Category Archives: Today’s Machining World

Machinery Marriage

I often ask clients of our machine tool business where they make the most money in their businesses. They usually have an answer immediately, and it isn’t in the place where they are investing fresh money.

I’m frequently talking to folks who run multi-spindle automatic screw machines, usually cam-operated, in tandem with a host of other equipment. Many people regard these machines as antiques from the antediluvian epoch of manufacturing. These are machines that some folks say won World War II. For the uninitiated, that was the war in which we fought the Germans and Japanese, while the Russians were our allies. The world does have the ability to change.

The ironic answer I often get is that the multi-spindles make the most money, and the return on investment is off the charts because they were written off eons ago.

But the secret sauce is the knowledge of where they fit in the picture. Banging out a half million dumb parts on old Acmes or New Britains is a losing game. Increasingly, sharp manufacturers in Shanghai or Bangalore will make you bang your brains out. Subsidized steel in China and dirt priced brass in India make the simple threaded widget yesterday’s game. But, combining the raw machining strength of 6- or 8-spindle multis with the

finesse of twin-turret, twin-spindle CNC turning centers can turn 20 cent blanks into $2 medical or aircraft pieces. Running single bars through an Okuma or Nakamura will make you a bit player in a crowded cast, but combining those machines with the muscular multis that still can pull their not-so-insignificant weight, makes a potent combination that Shanghai and Bangalore can’t beat.

*********

President Trump’s tariffs are an annoyance which could grow into a blister if they do not bring any fundamental shifts from the Chinese. American manufacturers, particularly steel users, are today’s sacrificial lambs as the Administration vaguely pushes for China to stop stealing intellectual property. The naïveté of somehow expecting Beijing to allow one of its biggest employers, the inefficient State-run steel industry, to suddenly erode because of the tingling jab of American tariffs is quite surprising. I fret that the strong U.S. economy has made an overconfident Trump start a fight without a clear endgame.

*********

My son Noah is getting married next month and already receiving some gifts. It brought to mind a few memorable gifts my wife Risa and I received for our wedding that have lasted over the decades we have been together.

We still use our copper bottomed Revere Ware skillets and sauce pans almost every day. Amazingly, 48 years later, they are better than when we got them from Shirley Silverstein as a gift, because they have been seasoned. We seldom shine the copper bottoms, however.

We still have aluminum baking pans, perfect for brownies and cakes, which have remained as wonderful as they were when we received them more than four decades ago. Then there is the cookie recipe book that Risa refers to often and the old Better Homes and Gardens recipe book that never seems to age.

The ideal present does not have to last for 40 or 50 years. Luggage can be used hard for 5 or 10 years and happily discarded, and a sweater that you wear often has a finite life. My wife and I have our own good china, but she usually uses her mother’s china for Sabbath meals and special occasions.

We have several weddings coming up besides Noah’s. The Amazon gift certificate is an appealing surrogate for the special wedding gift that will be remembered fondly 50 years from today. Gifts also go out of vogue. Silver serving bowls seem like such an anachronism today. Who has the space for them to sit idly on shelves?

With wedding season at its peak, I am curious to know who has gifts that have withstood the test of time. Who has a great idea for a gift that will keep on giving or impart a memory which will last forever?

Question: Is running multi-spindles a losing game?

Share this post

A Real Piece of Work

Lloyd Graff

Chicago Public Schools teachers with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis

Chicago Public Schools are laying off 462 teachers, because the budget is a hopeless mess and the Teachers Union is much more interested in protecting the pensions of incumbent and retired teachers than retaining young untenured teachers. Meanwhile, Charlotte, North Carolina, is desperate for 200 teachers to start the school year, and the suburbs of San Francisco are bending their certification standards to fill their teacher needs.

But I doubt many of the Chicago layoffs will quickly pack their bags for Charlotte or the Bay Area. It’s just too hard for most people to make those kinds of quick shifts.

It’s a different story in the shale oil fields of North Dakota, where so many folks have been living in trailers because they couldn’t build homes fast enough last year in the Williston Basin. But few of those folks would pick up their lives to get teaching jobs in San Francisco.

The job market is not really fluid and borderless. The national unemployment rate is supposedly 5.3%, but I think the number doesn’t make sense. There should be significant wage pressure at 5.3%, but the government says there is little.

There are very few strikes these days. The push to raise the minimum wage is politically and ideologically driven without a widespread national clamor. People are still stitching together part-time jobs and the demand for independent contractors rather than full time staff seems to be here to stay despite that bright 5.3% number.

The U.S. workforce participation levels are extremely low by historical standards, 62.6%. The last time we were at that level was 1977 and Star Wars, was the flick of the day. In 1977, 30 million people worked in government and services. Today, 80 million plus are in those fields. In 1977, 19 million people worked in manufacturing. Today, it’s 12 million. Women have jumped into the workforce and men have bailed out. Eight of 10 men were working in 1977, today it’s seven.

