Ep. 108 – Tool Life Optimization with Benjamin York

By Noah Graff

Our guest on today’s show is Benjamin York. Benjamin’s company, Theory 168, makes a product called Tool Life that collects and analyzes data on machine tools to optimize efficiency in machine shops.

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Main Points

Benjamin talks about his company, Theory 168. He says the company focuses on optimizing machining processes, particularly in Swiss machining. He says his constant mission has been to “take the art out of machining.” He wants to approach machining from a scientific standpoint rather than believing there are “ghosts in some machines,” as he was originally taught when coming up in the industry. When machine glitches seem mysterious and won’t go away, Benjamin’s attitude is to keep digging deeper, rather than using hacky short-term solutions. (2:45)

Benjamin talks about his background. His father operated machine tools, and Benjamin started spending time with him at the shop when he was 4 or 5 years old. As an adult Benjamin worked in machine shops, and he has been a consultant for machining companies since 2009. (6:15)

Benjamin says that most shops don’t reach their potential for productivity. He says many companies continue to purchase equipment and hire employees while they could get a lot more out of the capacity they already have. (7:30)

Benjamin’s company, Theory 168, builds a product called Tool Life for the purpose of helping companies boost their productivity and utilize the capacity they already have. It uses Web-based software that collects data about machining processes and then analyzes the data so shops know how they can improve their productivity. One of the most significant processes the software is intended to optimize is tool life on a machine, hence the product’s name. (8:20)

Benjamin says he wants to make technology work for the people using it. He wants to make jobs easier. He says one of the potential benefits of making processes less complicated is that companies can hire workers who have less experience. They can hire people based on their potential to grow and create a good company culture. (9:20)

Benjamin explains how Tool Life works. The product measures a myriad of factors such as quality, tool changes, and offsets. (14:00)

Benjamin discusses Tool Life’s physical hardware, which the company calls a “machine weather station.” It’s a 4 x 4 box that connects to machine tools via magnets. It collects data with various sensors, which it transmits to a Web-based cloud via WIFI. Each machine requires its own localized box because of the specific data unique to a machine. For instance, Tool Life collects vibration data relating to a bar feed, various inputs of temperature, and cycle time. After all the data is analyzed the user knows the options available to optimize a process. Perhaps the machine is being operated poorly, the company needs to buy higher quality tools, or change the tools more frequently. (15:00)

Benjamin talks about an add-on product to Tool Life called Shop Map 168 that tracks the location of people in a shop and prescribes how to make the shop more efficient. (25:00)

Benjamin York of Theory 168

Benjamin York of Theory 168

Benjamin says that after the data is collected and the root cause of the untapped productivity is revealed, most machinists are able to come up with solutions on their own to improve their productivity. Benjamin says he believes that most machinists see themselves as race car drivers who are constantly wanting to get the most out of their equipment. He thinks they will naturally be motivated to make necessary changes in how they operate machines to reach their potential. (28:30)

Noah asks Benjamin how he approaches his own work as far as optimizing productivity when coming up with ideas for products or for his business. He says sometimes it is best to come up with creative ideas with very little structure, however Theory 168 has also implemented various software programs that help its team come up with ideas to fit into specific parameters as well. (32:00)

Benjamin says one interesting thing he learned last week is that people have to “trust that things are going to be ok.” He says that over the last year it has been necessary for people to learn this principle. He says that in the end everyone is going to have to work together to get through the difficult times. (33:15)

Benjamin says he thinks that 2021 will be a big year for having gratitude. He says he is looking forward to life being more fun than it has been lately. (34:35)  

Benjamin ends the interview by saying he hopes that improvements in technology will allow more time for people to do the things they want and spend more time with their friends and family. (36:00)

Question: How would you like to become more efficient in 2021?

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