Category Archives: Today’s Machining World

A 2008 Election Vlog

The following are two vlogs on the 2008 presidential election by Lloyd Graff, editor and owner of

In this video, Lloyd Graff criticizes a recent article by John Ratzenberger which says “a president should be able to change a tire” in order to represent the common man and demonstrate the importance of keeping manufacturing in the United States. He believes the most important thing for our next president is that he or she can unite the people.

In this video, Lloyd says that he will vote for Barack Obama despite disagreeing with 80 percent of his policies. He believes that an Obama presidency is an unprecedented opportunity for reconciliation among races in the United States, and that is more important than his politics.

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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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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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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 Customer Isn’t Always Right

I hear that Sprint has notified 1,000 of its customers that they are being terminated by the cell phone service provider.

Sprint will get some momentary snickering PR, but frankly, I am sympathetic to the idea of dumping the nags. I believe that not all customers are worth the aggravation. A demanding but intrinsically fair client is a good thing because he or she forces you to raise your game, but some people just “drey your kop” (Yiddish for “play with your head”). Life is too short to diddle with such time wasters. The chronic malcontent customer is always worthy of being pruned. Sprint has the right idea to forgive their balance and direct them to AT&T or Verizon with a gracious kick in the butt.

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Can Old-school Steel create a New School dream?

Several issues ago in Today’s Machining World, Robert Strauss wrote an in-depth story about Conserve School and its unusual relationship with steel distributing agent, Central Steel and Wire, of Chicago.

James Lowenstine, son of the founder of the company, left this centi-million dollar estate to build an environmentalist’s dream of a prep school in rural Northern Wisconsin.

The Trust which funded the school was endowed with Lowenstine’s stock in Central Steel, a beautifully run company doing $750 million a year in sales. Several board members of Central Steel also sat on the Conserve School’s Trust board.

A clause in the Lowenstine will stated that if Conserve School failed to meet the educational goals Lowenstine had envisioned, the Trust should move the assets to Culver Military Academy, Mr. Lowenstine’s alma mater.

The possibility of attaching itself to a billion dollar corporation was overwhelming and Culver decided to sue Conserve School and its trusties late in 2005.

Both sides were well along in the pretrial discovery process this spring when Culver decided to drop its lawsuit. The judge dismissed the case on May 25th, 2007.

I found this case fascinating for many reasons. Central Steel is the epitome of an old school company in the best sense. The people wear white shirts and don suits and ties. Most of the salesmen come out of Chicago Catholic high schools.

Its reputation for excellent service is impeccable. Some might call the company dull and gray, but it’s brilliant at chopping up steel, delivering on time, and making money. We should all be so boring.

What James Lowenstine did so cleverly is try to preserve the company he loved and build a groundbreaking educational institution on the North Woods ground he adored.

The vast wealth of the trust was such a sweet carrot that it almost became the undoing of the will’s grand plan.

It will be awfully interesting to see how a bunch of steel guys out of Irish Catholic Chicago high schools can steward a tree hugger school in the boonies of Wisconsin with almost unlimited assets behind them. It is a strange brew.

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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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