One thing has baffled me for years in the machining field. Why does almost everybody tell me how difficult it is to hire people to run machines, when I know there are plenty of able people lurking in jobs that are not their cup of tea or are at firms that are closing or in trouble?

Several months ago we were looking for a screw machine rebuilder with setup experience for Graff-Pinkert. Noah Graff made a study of viable advertising methods and we chose to do a campaign with Career Builder. To my surprise, we found many interesting candidates, some from Chicago and others willing to move. We were offering a liberal wage and health insurance package, but I would not call it a wage disrupter.

What it indicated to me was that many potential hirers are too passive and use pedestrian methods to reach out for employees. There are people out there looking to better themselves.

The Charlotte school system should be calling Chicago for the emails and phone numbers of the teachers who are getting pink slipped and send recruiters to Chicago on the next plane.

But the best teachers may not even be teaching today. My three granddaughters were fortunate enough to be taught in their pre-school by a former marketing person at Bank of America. After he had been downsized out of his job at Bank of America he came to the school to work as a maintenance man, but when the opportunity arose he morphed into a superb teacher of young children.

My belief is that most young people do not have enough life experience to know what kind of work will be fulfilling and financially rewarding for them to make a career choice at an early age. I think one reason for the declining work participation rate, especially for men, is that they feel like they have wasted their work lives in boring work and would rather drop out than take another dead end job. Also, government welfare programs and disability options encourage people to stay out of the workforce. A former employee of ours who says he would like to work part time for us now is paranoid about losing his disability status, so he languishes on his couch as his viable work options vanish.

The U.S. labor market is very hard to make sense out of. I think that if the Federal Reserve decides to raise interest rates in September because the economists think we are near full employment, they will be making a mistake. The labor market is a lot looser and inefficient than that 5.3% unemployment number represents at first glance.

Question: Do unions still work for the working person?

Share this post

Is Efficiency Sometimes Unhealthy?

By Noah Graff

For the May issue of Today’s Machining World, I interviewed Carl Hoffman, author of the new book, the Lunatic Express. The book chronicles Hoffman’s travels throughout Asia, Africa, South America and the U.S., during which he attempted to use the modes of transportation commonly used by natives, notorious for discomfort, tardiness and poor safety.

One thing Hoffman described to me is how the concept of time in Third World countries differs from that in the First World. In countries like India, the Congo and Columbia, people generally have a different expectation of what it means for things to start “on time.” People never know whether a train or bus is coming in one hour or three. Waiting for things for long periods of time, and arriving to destinations late is just an accepted way of life.

It’s mind boggling to me how anything gets done at all in places with such a low priority on punctuality. How can businesses operate if it’s unknown if workers will show up?

One would think the people of these countries would be happier if things functioned the way they do in the U.S.? It’s always so frustrating to me, knowing that precious time has slipped away that could have been used for things I care about. After all, time is a limited commodity. Once you lose it, it’s gone forever.

Yet many people I know from these places where things move so sloooooowly say they often feel more relaxed and centered when they return home to Slowville. And more and more it seems like us First Worlders in our civilized, efficient habitat are stressed out and paying top dollar for shrinks to help us chill out. We pay money to go to yoga classes and lie on the couch watching reality shows to slow ourselves down.

Is total efficiency sometimes unhealthy?

Jeepney Stop in Manila, Philippines

Share this post

Machining Industry Scuttlebutt, The Acme Bell Tolls

Bob Atherton of RACO Industrial Corporation recently passed away at 82. In the rough world of used machinery dealers Bob always stood out as a gentle but indefatigable player. His company continues under the leadership of Jack Boescher who worked with Bob for many years before buying into the firm.

****************

We hear that exhibitors are dropping like fall leaves from the upcoming EMO Milano show in Milan, Italy.
EMO has always been a magnificent opportunity to display wares and meet and greet, but this year it is more a conclave of woe. Hard to imagine, but the European market may be more horrible than the American one at the moment. With many builders teetering on insolvency, a significant number have decided to cut their losses.
Hopefully, by September 2010, business will have rebounded enough to justify the huge cost of exhibiting at McCormick Place in Chicago for the upcoming IMTS show.

Question: What are your best (worst) trade show memories?

Share this post

The iPod Doctor

By Noah Graff

In the next issue of Today’s Machining World I interview Demetrios Leontaris, otherwise known as the iPod Doctor. He has a business driving all over New York City in his Aztec, fixing broken iPods, PDAs, laptops and smart phones belonging to everyone from Wall Street guys to construction workers to teenagers. On average, to fix an iPod he charges between $59 and $100 and change—a heck of a lot less then the price of a new one.

