Category Archives: Business

Ep. 121 – Finding Customers Through Great Networking with Jay Sauder

By Noah Graff

For the third episode of our season about how machining companies acquire new work, I interviewed Jay Sauder, owner of Sauder Machine in Plymouth, Ohio. Sauder makes a variety of precision components such as casings for mechanical pocket watches and wheel cylinders for horse drawn buggies driven by Amish people.

Sauder Machine has no sales team nor a social media presence, yet it has a diversified, profitable customer base that continues to grow through great networking. Jay Sauder told me about how doing great work and establishing great relationships with customers has been the fuel to keep his business rapidly growing year after year.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast, or listen with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.



Main Points

Jay talks about the origin of Sauder Machine. His dad started the business with his uncle in 1982 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Jay is the fourth generation of machine shop owners in his family. In 2009 he started at the business and eventually took over administrative duties from his dad, who prefers to be working on machines to pushing pencils. Jay says when he started, the business had a lot of good customers, but his dad had not been charging some of them enough for various jobs to be profitable. (3:00)

Jay talks about his Mennonite background and how that has brought him Amish clientele. He grew up as Old Order Mennonite, a religious group with many common customs and origins as the Amish. He started driving a horse and buggy when he was 15 years old (he has only been driving a car for six years). Jay says the communities vary, but on the whole, Amish people are more conservative than Mennonites. Jay says he grew up with electricity and telephones in his house, while Amish people usually don’t have those amenities. Mennonites don’t have to have beards and don’t have to dress quite as conservatively as Amish. (5:00)

Jay says the commonalities and connections between Mennonite and Amish communities have brought Sauder Machine some important customers. Sauder Machine designed a hydraulic brake system for Amish and Mennonite carriages. The carriages already had brakes, but they were using cast iron rear cylinders imported from China, which were modeled after those on a 1941 light-duty Ford truck. Sauder’s wheel cylinders are made of anodized aluminum and are water resistant. The company also makes master cylinders. Since Sauder started making the wheel cylinders in 2012, it has produced 140,000 of them, which the company makes on an OKK CNC 500mm pallet horizontal mill. (7:45)

Jay says his company uses no advertising, sales team, manufacturer’s rep, or social media. The company has a single page website that Jay says has brought him a few RFQs in the past. He says his business connections and customer good will are his key getting new business. (10:20)

Jay talks about a casing for a mechanical pocket watch he produces. Amish people do not wear wrist watches, and some require the watches to be mechanical rather than battery operated. An Amish watch producer in Wisconsin had been been importing his casings from China, but he was looking for a supplier in the United States. He spoke with an Amish owned machine shop in Ohio that Sauder made parts for, and they referred him to Sauder. Sauder sent him a quote and the watchmaker immediately ordered 5,000 pieces, which Jay says he will make on the company’s INDEX C65 lathe. (11:00)

Jay talks about a 2% discount he gives every customer if they pay within 10 days. He says 90% of his customers take this discount, everyone from the Amish watchmaker, to steel producers and Parker Hannifin. (15:00)

Jay says the same principles that have grown his business within the Amish community have helped him in other spheres. He says that a steel company customer in Ohio refers new clients to Sauder Machine. Jay says he keeps the steel company as a middleman, rather than working with those new clients directly. This reinforces their cooperative relationship. (16:00)

Noah asks Jay, what advice he would give a new company who does not have an existing network of customers to bring it referrals. Jay admits that he does not have experience in this scenario, but he suggests to try a service like to source work, which hopefully would start a network of more customers. (18:30)

Jay says since he took over the business operations of Sauder, he has had to go to longtime customers and dramatically raise prices because the company was losing money on various jobs. He says some of the customers left, but within a year they came back and didn’t even try to negotiate. He says if you do parts right the first time, customers are not going to want to go elseware. (20:30)

Jay talks about the negotiation process with customers. Noah asks him what he would do in a hypothetical scenario where customer came to him with target a price of $2.00 per part, while he knew that Sauder could actually produce the part for $1.00. Jay says his first instinct is to offer to make the part for $1.75. This way Sauder makes some decent money, and the customer feels good as well. He says however, that if later he is able to improve his process internally to make the part cheaper, the price of the part to the customer will often stay the same. Sometimes he might lower the price to strengthen a relationship with a customer or stave off competition. (24:20)

