fires in machine shops occurs when machine tools are running unattended using oil based coolant rather than water soluble. (8:40)

Mike says that machine tools running oil create an oil mist that can ignite. Mist collectors can help evacuate some of the mist, but any kind of activity that would cause a spark in the oil mist such as a broken tool or failure of an oil pump, could lead to a violent fire. (10:50)

Mike says fires often occur when machining titanium, stainless steel, and aluminum because a lot of friction can occur, which can lead to broken tools. (12:10)

Mike explains that various Firetrace fire suppression systems correspond to different sizes of machine tools. Different volumes of space inside the machines require different amount of chemicals necessary to suppress fires. Larger machines necessitate larger tanks. (13:40)

Mike describes how the Firetrace systems work. A man in Great Britain developed a thermoplastic tubing that could hold pressure for a long period of time. Initially this technology was applied to create a fire suppression system for engine compartments of farming equipment. When pressurized, the tubing becomes a linear pneumatic heat sensor, so that if the tube comes into contact with high heat or flame, the tube ruptures, releasing the pressure that is holding down a piston in the fire protection tank. It releases and then dispenses chemicals to control the fire. (16:00)

Mike points out that Firetrace’s system “only works when it fails,” meaning that it will only go off only when the tube loses pressure. Thus Firetrace systems should not produce false alarms or go off when they are not supposed to. (18:00)

Mike says that Firetrace fire suppression systems target Class B and C fires. Fires are classified into four types, A, B, C, and D. Class A fires occur in materials such as wood and paper. Class B, fires are caused by flammable gasses or liquids, such as oil based coolant. Class C fires are electrical fires, which can occur in the electrical cabinets of machine tools. Class D fires are metal based fires. Those can occur when machining certain metals such as magnesium. Mike says that Firetrace’s system is not designed suppress metal fires, and the most common way to put out those fires is applying sand-like powder. He says if you see a yellow fire extinguisher next to a machine it’s probably meant to put out metal fires. (18:50)

Mike talks about the chemicals used by the Firetrace system. He says Firetrace’s goal is to have a clean fire suppression system that leaves no trace after use in the machine. (20:30)

Mike says that Firetrace is usually purchased aftermarket, though a few machine tool builders offer it as an option for purchase. (24:35)

Mike says the wind turbine business has been very successful for Firetrace. The company sees mostly electrical fire applications in the turbines. (27:25)

Mike says that the Firetrace has been very busy lately. Medical and automotive industries make up the majority of the company’s machine shop customers, while the Aerospace sector has fallen off since COVID-19 hit. (28:40)

Mike says that the cost of a fire suppression system for most CNC machines is $6,000 to $7,000.. He says that Firetrace’s systems are engineered to be simple, as they have no electrical components. Installation typically takes 2-4 hours. (29:25)

Mike says there are several competitor fire suppression systems which emulate Firetrace’s technology, as well as some others that function differently. He says that some systems that come installed on used machines coming from other countries might not be in compliance with US regulations. (30:35)

Mike talks about something he recently learned. He says COVID-19 has presented him with challenges that come when working from home. He says he has been honing is patience for working a lot in close quarters with grandchildren (who he says he loves dearly). (34:50)

Mike states that Firetrace is a simple technology, but the company is constantly performing R & D. He says although the system rarely fails, pressure leaks can present a challenge, whether it’s a leak in the suppression system or in the machine itself. (38:40)

Question: Have you experienced a machine fire in a CNC shop?

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Best of Swarfcast – Ep. 73 – Tracking Your Machine’s Productivity with Eric Fogg

By Noah Graff

Today, we’re going to do a quick Throwback Thursday to March of this year, to a discussion about going digital with machine data.

This week’s podcast is an interview we did with Eric Fogg, co-founder and head of machine connectivity at MachineMetrics. MachineMetrics produces an IOT device that connects directly with machine tool PLCs and controls to track realtime and historical data on equipment. Operators use the data to assess how machines are truly performing, which is often quite different from what they perceive.

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

Main Points

Eric explains that MachineMetrics is a machine data connectivity data platform. The company makes a device (he calls an “edge device”) that connects directly to machine controls and sensors of production equipment. The device gathers valuable data on how the machines are performing and sends it to operators to analyze. (3:10)

Eric talks about taking machine shop classes in high school. During high school he worked at a lot of different machine shops on nights and weekends and taught himself programming. (4:10)

Eric says that MachineMetrics can gather data from all vintages of machine tools, not just CNC machines, though CNC machines provide the most data. He says right now MachineMetrics has a client using its edge device to gather data from a punch press that was manufactured in 1925. He says, “As long as it moves and has electrons flowing through it we can probably get some useful data out of it.”(7:00)

Eric says that in college he majored in theology because he wanted to work in the field of corporate ethics. Eventually he started his own machine shop in his mid 20s that specialized in green technology products. (10:00)