What I found so refreshing about the way Demetrios’ runs his business is that he hates to say “no” to people who need something fixed, which he admits isn’t always the best business practice. After the interview, I told him about my external hard drive that stopped working. It had about 700 gigs of memory, mostly comprised of video footage from some of my most important projects. Lacie, my hard drive’s brand, doesn’t even attempt to fix defective drives. They offered me a free replacement, but I didn’t want a new drive, I wanted my data. They suggested I send it to a company that extracts data from busted hard drives, but those services cost thousands of dollars.

Demetrios said he would take a crack at it, so I sent it to him, even though I knew that by letting him open it up my warrantee from Lacie would go bad. A few weeks later he proclaimed that after many tedious hours of attention he had both restored my data and got my drive working again. He charged me $375, which I happily excepted.

Question: Have you ever taken on a customer’s machining issue when rationally you probably shouldn’t have? Do you have trouble saying “no” to a challenge?

Share this post

She’s Holding it Together

Doreen Koop is a gutsy young woman with a kitchen dream.

She is an industrial engineer, recently laid off from United Launch Alliance of Decatur, Alabama, where they make parts for Delta and Atlas rockets.

Doreen decided to go into the manufacturing business in her hometown, Pulaski, Tennessee, so she could do work for her old company. She needs ISO certification before United will buy from her. She decided to build a product she knew, a high-end spatula aimed at cast-iron cooking devotees.

Her father had made such a utensil for the family decades ago, and she decided to improve upon it and find a market.
She contacted me looking for a machine to make “Chicago screws” out of stainless steel. After grilling her about the screw and the application, I became intrigued by her story.

Doreen has seven distributors lined up for her spatula, which will sell for $32. She calls it a “Williams Sonoma” type of product. She has local Amish folk cutting her oak handles and another Amish “blacksmith” doing the metalworking. Currently she’s buying her screws from Fastenal for a dollar per piece, but the engineer in her knows they should be much cheaper.

Doreen wants to make rocket parts, but the spatula now appears to be a viable project. She is now working on her next piece, a high-end fork.

If you think you can help Doreen Koop with her quest for American-made stainless steel fasteners email her at kooped@localnet.com.

Before I talked to Doreen, I had never heard the words “Chicago” and “screw” used together in this way.

Question: What does a “Chicago screw” mean to you?

Share this post

A CAM Operated Davenport in a CNC World

Last month I wrote an article about the death of Automatic Machining, in which I ended the piece with a reference to the magazine being a CAM operated Davenport in a CNC world.
Bob Brinkman, owner of Davenport, took umbrage at my comment. I am taking a moment to answer him.

Bob,
I love you and I love your product. My father made a lot of money running Davenports in World War II with the assistance of your father, Earl.
But sadly, today, the world of machining tends to look at your and my beloved Davenport automatic as a noisy representative of a bygone era. Right or wrong, the market for used Davenports, the world I live in, is in shambles. My brother Jim, my partner in our used machinery firm, Graff-Pinkert, attended an auction last week in Rhode Island and saw nice, operable, used Davenports with attachments sell for $250 each—and he passed on them. We recently traded our stock of 21 used Davenports for Maglites because we could not find a cash buyer. I know that your machines are still wonderfully productive pieces of equipment, but the market today is telling us bluntly that they are no longer valued by many buyers.

As always, I wish you all the best.

Lloyd

Automatic-machining-cover

Letter from Bob Brinkman

August 11, 2009

Dear Lloyd,

To quote President Ronald Reagan, “There you go again.”

In your article on the demise of Automatic Machining you imply that Davenport is going the way of Automatic Machining.  “A cam operated magazine (machine) in a CNC world.  The comparison could not be farther from the truth.

In spite of my repeated advice, Wayne Wood could not quite understand that he had to get engaged in the business, develop new perspectives and improve his product.

In comparison, we at Davenport have constantly improved the machine, the parts and our customer service to the point that we are now considered the only alternative for spare parts.  Lower prices, highest quality, and extensive inventory continue to provide our customers with a superior customer experience.  Not only that, our machines continue to produce millions of parts a day because the Davenport is the most economical, efficient and cost effective way to produce these parts.

Sure, CNC has its place and is very effective for many applications.  But the thousands of Davenports running out there prove that the machine is still viable and will continue to be.  Our HP servo driven machines can do many of the things a CNC machine can do at a fraction of the cost.

We intend to continue to support our customers with the best in parts, service, and support.  When I took over in 2003 our motto became, “Davenport, Another 100 Years”.  As the only remaining American made screw machine builder we would appreciate your support instead of your repeated derision.