Jay talks about his constant reinvestment in his business. He always is concerned with upgrading equipment and taking care of employees. He says taking the right steps to do good work is one of the most important ways to keep customers and find new ones. If people know they can buy parts from his company and there won’t be problems they will continue to come back and bring him new customers. (27:20)

Jay says he likes to buy equipment (always used) if he sees fantastic opportunities—he does not need to have work for it yet. He says the most money he has ever paid for a machine was $140,000 for a Traub he recently bought, which might have cost 6 or 7 times that price new. He says he is considering buying his first new machine, a Mazak Multiplex, for a Parker Hannifin job. To make a part come of the machine complete he needs a machining center that can do probing, induction hardening, and grinding. He says he is not afraid about losing the job because he could repurpose the machine. He also says that large companies often make decisions slowly. He says a part Sauder makes for Parker took two years from the time it made a sample part until being approved for production. Then it took another year to make one change on a print. (29:40)

Noah asks Jay to tell him something he learned last week. Jay says he learned he can draw out a solid piece of steel rod cheaper than the price of tubing by using an Iscar SUMOCHAM drill. He says the material cost is about $.60 cheaper. Jay says his philosophy is “live and learn, crash and burn. If the tool doesn’t crash you’re not pushing it hard enough.” (32:45)

Question: Is word of mouth the best way to find new work?

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Ep. 120 – Constantly Quoting Work with Wes Szpondowski

By Noah Graff

On today’s podcast we continue our season about how machining companies acquire new work. Our guest is Wes Szpondowski, plant manager of Wyandotte Industries, a multi-spindle job shop near Detroit that predominantly runs good old ACME-GRIDLEY screw machines. We interviewed him  last week when he came to Graff-Pinkert to inspect an ACME 1-5/8” RB-8.

Wes says one of the keys to Wyandotte’s success is that the company is constantly quoting new jobs. He says even if a machining company only lands a small percentage of work it attempts, persistent quoting gets the company’s name out, which leads to more work down the road.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast, or listen with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.



Main Points:

Wes gives some background on Wyandotte Industries. He says his grandfather started the company, specializing in producing custom nuts. In the late ‘90s the company branched out into more diverse and complex parts. (2:00)

Wes talks about Wyandotte’s constant search to find employees—talented, reliable people who want to run older cam screw machines. He talks about a young guy he met at working at a deli counter the day before, who he invited to apply for a job at the shop. (6:00)

Wes says Wyandotte’s mantra is “quote, quote, quote.” The company has an internal sales team that works with a number of manufacturers reps working on commission. Then Wes works with the internal sales team to quote the jobs. He says because the company is so aggressive in seeking new jobs, it gets its name out there, which brings new opportunities to make a lot of different parts. (8:00)

Wes says that it doesn’t matter how lean a company is or how clever its manufacturing operations are if it doesn’t do a good job of getting new work. He says he has seen many shops that are “better” than Wyandotte who went out of business because they didn’t know how to get new work. (10:10)

Wes reiterates that it’s important for as many buyers as possible to know who your company is because sometimes the suppliers they currently have fail to get the job done. When that happens they come running to you. (11:00)

Wes says manufacturers reps are useful because they represent diverse clients. The clients aren’t supposed to be competitors of one another, but the reps have interesting networks that can bring them new business. For example, a manufacturers rep might represent a forging company or cold heading company and those connections can lead to new clients. (12:40)

Wes talks about competing with Chinese manufacturers. He says nowadays the quality from Chinese suppliers is often pretty good, but the delivery from China is still a big issue, particularly if companies in the US are trying to keep low inventory. (14:00)

Wes Szpondowski of Wyandotte Industries

Wes talks about the advantages of running ACME multi-spindles, which he characterizes as “reliable tanks.” He says Wyandotte likes CNC lathes as well, but unlike CNC machines an ACME can run forever. He says ACMEs put Wyandotte at a good price point that many shops can’t compete with because the machines are cheap and can crank out large volumes of parts. He says as long as a shop can have the people to run them, ACMEs can lead to getting a lot of jobs. He says it’s difficult to find good people to run the ACMEs, but he jokes that once the people learn how to operate the machines the job is actually a lot of standing around for pretty good money. He also talks about the simplicity of repairing an ACME, comparing it to repairing a classic car vs. today’s models. (16:00)