Eric Fogg of MachineMetrics

Eric says that when the 2008 recession hit he started doing more job shop type work with low margins. He eventually closed his company started doing Six Sigma consulting for job shops in Vermont. The experience of analyzing the processes of different shops inspired the idea for MachineMetrics. He says he observed that shops were often making decisions based on a gut feeling rather than based on data. He came up with the idea to pull the data that already was on the machines’ controls to create reports, dashboards and analytics to help machining companies make decisions. (14:00)

Eric says the most basic data MachineMetrics tracks is machine utilization—how much machines are running versus how much people think they are running. He says the average perceived utilization of equipment by MachineMetrics’ customers is just under 80%. The actual average is in the high 20 percents to low 30 percents (the numbers are based on active shifts). He says that the numbers can be surprising as various markets differ. For instance, he says for some types of very low volume work (1 or 2 part runs) 15% utilization might be considered world class. He says for high volume shops utilization is often much higher. For instance, he says shops making millions of parts with much thinner margins sometimes have utilization in the 90 percents. He says that no matter what type of shop, clients are usually surprised at their utilization rates. (20:25)

Eric gives some examples of how MachineMetrics data uncovered problems that led to low machine utilization. He gives an example of a client who was using cheap 1/4” drill bits on a drill and tapping center. The company calculated it took only 5 minutes to change a drill bit out, so they used cheaper ones with short tool life. The problem was that while operators left to get a new drill bit from the tool crib they got sidetracked and the average time to change the drill bit was actually over 40 minutes. After learning this the owner of the company decided to go out and buy the most expensive drill bit that lasted 10 times longer than those he was using. It was a solution that was much faster and easier to implement then changing the procedure in the shop which could have tons of variables to consider. (24:10)

Eric says that MachineMetrics generally does not advise customers how to use the data they collect. He has found that customers usually take the initiative to solve their problems. He says his company is often surprised at the interesting ways that clients utilize the data. (27:40)

Eric discusses a phenomenon he sees in CNC shops he calls “cyclecreep.” What happens is that over time people gradually alter they way they run jobs by making tweaks such as changing tools or feed rates which often increases cycle time. The problem is that the manufacturer continues to bill its customer for the original cycle time. Operators see green lights on machines which makes them think everything is running fine but problems are occurring behind the scenes. (30:15)

Eric gives an example of a company running the same parts on 20 vertical machining centers that were bought over 10 years. MachineMetrics found that no two machines had the same original cycle time of 40 minutes. He says that some cycle times only differed a few seconds but the delta between fastest machine and the slowest machine was 15 minutes. After seeing this data, in just a week the company was able to adjust the machines to all have a cycle time within a few seconds of each other. (35:30)

Eric says it can be difficult for his clients because often MachineMetrics is delivering them bad news. He says that the consistent trend he sees is that the most successful shops have a culture around change. (37:25)

Question: Are the effects of the coronavirus a net plus or a net minus for your machining business?

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Ep. 85 – Kaizen Principles for Personal Growth with Darrell Sutherland

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the podcast is Darrell Sutherland, founder and owner of Dylan Aerospace in Auburn, Washington, a Tier 1 supplier for Boeing.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Darrell is also a professional mentor. He believes in using the Kaizen manufacturing principles for personal development as well as to improve a business. He believes in the power of mentorship so fervently that he spends over $100,000 a year on his own education.

Main Points

(3:40) Darrell talks about his personal transformation in the last decade or so. He says that for many years it was hard for him to just get out of bed because he wasn’t happy with his life, despite his success and running a business he loved.

(4:15) Darrell says growing up he looked awkward and was bullied a lot but thinks his difficult childhood prepared him for adversity later in life. He says when he was young he got into martial arts, which made him realize his passion for learning and more importantly teaching. He says he has a talent for deconstructing ideas and concepts and synthesizing them into individuals’ unique abilities. 

(5:40) Darrell grew up in Washington state. His grandfather and father worked for Boeing. His father told him to never be a “number” working for Boeing.

(8:00) Darrell says his manufacturing business had been very successful and made a lot of money for a long time before he underwent his personal transformation. He was even able to take more than 10 years off from day to day operations so he would have a lot of time to raise his kids. Yet he still wasn’t content with his life as he was addicted to food and alcohol, gaining over 100 pounds. He says November of 2009 he realized that he needed to change direction, starting with his health. Darrell says it took him many years and thousands of dollars to get the guidance he needed to fix his life. 

(11:00) Darrell in the end realized that the Kaizen principles he had embraced in his manufacturing business could be applied to his own personal life. Darrell summarizes the Kaizen principles as deciding what one wants to accomplish and then analyzing and breaking it down to its root. Then a person starts making small incremental changes at the lowest level he can, and then analyzes the result at that low level. The process makes a person more aware of certain facts about his own life that he hadn’t looked at before. Then when a person can understand the roots of what the real issues are, he can understand the challenges he needs to overcome. Darrell calls his philosophy “living Kaizen,” and in his new book he writes about its parallels with the Toyota Kaizen model. 