R. J. Brinkman

Chairman

Davenport Machine

Share this post

My Beloved Bridgeport and KitchenAid

By Lloyd Graff

Two icons of American mechanical ingenuity I encounter every day are my Bridgeport Mill and KitchenAid mixer. It struck me that their fortunes are going in different directions.

This last weekend, just a few days after the announcement arrived that Hardinge Corporation, which owns Bridgeport, is cutting back production at its flagship Elmira, New York, plant, the new movie about chef, Julia Child, Julie and Julia, made its debut.
Julia Child loved her cobalt blue KitchenAid, and it now resides at the Smithsonian museum in Washington.

More than any other personality, her warmth and unflappable style popularized the cooking TV show as a staple of television. For me the best shows on the tube today are on the Food Channel. I find Altan Brown to be the most creative and interesting TV personality on the air. The Tribune company’s stake in the cable channel is the bankrupt company’s most valuable property aside from my beloved Chicago Cubs, which are about to be sold.

Cooking is on the ascent and Whirlpool’s KitchenAid division is still cranking out mixers in the United States and doing well. The K45SS model my wife Risa and I have in our kitchen is used several times each week. It’s 30 years old, but has never faltered. We recently bought a new dough hook for it online and it arrived two days later. The basic product sells for $199.00 on Amazon, which is the same price it sold for 70 years ago.
Bridgeports’s fortunes are not so sanguine. While the product is beautifully designed and still incredibly useful, it has been in decline since it was sold off by Textron to a leveraged buyout firm in 1986. They immediately suffered a strike and struggled financially as CNC competitors eroded Bridgeport’s market dominance. In 2002, Hardinge took over the battered remains of the company, but its fortunes have gone the other way from KitchenAid’s.
I love both my KitchenAid and my Bridgeport. They have both helped make my “bread” for decades without ever failing.

We combed YouTube for our favorite cooking scenes from a popular movie or TV show. What are your favorites? Feel free to embed a clip from YouTube into your comments.

KitchenAid-bridgeport

Share this post

Mismatched Materials Produce Self-assembling Gears

There’s been a breakthrough in the production of tiny gears used in medical instruments and electronic mechanisms. July 23, the NewScientist printed an article about a new technology which enables gears and cogs to make themselves.

The components are formed from discs that buckle into shape after a change in temperature, and the team behind the study says the technique can produce complicated bevels or curves that are difficult to produce with traditional methods.

For a decade, engineers have been experimenting with materials that spontaneously bend into shape. A thin metal film deposited on top of a heat-expanded polymer such as PDMS will buckle into an ordered array of wrinkles when the polymer is cooled down.

Xi Chen‘s team at Columbia University in New York City realized the technique could be used to produce the regularly spaced teeth of a gear without having to rely on costly etching and grinding methods.

So far the researchers have tested their technique at the macro scale, producing simple and beveled gears 6 to 25 millimeters across, but Chen says it can be readily extended to the sub-micrometer scale – something he plans to do soon.

Do think micro- and nano-manufacturing will be a viable business for your manufacturing operation in the next few years?

Article by Colin Barras
Source: NewScientist

Link to full article: NewScientist

Self making gears

Share this post

National Acme Musical

In December 2004, a stage version of Mary Poppins debuted in London, based on the story’s original books from the ‘30s and the Disney film from 1964 which I and several generations of kids cherished growing up. Some might say producing a live remake of the story is just an easy unoriginal way to make a buck. I say it’s taking a great product that’s become somewhat neglected and making it appreciated again in today’s world. In a way it’s similar to taking a 1960 Acme and refitting it with the accoutrements of 2010 CNC controls.

In September we are going to see some major auctions with dozens of 3/4” RA8, 1 1/4” RB8 and 1 5/8” RBN8 Acmes. These have always been the primo sizes of this genre of multi-spindle screw machines but never have so many poured into an already saturated marketplace. These machines from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are still perfect for high-volume automotive work, but in an 8-10 million unit market downshift, the supply chain is soggy with capacity. This could change quickly if we reach 11 million in 2010 and 12 million in 2011, which may happen with a rejuvenated GM.
   
I would not be surprised if the Acme rebuilders like Champion, Doverspike, Detroit Automatic and Jem begin to see a significant bump later this year. The beefy Acme design, now 60 years old, is still viable because spare parts are readily available from the Detroit dealers. Companies like Sieb & Meyer produce sophisticated controls which turn the rebuilt National Acmes into serious hybrids, much cheaper than new European machines.
   
Mary Poppins with Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke as the happy chimney sweep was a Disney classic. The old movie converts beautifully to a stage musical. Still, an old chimney is probably much easier to clean than a 40-year-old Acme out of Saginaw Steering.

Question: Would you buy an Acme converted to a CNC? Why or why not?

Share this post