Wes says Wyandotte tries to supply to a diverse customer base rather than only auto companies because that work is too unreliable. (19:45) 

Wes says Wyandotte is constantly evaluating which jobs make sense financially. If the job isn’t making money, the company is not afraid to ask customers for more money. (22:00)

Wes debates buying a machine for a specific job vs. buying equipment on spec for future work. He says that he will take advantage of opportunities for great deals on used equipment that come up if he knows he has the talent already in-house to run it. But, he says he doesn’t want to buy million dollar machines like Hydromats, or Buffolies or CNC multi-spindles because those aren’t who his company is. He wants to use some sophisticated CNC equipment but still wants to keep the operation somewhat simple, so it’s reliable. He says that more complicated machines require higher priced, skilled people to run them. (23:50)

Wes says the biggest challenge he has for getting work is having the right talent to produce it. If he doesn’t feel his people are good enough to produce the part he won’t take the job. (31:30)

Question:  Is running quality ACME screw machines a good business plan right now?

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Biden is Not My Number One Pick

By Lloyd Graff

President Joe Biden speaks to Congress after his first 100 days in office tonight. Washington and the media will listen as he intones a profoundly left-wing agenda. The Congress is closely divided, a 6 vote margin in the House, 50-50 in the Senate. The Democrats are hoping for court packing of the Supreme Court to 13 and getting Senators from the District of Columbia. Currently 6 House seats are vacant, awaiting interim elections. 

The left-wing media is cheering and the Republican strategists are delighting as Biden tilts strongly to the left in his rhetoric and policies, almost ensuring (in my opinion) that the Democrats blow their opportunity to maintain control of both the House and Senate in 2022. They hope to pass the expensive portions of their program between now and then.

What Biden has going for him is a strong economy, rising stock market, and a rapidly falling unemployment rate. This is being propelled by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and their effectiveness in shrinking the pandemic in America. President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed program may go down as his biggest success, and Biden is reaping the benefits.

President Biden is attempting to throw enormous money into a rapidly growing economy, with the Fed accommodating him with low interest rates. Nobody seems to know when or if inflation will reappear, but it is hard to imagine that it is banished forever.

People are pouring money into homes, particularly in the suburbs and rural areas. States like Idaho, Utah, and Florida are growing like mad with their low taxes and open spaces. New York, California, and Illinois are shrinking. This will make it tough for the Democrats to hold Congress because Republican state legislators control the majority of states and will do what they do best, gerrymandering districts to make it tough for the Dems to hold the House in 2022

It appears that Biden is going to advocate a far left agenda Wednesday night to make Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez jump for joy, knowing that not much will pass other than huge money being thrown at his combination climate change and infrastructure ideas, which will accomplish little except building charging stations all over the place to stand idle. 

Meanwhile, as the left media fawns over Joe Biden’s speech to Congress, the majority of American men will be thinking about the NFL draft happening Thursday night, and what players their favorite teams will pick in the first two rounds.

As the league has become more and more quarterback dependent, it is expected that Jacksonville will pick Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence first, and then the trades and surprises will excite America. Zach Wilson of BYU may go second to the New York Jets, but don’t be surprised if it is Justin Fields from Ohio State, Trey Lance from North Dakota State, or possibly Mac Jones from Alabama. 

My prediction is the Chicago Bears will throw everything they have to move up from 11 to 4 or 5 to get a quarterback. The Chicago fans will never accept Andy Dalton as Mitchell Trubisky’s replacement. 

Interesting TV coming up tonight and Thursday. President Joe Biden is not my pick in the ratings.

Question: Are you more interested in Biden’s State of the Union or the NFL Draft?

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Ep. 119 – Minimizing Your Customers’ Pain with Federico Veneziano

By Noah Graff

Today’s show is the first episode of a multi-part series about how machining companies acquire new work. 

Our guest is Federico Veneziano, CFO and COO of American Micro Products Inc., a precision machining company in Batavia, Ohio. Federico says one his key strategies for getting new customers is proving to them his company will minimize the problems that are bound to occur in most manufacturing jobs.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast, or listen with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.



