Swarf – Oprah and The Acme

Oprah acme

Dear Oprah,

I am a fan of yours. I’ve been watching your show since before you were the Color Purple. You’ve had Nobel Prize winners, cancer doctors, dessert chefs and exercise mavens, but you’ve never had anybody remotely like me tell their story. Perhaps after you read my take you will invite me to be a guest.

My name is Arby Eight. I am a National Acme screw machine and damn proud of it—for the last 51 years!

My story is the story of North American industry and today I’m feeling !@$#%# unappreciated. I started my productive life in 1968 when I was shipped from my birthplace in Cleveland to an ammunition plant near Minneapolis. Without any training or initiation they heaved me into a line with 30 guys just like me and started shoving leaded steel bars through me making fuze parts for big artillery shells that were lobbed into the Vietnamese jungle to kill people in black pajamas. They called them “gooks” then—at least that’s what I discerned by listening to the operators, most of whom knew Americans in “Nam” and wanted no part in fighting the war themselves.

After that conflict settled down, I sat idle for a while. Business in the early 1970s was crappy, but then the
oil boom came along and I started making sucker rod fittings for an outfit in Texas, ‘til that bubble petered 1980 out. Them ol’ boys in Dallas didn’t know anything about multi spindles like me, but I did learn to like Mexican food while I was in that factory.

The sucker rod play went away in the 1980s when gas sold for $.70 a gallon. I was sold at auction like a big piece of meat to a fittings company doing work for the farmers. That gig was okay for a while, but then the farmers stopped buying because $2 per bushel corn did not buy many tractors.

From there I gravitated to a job shop in Detroit that did work for the Big Three automakers. What a miserable time. They ran me like a slave and poisoned me with sickening soluble oil that made a mess out of my innards. They even mixed the coolant and lube oils. We all knew they were milking the place, looking for a holding company to buy them out, roll it up and go public. They never found a buyer, so me and the rest of the machines got old and arthritic.

The guys in the shop talked among themselves about the lunacy of the management. The founder of the company had retired and the family kept bringing in “professional” managers and accountants who said, “forget about the machines—use the shop as a cash cow.” The floors were slick and air was misty. What a dump.

And they never diversified into non-automotive work, so when American cars stopped selling all they knew was to lay off people and skimp on maintenance.

Oprah, I’m writing to you for the Class of 1968 National Acme crew that hit the shop floor running. We ran quality then. Now we sit idle, not because we can’t still cut it, but because the world changed. The owners got old and their kids became doctors and chefs and dropouts. The accountants viewed what we did as “input” not craftsmanship and artistry. A very small handful of my compatriots moved to China and Mexico, but most of us are here rusting, and a few have even melted away.

I know of a few RB8s who are still running next to some sexy CNC Swiss machines, but most of us just sit and wait for the car companies to start making cars people can afford and want to buy.

Oprah, I’m not anything that special myself, but my story is the story of 50 years of American manufacturing and the contribution we still make to this country. Your audience may think I’m already dead, but my lifespan is limited only by the availability of spare parts, the creativity of rebuilders and the ingenuity of the people who enable me to do what I do well.

Question: Will Acmes make a comeback?

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14 thoughts on “Swarf – Oprah and The Acme

  1. Gregg Lio

    I hope the acmes make a comeback, we have plenty of CNC machines,but honestly they have many problems when they get about 10 years old. They are just not built to last. The electronic parts become obselete then what do you do. I will put an Acme up against a CNC any day. The only drawback is it takes longer to set-up an Acme,thats all. I say yes they will make a comeback.

  2. Ted Roberts

    Since I started my productive live in 1958 and I’m 51 years old I think the Acme is either
    only 41 years old or some of his history is missing!

  3. Peter Bagwell

    Arby, too bad you came around just after the baby boomers. For the next few years, I think they’re first in line to consume all the health care funds you need to get fixed up. But don’t worry, after they’re kicking their heels again, they’ll be looking to party with you – and us grandkids. After all, they’re going to need our help to pay for everything.

  4. Gaffer Symthe

    We have several Acmes and even some Conomatics still in service and productive today. With proper modern setup reduction techniques, they still outshine CNCs for some duties.

  5. clark kostik

    Our country should be so thankfull for the contribution multi”s and the great men and women who made them come alive.It reminds me of Christmas and JESUS is still alive Rev22:12 “behold,I am coming quickly,and MY reward is with ME,to render to every man according to what he has done.

  6. Steven Horn

    Looks to me like your brain was washed up in Detroit. ARBY you are only 41. Makes you wonder what the future might hold for the likes of you and your relatives in this great country.

  7. WageWhore

    My dad owned a machine shop, and he and the great guys that worked there taught me the basics of my trade.. I’ve been in and around manufacturing now full time for over 50 years.. I’ve watched the talent pool diminish sharply, and the thing that really scares the hell out of me is that if we ever get in another big war, do we have the talent left to put together another war machine, or will we have to outsource that to China/India/Korea/Taiwan??

  8. Neil Westervelt

    If our country would treat all the other countries the same way the treat us, in regards to tarrifs and import laws. We would not out source so may jobs, and the multi’s would run again. Until we tell the politicians we voted you in we can vote you out, nothing will change. Let’s all vote against every incumbant untill the colse the borders.

  9. Lloyd

    My turret was loose when I did the arithmetic on my age. Give me a break. I’ve had a lot of nasty soluble oil run through my gears since I left Cleveland in 1968. Have not heard from Oprah yet.

  10. Peter Frow

    The pie chart will change as follows:

    1. The segment occupied by cam operated machines both single and multi-spindle will continue to shrink driven by the long setup times. In this regard, quadrant-setting multis such as Wickmans have an advantage over the Acme.
    2. There is a diminishing pool of those who know how to design setups and also of competent toolsetters.
    3. The fact that soluble oils do not agree with Arby Eight’s digestion is an economic negative.
    4. Despite the above, multis operating in the range of 40 mm and below on large batch sizes will continue to be cost effective well into the future. Above 40 mm, the better metal removal rates of single point tool CNCs reduce the multi’s competitive edge which is achieved by having many tools working simultaneously. Also the relatively low maximum spindle speeds attainable on multis and the fact that it is not easy to optimise surface speeds on all spindles is a further negative.
    5. Multi-slide fixed headstock CNC’s will prove more cost effective than multi-slide Swiss CNC’s because of their enhanced ability to overlap forming operations with end-working operations, but both types of multislide machines will erode both the single and multi- cam-operated segment.
    6. A new generation of CNC multis could only prove cost effective if their selling price could be contained at less than three times the cost of a multislide CNC single spindle.

    As one who has operated and rebuilt both single & multispindles for many years, this is what I see in my crystal ball.

  11. John

    Great story, this will go up on the wall with “Machine Tools Around the Clock” and other illustrations of the importance of manufacturing in the United States.
    Brilliant use of email, too. I enjoy reading what you write and it keeps your business visible and remembered!
    Blessings to you and your family over the Holidays,

  12. paul

    More good news for machine operators. I see Toyoda is going the GM route and demanding a 30% price cut over 3 years with 10% immediately. Automakers these days will not let a supplier earn a buck off them. The result will be similar to what happened with the domestics. Parts will come from offshore. And the U.S. will lose another batch of manufacturers.


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