(14:30) Darrell says that reshoring of manufacturing is happening quickly and we as a country need to be prepared for it. He says despite Covid-19 this is probably one of the greatest times to be in manufacturing. He says that the pandemic demonstrated to everyone that the offshoring of U.S. manufacturing during the last few decades put the United States in a terrible position in the areas of infrastructure and national security. 

(15:40) Darrell says before Covid-19 he was already planning for 2020 to be a big year for his company. He says that several years ago his company started an initiative called I Love MFG. MFG stands for “Moving, Feeding, and Guarding” America and the world. 

(16:55) Darrell says that young people have no connection to manufacturing. He says they don’t think about their consumer items or modes transportation that are created through manufacturing. He says with reshoring upon us he is going to devote himself to opening young people’s minds to manufacturing.

(19:30) Darrell says that people often “stumble” into the world of manufacturing rather than set out to make it their trade. He says the question we need to ask is, how do we turn people into professional manufacturing people? He says we need to analyze how people are hardwired from birth and softwired by their community and then find the lane for them in the manufacturing space. He says he interviews his employees of all levels to help them figure out their talents and find the best way they can excel at his company.

(24:30) Darrell talks about how to find mentors and why they are so important. He says mentors are important to help us to find our weaknesses so we can fix them but to find the right mentor a person has to figure out what he wants. Darrell says to look on social media for mastermind groups to locate mentors, but he warns to watch out for life coaches who haven’t already achieved anything in their lives. 

Darrell says for more information about Living Kaizen people can go to his Website, darrellasutherland.com and lifeapprentaceship.com where he will be giving away a free PDF with an introduction to his program.

Question: Which self-help books have benefited you in the past?

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Machining the Fair Way

Francesco Molinari, the Italian professional golfer who has entered the top tier of pros who are factors in every major tournament, led by two strokes going into the final round of the Masters Sunday.

I have followed Molinari with more than a casual interest of late because he has used a putter made by a 90-person job shop just down the road from Graff-Pinkert in Tinley Park, Illinois. I met the owner, Bob Bettinardi, at IMTS. We were both resting our bones for a few minutes next to the Universal Robots exhibit, and we talked a bit about CNC mills and his putters business, which has evolved from the job shop that was its origin.

Bettinardi had a golf shirt on with Bettindari Golf’s logo. He has built a product with worldwide reach out of a small Haas mill shop.  This is the dream of so many independent entrepreneurs in our machining world who long for the margins and stature that come from a world-renowned product.

Bettinardi’s branded putters sell for $300-$400 for a club similar to the stick Molinari used to win the British Open at Carnoustie last year.  He also makes an $800 putter with a copper insert.

For a shop running VF-3 Haases with less than 100 employees, Bettinardi is playing in the big leagues with Callaway Golf and Mizuno dominant in the golf club world. It appears Callaway lured Francesco Molinari away from Bettinardi this year though Matt Kuchar, still a prominent pro, and many other up-and-comers are still using the Tinley Park shop’s putter.

Francesco Molinari's former Bettinardi Putter

Francesco Molinari’s former Bettinardi Putter

A Bettinardi faces a daunting challenge going up against the Callaways of the golf world. They have enormous marketing budgets, and a putter’s design can be easily copied. I do not believe Bettinardi has a patented putter. He has to make a product that pro golfers adore, convince them to stay with it for years, and hope his devotees win big tournaments to popularize his sticks. A company doing maybe $20 million a year in sales can do the golf shows and hit the big retailers, but it is always an uphill battle against the Callaways who have constant exposure in the equipment market and have their name on half the golf bags on the pro tour.

This is why small, closely held family businesses like Bettinardi Golf sell out to the behemoths. I do not know if Bob will sell out or if Callaway, with a market cap of $1.6 billion, will eventually crush him by stealing away all the Molinaris of the golf world when they get hot.

As an independent observer and former mediocre golfer, I hope he keeps milling fantastic, elegant putters in Tinley Park, Illinois, and selling them direct on Amazon for $399 a pop.  I’d like to see him buy a dozen more Haas mills and put “Made in USA” on every lovely club he makes.

Maybe today Francesco Molinari will wonder if he could have beaten Tiger Woods at the 2019 Masters if he had had the Bettinardi in his bag.

Questions: 

Is there an even playing field in the machining business?
Has Haas helped even the playing field?

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Ep. 36 – Ben York on Taking the Art Out of Machining

By Noah Graff

In today’s podcast I interviewed Ben York, an inventor and consultant for machining companies. I met him at the 2019 Precision Machining Technology Show where his company, Theory 168, was presenting his Perfect Zero Alignment system. The system uses a camera installed in a CNC machine to set work coordinates and align and set tooling (see demonstration video below).

Ben said his mission is to “take the art out of machining.” He wants machining to be easy enough so people can do it even if they don’t know the “tricks of the trade.” In the podcast Ben talks about his process of inventing his new product and starting a company in the machining field.

Listen to the podcast below the video.

Question: Is machining an art form?

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