Main Points

Federico talks about how the selling process in the machining business has changed in the last few years. He says there are fewer face-to-face meetings now, but he still prefers the traditional human touch. (3:20)

Federico gives an overview of American Micro. The company is located in Batavia, Ohio, just outside of Cincinnati, and it was founded in 1957. It mostly focuses on turning, but also does milling. It makes parts for the automotive, aerospace, and defense sectors, along with a little bit of industrial and medical. American Micro’s workforce fluctuates between 150 and 200 people. It has also had a factory in China since 2005, with around 100 employees. (4:20)

Federico came to the United States in 2004, working for the machine tool builder DMG. He did technical support and service, process engineering, and sales, which gained him a lot of knowledge of machining companies and cultures around the world. He worked on American Micro’s Gildemeister GMC35 CNC multi-spindles, which eventually led to him coming to work there. (6:40)

Federico hates to say it, but aerospace is one of American Micro’s most significant markets, so it has been hit hard by the current troubles of the commercial aerospace industry. The company has had success doing specialized automotive parts such as fuel diesel components and parts for steering pumps. Defense is becoming one of the company’s most important sectors. He says the medical industry has been harder to penetrate because it requires a company to have established contacts already in the business. (8:20)

Federico says one of American Micro’s strategies is to stay in markets it already knows well so it can provide good service to customers. The company uses databases and other resources to find potential customers and then contacts them via phone or email. If a job seems like it has potential, the company tries to set up a meeting to do a presentation, where sales representatives talk about the added value American Micro can provide beyond just price. Federico says he tries to identify potential customers’ pains and then come up with solutions to their problems. He says this is the key to getting new jobs. (10:30)

Federico Veneziano, CFO and COO of American Micro

Federico reiterates that it’s important to make a value proposition beyond a good price per part. He says the constant emphasis today of customers choosing venders exclusively on the basis of price is diluting the value of manufacturing. He says price pressure causes work to go overseas, which creates new complications that sometimes make parts more expensive than if they were made in the United States. He says it worries him particularly when some sectors move overseas, such as aerospace and defense because a drop in quality could have dangerous ramifications. (13:30)

Federico says meeting customers in person is important for American Micro to get to know them and understand the problems they are dealing with.(15:35)

Federico says it’s important for salespeople to have a technical understanding of jobs so they can set realistic expectations for customers. He says in the past there may have been enough margin that even if suppliers couldn’t reach their promised results, they could still meet their customers needs, but that usually isn’t possible nowadays. (16:40)

Federico says in China getting work is an entirely different process than in the United States. It usually consists of an online bidding process. However, he says that model doesn’t necessarily apply to American Micro because foreign companies in China usually do work for other foreign companies, not Chinese companies. This enables some personal relationships. He says payment processes are totally different in China than in the United States. (19:00)

Federico discusses the negotiation process for machining jobs. He says the process depends on whether a product is ongoing and established or if it is a new product. If the product is already being produced by someone else, a buyer will either offer an expected target price or they will ask the supplier to propose a price first to see if they can get a better deal. Federico says he thinks it’s best if the customer starts out by giving their target price because if the target price is dramatically different from what a supplier can offer it will be a waste of time to try to make a deal. Also, he says if everyone is pushing as hard as they can to get the best price possible it will hurt the market as a whole. Every deal will become based on price, rather than important value added services and longterm relationships. He says it can be a problem when traditional salespeople do the negotiating because their commission might be their only concern. (20:20)

Federico says American Micro uses manufacturer’s reps, but in a controlled framework that has been quite successful for the company. Its manufacturer’s rep has technical knowledge and has an intimate relationship with the company. American Micro has an exclusive agreement with its manufacturer’s rep, so for a specific service or part he can only represent American Micro, rather than working for several companies. He says the exclusive relationship is necessary, otherwise the rep will become a quoting house where he has the power to choose between several companies who gets a job. He says traditionally a manufacturer’s rep receives 3-5% commission for a supplier or customer. Even after the manufacturer’s rep makes an introduction, American Micro still has to make its pitch to a customer to get the work. He says to him it’s more difficult to get new work than get a new supplier (23:30)

Noah asks if American Micro prefers to buy equipment before the company has work for it or wait to acquire the work first and fill the need with a machine. Federico says it’s great if you can get jobs for equipment a company already has. He says if American Micro buys a machine for a specific job, it needs firm long-term agreements in place to insure the work for the machine. However, he admits it can still be risky, so it’s important to have knowledgeable people making deals, increasing the likelihood jobs will be executed. He says 15-20 years ago, long-term agreements were less common than today. (29:30)

