Machining to Keep Us Alive

Sometimes it can be difficult for me to explain to people outside of the manufacturing world what the heck I write about. They ask me what the precision machining industry does and they want an explanation of why they should care. The following are two stories from the 2011 PMTS show that brought the machining world to life to me.

At the show, Matt Redder, a sales representative from a Haas Automation distributor in Cincinnati, Ohio, came over to the Today’s Machining World booth. He told us the story of his recent surgery to repair a bad disc in his neck (he attributed it to “getting old”). For his procedure at the Mayfield Clinic in Cincinnati, Ohio, he had four titanium screws, a titanium plate, and bone segments from an organ donor inserted in his neck. Soon after the surgery he received 10 orders for machines from the Schaerer Mayfield production shop, the very shop that produced the components surgically inserted in his body.

The cadaver bone segments were cut on a small Haas Office Mill, and the titanium plate was produced on a Haas 5-axis machining center. As far as the four titanium screws, he told me they were produced with a proprietary secret method.

Brings a new meaning to a salesperson betting his life on the product he sells.


That same day at the show, I had the privilege of meeting a man by the name of Curtis Spencer from West Virginia. Curtis appeared to be in his mid to late 40s and when I asked what company he was from, he proudly proclaimed he was a student. Curtis told me that for the last 10 to 12 years he has produced 190 guitars (mostly electric), all one-offs, custom made by hand. He said that each custom made guitar takes him roughly 50 hours to create and he sells them for an average of $8,500 each. He has now decided to learn to operate CNC machines so he can produce guitars in half the time or less.

Question: How do you explain what you do in a meaningful way to other people?

Matt Redder's Neck Incision

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2 thoughts on “Machining to Keep Us Alive

  1. Lloyd GraffLloyd Graff

    I used to use the bicycle or car as a vehicle to talk about machine tools and machining to uninitiated people but today I use the bone screw example to people in my age cohort. They pretend to get it, yet I often see the glazed eyes of boredom and confusion. To some extent TMW has been a decade long effort to develop stories which enable factory folk to connect to the outside world.

    For me it has been an enduring project to connect my wife and children to my business. As a kid my father connected the dots of the buying and selling of used screw machines by taking me to plants that made things I could relate to like a toilet. We went to the Kohler factory in Wisconsin to look at Brown and Sharpes which enabled me to visualize a machine making brass pieces that made the toilet flush. When I was in the Army I could see the machined parts when I disassembled my M16 rifle.

    The bigger stretch was to connect with the romance of buying stuff that liked like garbage and turning it into gold. The alchemy of the used machinery business which is infused in my brain’s cerebellum took time to fathom. A used National Acme is not like a Ford with 100,000 miles. It has no Blue Book value. It is an esoteric piece of ugly iron, but to me it may look like a DaVinci. Unless you are part of the screw machine club you will always view it as a clump of steel.
    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The vision is developed by a good story, passionately told.

  2. AvatarRon Smithfield

    I like to show visitors to our CNC machining plant our table of sample parts and relate parts to their experience. On thing that the MS media misses when they say nothing is still made in America is that, while many inexpensive consumer products have gone overseas, manufacturing is alive in America for more sophisticated and innovative products. However, if government and lawyers keep making it harder to stay in business we will loose that innovation and the government handouts will collapse. We need to encourage small business rather than burden us with more and more onerous regulations.
    I greatly enjoy your magazine and hate to see it go out of print, but I understand the economics.

    Ron Smithfield, President, Smithfield Manufacturing, Inc., Clarksville, TN, hometown of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Night Stalkers) who took Seal Team 6 into capture binLaden.


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