Federico projects 2021 to a be a decent year for American Micro, but it’s important to the company that aerospace makes a comeback. Based on the company’s market research he thinks in August the sector will ramp up. For other sectors he is bullish. He was surprised that automotive was not hurt significantly by the pandemic in 2020. (31:30)

Federico says he thinks small and medium manufacturers should collaborate more, rather than always fighting for work. He says constantly fighting for work causes a lot of jobs to be decided only by price, which hurts the quality of parts in the overall market. He says companies should instead divide up work based on each company’s strengths, rather than every company trying to hoard all the jobs. (32:40)

Question: Do you prefer to buy a machine before you have any work for it, or buy equipment only when you have a job for it?

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Looking for a Few Good Human Beings

By Lloyd Graff

My machinery sales company, Graff-Pinkert, is looking for at least one more person to work in our factory. 

I let two people go during the pandemic because of lack of business, and we just lost a skilled screw machine rebuilder who had worked for us as a gig employee four days a week. The pace of business today is hectic, with more action than we can readily handle, so I am looking for one or two people to join us.

How do you find good people who fit into your organization?

Networking is my first choice. Talk to your people to see if they know of somebody with the right skills who is between jobs, interested in switching, or wanting to start a new career. This has worked for me before, but it has had no traction this time.

Recruiting firms are another idea, but my impression is that they are primarily aimed at high-priced, specialized talent.

Informing folks at vocational schools has been another approach I have tried with no success. In the past, I have hired kids with no skills, no drive, and a few who were thieves.

An approach which worked for us in the past is focusing heavily on the local publications which cater to the community where our business is located and may catch just the right person at the right time. One of our best recent hires came in a serendipitous way. The man’s wife saw an ad in the most local of local publications and recognized the name Graff, which she knew was a member of the synagogue I belong to. She is the synagogue’s staff manager. She called my wife and said that her husband had just lost his job, which he had held for 20 years at a local firm that was experiencing hard times. 

I said to come in for an interview and hired him on the spot. 

This time around I am hoping again for serendipity. I decided to try something quite different than any wanted advertisement I had ever seen before for a cleaner-painter. I also knew we were competing with Amazon, which just completed a gigantic nearby warehouse, with decent benefits and college tuition dangled as a bonus offer after 18 months on the job.

The first sentence of the Graff-Pinkert advertisement stated that the company was looking for “a good human being.” I then lauded the values and history of the firm, emphasizing it was a local family business in Oak Forest, Illinois. Then I described the job and the pay and stated that the person we hire must not mind getting dirty on the job.

We experimented by running the ad in just four communities in the local internet news publication. We requested that people who were interested come by the office to fill out an application. The ad cost $28 for the week.

We got one interesting 20-year-old who stopped by and one highly overqualified person with a great deal of experience in repairing CNC equipment, which we have been investing in heavily. He lives five minutes from Graff-Pinkert and is commuting an hour each way to his current job. He saw an opportunity from the text of the ad and the address of the company. He knew exactly where our building was.

Will we hire him? I don’t know yet. That would probably mean hiring two people, which is what we really need.

We will run the ad again with a wider circulation this week. 

Do you know of any good human beings in the neighborhood? It’s a long shot, but aren’t they all?

Question: Do old school help wanted ads still work for you?

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More Than Seven Questions on My Mind

By Lloyd Graff

These are a few questions on my mind. I think you get smarter by asking questions, not showing off how much you know.


1) Does CBD oil work for you? I have experimented with it after friends told me it worked wonders for them. Here’s what I have found. It helps with the arthritic pain in my thumb and index finger of my left hand. It isn’t miraculous, but it is useful. My sore knees and shoulder don’t seem to improve from it.

How do you use it?

Do you have a brand that is superior, or is it all the same brown, smelly stuff?

2) If you have some money to invest and you have no taste for hoarding cash, gold, or collectibles, where do you put it? Would you go into business with a CNC mill or lathe?

Let’s say you are 40 years old and plan to work 25 more years. Would you look for real estate, perhaps a fixer-upper? Would you buy as much house as you can afford and hope for appreciation while you enjoy living in it? 

Would you consider the stock market? If you have a taste for equities, would you buy tiny amounts of high-priced stocks like Amazon and Google, or buy a low priced stock, hoping it will become the next Apple or Costco? 

Would you look for an advisor who, for a fee, invests for you and others? Would you put it in a fund like Fidelity or Vanguard that spreads it out over a huge number of stocks, figuring it is impossible for an individual to beat the averages over time.

3) Is Bitcoin a gigantic fraud or the next big thing? Right now it is on a huge roll. Cryptocurrencies have achieved credibility, but maybe it is a huge Ponzi scheme. It is still difficult to use Bitcoin to buy much, but smart guys like Elon Musk think it is real money.

4) Is the electric vehicle really going to take over the bulk of the transportation industry over the next 10 years or is it way overhyped? Tesla is the only manufacturer to get any traction, and many believe that its growth is primarily because of government subsidies and the flamboyance of Elon Musk.

Ford, GM, Volkswagen, and BMW all proclaim they are going all-electric. Do you believe them? Are you planning on buying an electric vehicle over the next few years? Do you really think electric vehicles will save the world’s environment?

5) This brings up my next question. Do you believe climate change is an existential threat to you personally? To America? To the world? I have my doubts, but I’m over 70, so nobody really cares. Do you think about climate change every day and do your small part to limit it?

6) Is saving the environment today’s religion? Has it replaced Christianity, Islam, and Judaism as the true religion of the day for many young people?

7) I will end with a big one. Are you a racist? Many African Americans say that if you are not black and have been brought up in America, you are racist by definition. I think there may well be some truth to this claim, not because every non-black person raised here is full of hatred, but because our society has taught us to think and behave that way. Do you agree?

These are not easy questions, but hopefully they will make you think. Maybe even write a comment.

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Best of Swarfcast – John Habe IV on Valuing a Machining Business, Parts I & II

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is a “Best of Swarfcast” from Summer of 2019, a two-part interview we did with John Habe IV, President of Metal Seal Precision, a machining company based in Mentor, Ohio.

Over the last several years, John has grown Metal Seal Precision both organically and through major acquisitions. According to John, growing through acquisitions can be financially rewarding but does not come easily. John discussed the difficulty in buying companies, which often have emotionally attached owners. He also talked about how he calculates the buy price of a company. He looks at cashflow, often called EBITDA in the acquisitions business, as well as criteria such as product sector, customer diversity, and management style of the current ownership.

Listen to Part 2 on your favorite podcast players, or follow the links below to listen to both parts! listen with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.



CLICK HERE to listen to PART 1: Ep. 41 – John Habe IV on Growing a Machining Business through Acquisitions

CLICK HERE to listen to PART 2: Ep. 42 – John Habe IV on Valuing a Machining Business

Question: Is this a good time to go into the machining business? If so, what sector?

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Money Vs. Respect

By Lloyd Graff

If you’re looking for poverty and violent crime, Bessemer, in the great state of Alabama, is your town. It was also Amazon’s pick for a huge distribution facility with 6,000 workers, which opened exactly one year ago. Today the results might be in for a landmark union organizing effort and vote at the spanking new facility, built in the former coal mining, limestone, and steel-making town of 27,000, just outside of Birmingham. 

Is the Tide coming back for unionism in America, with President Biden rooting for the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Workers Union and Bernie Sanders making an appearance?

Or, is the second biggest US employer behind Walmart going to use its $15 per hour wages plus hiring bonus and health insurance to carry the day? It’s a fascinating contest because Amazon pays so well in a starving community, yet the union feels it has a good chance to organize the facility. 

Both sides have a lot invested and think the election will be tight. Why? What does it mean for the machining world?

Jeff Bezos hates unions when they threaten his company, though his newspaper, The Washington Post, has been friendly to organized labor, unless it pertains to Amazon. 

You don’t go to work at an Amazon distribution facility if you are looking for a picnic. The work is physically demanding, repetitive, and very tough on the hands and wrists. If you work on the line, you are likely to be exhausted after a 10-hour day. Many of the workers are not young and have never done hours and hours of handling boxes, day after day. It isn’t coal mining or steel making. The facility is air conditioned and well lit, but make no mistake, Amazon pushes its people very hard, hand and forearm injuries are common, and many people do not last.

A woman who did domestic work once a week in our home eagerly took a sorting job when Amazon opened one of several facilities in the south suburbs of Chicago. She hoped the hourly wage, health insurance, and opportunity to use one of its perks, paying for a community college course in surgical instrument sterilization, would raise her up in the world. She ended up with severe hand and wrist disabilities from continually handling boxes, a common malady.

It is hardly a secret that Amazon is hoping and planning for robots to do more and more of the demanding and difficult work in its spectacular facilities, but we’re not there yet, and Amazon needs a million humans to pack and drive everyday.

These days, unions are seldom interested in attempting to organize smaller machining companies. My observation is that workers in such firms are generally heartily anti-union. In the machining world today, there is a shortage of skilled people. Workers who show initiative have ample room for advancement in a highly competitive milieu for talent.

If Amazon loses the election today, it will be more about working conditions than money. One of the biggest gripes about working for Amazon is that employees don’t even have time to use the bathroom in private. Drivers routinely take plastic bags with them to relieve themselves. 

Amazon always wins these elections because money talks. Amazon has argued that the cash and perks are worth the sore wrists and urinating in plastic bags. It builds facilities where Google doesn’t recruit. If it loses in Bessemer, that does not necessarily mean the Tide has turned, even if Joe and Bernie will cheer the results.

It will just mean we will get robots and driverless vans a year or two earlier.

Question: Have you ever been in a union? What was it like?

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Ep. 116 – Mental Health in the Machining Business with Jackie, owner of PXR Machining

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is the first episode of a new season about mental health. Our guest on the show is Jackie, owner of PXR Machining. Jackie spent the majority of her life trying to mask a significant part of herself from others and deny her own feelings about who she always knew she was. Through therapy she finally gained the courage to transition from a man to woman in her late 40s.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast, or listen with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.


Main Points

Jackie talks about her CNC machining company, PXR. She started her first plastics machining company back in 1992. Over the years she has designed and machined a variety products in the plastics sector from tabletops, to signs, to gun smithing tools, one of her most steady products these days. Her shop features CNC routers and CNC mills such as the Fanuc Robodrill (pictured). (3:00) 

Jackie talks about a brutal motorcycle accident she had 15 years ago at age 35. She spent three years in a wheelchair, yet continued to run her business. Then a friend of hers was going to get married, and she decided she was not going to go to the wedding in a wheelchair. Her right leg was mostly paralyzed, so she needed an orthotic foot device in that shoe to keep her foot from flopping around. She fabricated one for herself in her shop in one day. (6:00)

Jackie talks about first realizing she was a female trapped in a male’s body at four years old. Her grandmother asked her what she wanted to be and she said she wanted to look pretty like mom. Jackie’s parents then had a serious talk with her to clarify that she was not a girl. (9:30)

Jackie said she first thought about undergoing a sex change when she was 17, while working at Radio Shack alongside a trans woman, but she was too scared to do it. Instead, she got married the next year, with the hope that if she built a family and a successful business she could bury her feelings of being a woman stuck in a man’s body. Sometimes that worked, but she says after the motorcycle accident the walls came down around her and it was very visible to her that she had “hid herself from reality.” (11:00)

Jackie, Owner of PXR Machining

But somehow Jackie then managed to bury her painful feelings once again. She had just gotten remarried a year before and was planning to have another child. She also wanted to get her shop going strong. Jackie says she wishes during those three years in a wheelchair she had gotten a therapist, but she had been turned off by the stigma of getting one and instead tried to “DIY” her mental health. She says she finds it interesting how most people will take care of their physical health when they get hurt, like getting a cast after breaking a leg, but when they get a mental injury they to try “walk it off.” (13:31)

Jackie talks about constantly trying to overcompensate for her knowledge that she was a woman on the inside. She owned a restored Dodge Charger that was a replica of the General Lee from Dukes of Hazard. She owned 10 motorcycles and the biggest pickup truck you could buy. But later on, after she came out as transgender, friends told her they had sensed her secret for a long time—she could never actually have hid what was going on inside. (15:30)

In her latter 40s Jackie hit a wall. She says she had lost all the fire in her belly that tells a person to do things. Her shop was suffering, her home life was suffering, her mental health was suffering and she knew she needed help. She joined an online forum for trans-support and the members told her to get a therapist. (16:30)

Jackie says getting a therapist was the most important pivot point for making improvements in her life—it finally got her to start the transition process. (17:30)

Jackie talks about her current relationships with family members. She works alongside her father in her shop. She does not talk to her sister often. Her 30-year-old daughter is starting her own machine shop right now, and they share a bond with that. She has a teenage daughter who lives with her mother (Jackie’s ex-wife) who understandably has had difficulty with the transition. (18:30)

Jackie says the first step in a transition process is to get a therapist. Her therapist eventually told her to go to a medical doctor to start hormone replacement. She decided in therapy she was interested in getting a lot of surgical procedures to make her look more feminine. She says everyone has different preferences of what they want to get augmented or reconstructed. Jackie has had her breasts enlarged, facial reconstruction, vocal reconstruction, and “downstairs surgery.” I asked her if it was traumatic to look at herself after her organs were swapped out. She says she was finally able to look at herself in the mirror and say, “that’s actually me.” (21:30)

Jackie says the transition took her about three years and that hers was a relatively quick process. She says some people can do it faster, but other transitions can take over 15 years. She says she continually saw her therapist during the process, which she likens to going through puberty rapidly. She says getting rid of facial hair is one of the most difficult parts of the transition process. It can take years of electrolysis. Another change she has had to get used to is having less lean muscle mass because she has less testosterone. Now she can’t lift things around her shop like she used to. (23:30)

Jackie says despite transitioning to become a woman, she still is attracted to women rather than men. (29:30)

Jackie says she feels people have core personalities that are just us, but we all also have masks. She says she pulled her mask over herself so people would see only what she wanted them to see. But now that she has let the mask go she finally gets to see who she really is, along with everyone else. (30:15)

Jackie says her advice for people who need to alter their life or deal with things that require a lot of thought is to see a therapist—they should ignore the negative stigma and stop trying to DIY their mental health.

Question: What was one of the most difficult changes you had to make in your life?


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Supply Chain Guilt?

By Lloyd Graff

A question that has troubled me for many years is if I fit into the supply chain of destruction.

I struggled with this following the Purdue Pharma controversy over its magnificent painkiller for cancer patients and surgery survivors, OxyContin. I took this wonder drug in its time-released form after my knee replacement. It worked beautifully for controlling my hurt, although it had a side effect of constipation. I understood that it was not a drug I wanted to take for more than three days unless I was in total misery because of fear of becoming dependent. I stopped taking it after two days. 

Mail order outpatient pharmacy, North Charleston, SC

Purdue Pharma was bought by members of the Sackler family in 1952. The company had made earwax remover compounds and other home remedies. The Sackler brothers were doctors who eventually moved the company into pain alleviation medicines, which were morphine derivations and substitutes. The business grew rapidly and moved from New York City to Connecticut, finally culminating in the making of their blockbuster product, OxyContin. The Sackler descendants became one of America’s richest families–and most charitable.

They were fabulously successful in convincing doctors to prescribe it. Over time it became the drug of choice for aching backs and aching souls. People shopped for doctors who would prescribe it liberally. Eventually it reached the street peddlers. More and more people’s lives were ruined by addiction. Things only got worse after Purdue complimented OxyContin with Fentanyl, a powerful drug with dramatic pain-killing power and addictiveness.

The Sacklers just kept getting richer and richer, having an estimated net worth of $13 billion in 2013. They contributed to hospitals, and gave massively to colleges and art museums. But lots of people, often young people and veterans, got hooked, stole it, and committed suicide. Millions of lives were damaged, many ruined. Millions of people also took the drug successfully and benefited greatly.

Are the Sacklers awful people? Are they murderers because so many people abused the painkillers they manufactured? I don’t think they are. But they are a significant part of the supply chain of destruction. 

Nor do I think the people who make the firearm parts that are sold to sportsmen and hunters and law enforcement are bad folks, just because a tiny number of metal pieces they turn and mill go into weapons used for evil purposes.

I think about the pharmacists and doctors who helped fill the painkiller supply chain. Most of them were good people in the healing field. Yet a small number of the billions of pills they prescribed were used destructively. How do those druggists and MDs feel when a client or patient becomes a pusher or an addict? How often do they know when it happens? 

A 10-year-old CNC lathe I may have sold in 2018 to a job shop in Oregon might have made a part that ended up in a gangbanger’s weapon in Chicago. I’ll never know, nor will he or she. 

Life is never simple. Purity of heart is a myth. 

I can’t help but wonder if in some distant way I have contributed to America’s supply chain of gun violence. Do you?

Question: Do you feel any guilt about gun violence?

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