Build Roads — Not Electric Cars

By Noah Graff

A recent article by wired.com suggested that one of the best remedies for the struggling U.S. economy would be an extensive overhaul of the country’s crumbling infrastructure.

Obama and McCain talk a lot about alternative energy, electric cars and high speed trains but those aspirations will take a great deal of time to come to fruition (assuming they do), and would be not be worth much if the roads, bridges, drinking water, and transit systems are a shambles.

A report card issued three years ago by the American Society of Civil Engineers gives those things listed above a D grade. The society says we’ve got to spend about $1.6 trillion just to bring things up to a B-.

“(Congress) should invest in the more than 3,000 ready-to-go highway projects that could be under contract within the next 30 to 90 days,” says John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “Funding these ready to go projects offers Congress a tremendous opportunity to put Americans to work and help cash-strapped states repair and replace our crumbling infrastructure.”

If the U.S. government decides to take on a fraction of these projects, it’s going to be a boost for American manufacturers like Caterpillar, Osh Kosh, and Bobcat.

Source: Wired.com

Question: Do you see a large amount of crumbling infrastructure where you live?

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New Credit Game for Industrial Equipment

By Lloyd Graff

I think we got an important signal Tuesday when Bank of America decided not to raise credit lines for McDonalds franchisees to buy new equipment such as coffee machines. They’re keeping credit lines as they are – that doesn’t mean they’re cutting them, it just means they’re not raising them as a general policy. This is important because it shows that the Wall Street mess is starting to filter down to the lending habits of major banks.

I think this is going to affect industrial equipment purchases because it affects the money available to borrow. It’s going to mean that distributors and machine tool builders are going to have to become more resourceful in enabling their customers to buy new and used equipment. A Haas or an Okuma is going to have to be more involved in the financing issues of their customers, using their clout with lenders to find money for them. They will probably be paying more for the money than in the past, but I think this is part of what the FED is all about in providing ample liquidity in the system. The sources for the money may not be the traditional ones that people have used in the past. There will be leasing money, off-shore money and bank money available, but the banks will probably be lenders who fall to the sidelines, because the more resourceful and nimble lenders will probably be the ones to step in.

Question: Have you had a problem in buying equipment recently?

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IMTS Video Tour of Chicago!

Today’s Machining World has produced a video that will give you insider tips on using public transportation to get from O’Hare airport to downtown Chicago and then from downtown to IMTS at McCormick Place. There are also recommendations on some great restaurants close to the show.

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People Just Don't Get Manufacturing

August 21, Chicago’s NPR station ran a short blurb about how manufacturing’s seemingly continuous slowdown has caused many shops to let go of workers in recent months. Hearing stories like this over and over supports the notion that one of the difficulties in urging a young generation workforce to enter the manufacturing industry is not only caused by manufacturing’s image as dirty, monotonous and underpaid, but also by the general news being presented to the public everyday. Who would want to commit one’s life to jobs that are portrayed as traditionally difficult and also declining? Most people make little effort to learn the greater truth behind the stories they hear. And all that’s heard about manufacturing these days is how it’s flailing.

Question: Do you think there is a chance your children will be interested in a carear as a machinist?

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An Olympics of Competing Machines

Dartmouth economics professor Andrew Bernard has come up with a mathematical system to predict the medal standings of the Olympics. He has tested his formula on the Olympic games dating back to 1960, and claims it has an accuracy of 96 percent.

In the formula he equates athletes to complex machines. You need materials to build the machines, which are people, meaning countries with large populations have an edge. Then you need resources, which is a country’s income, to the produce the people into great athletes. The “machines” last a while, so past results are another factor. The final factor is what he calls the “host factor” effect, which may be influenced by the crowd or other intangibles.

For the upcoming Beijing Olympics Bernard predicts that the U.S. will lead all countries in total medals, followed by Russia in second, and China in third. In the gold medal tally he calculates the Chinese will win 37 medals to the U.S.’s 36, but he recognizes that those numbers are too close to be conclusive.

Listen to an NPR interview with Bernard at www.npr.org.

Source: NPR

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More Auto Industry Woes

Just days after Toyota said their U.S. sales dropped 18.7 percent, Toyota is cutting 800 jobs at a unit making Lexus vehicles. It’s the first time Toyota has let go of contract workers before their contracts are up. This is yet another indicator of a sliding U.S. auto market, as Toyota has historically grown during previous recessions.

In the following video John Casesa, Managing Partner of Casesa Shapiro Group, elaborates more on the future of the U.S. auto industry. He discusses automakers shifting production from SUVs and trucks to that of smaller fuel efficient cars, the changes in American car buying behavior, the importance of international emerging markets, and the prospect of a GM bankruptcy.

Source: The Wall Street Journal Online

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Creating a Head on a CNC

At Hurco’s open house July 25, 2008, the Today’s Machining World staff interviewed Hurco technical supervisor Paul Gray, who demonstrated how to a use a VMX42SR vertical machining center to create this bust of a head.

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Self-reliant Retirement Philosophy

A recent survey from Charles Schwab, showed that a growing number of young American workers believe that the government is not going to take care of them in retirement. According to Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment Strategist at Charles Schwab, resources that people have historically counted on for retirement such as employers, inheritance and the government, are less reliable in today’s economy. This has caused more people to pay close attention to their personal money management and educate themselves about investment strategies.

Source: TheStreet.com

Question of the day: Are you scared about your quality of life after you retire?

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Auction Blog: Hardinge Cleaning House

Go Industry is handling an online sale expiring July 24, for Hardinge Corporation.

Hardinge appears to be cleaning house up in Canada at the site of their former distributor in Ontario, Darbert Machinery of Mississauga. Hardinge has opted to handle the distribution of its products in Canada themselves.

In Elmira the company is selling three CNC Swiss type lathes, a 25mm and two 16mm new in the mid 1990s. Hardinge brought in a private label Tsugami Swiss type for a few years but never made the commitment to go into the sliding headstocks in a big way. Had they made the push at that time, with their broad distribution, Hardinge might be a player today in an active part of the CNC world. One of many blown opportunities of the Pat Ervin regime in Elmira.

Rick Simons has recently taken the reins at Hardinge. This auction is a small reminder to the machining community in North America that the game is changing for the old builder.

Question: Do you think it’s too late for Hardinge to develope its own CNC Swiss?

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Potential of a new machine — A coffeemaker

As Starbucks scrambles to regain footing in today’s cut-throat coffee war by refocusing on its roots – its coffee – it will soon be wheeling out a secret weapon. A new coffee maker called the Clover has been invented, which supposedly puts all other coffee makers to shame. The $11,000 machine allows the user to program three key brewing variables: dose, water temperature, and brew time. After the coffee steeps, a piston mechanism extracts the liquid from spent beans, resulting in a fresh cup in less than a minute.

Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz fell in love with the machine, and in March 2008, Starbucks announced the acquisition of the Coffee Equipment Company — the Seattle-based startup that manufactures Clovers in a converted trolley shed. By the end of 2008, there will be 80 machines installed in upscale urban markets thoughout the U.S. The 250 machines already at independent cafés can still remain in use but the Buck refuses to sell anymore Clovers to anyone outside of its own chain.

Sadly, when Wired Magazine writer Mathew Honan sampled a cup of the Clover’s coffee at a Starbucks store in Seattle, made with a normal Starbucks blend, served in a paper cup, he couldn’t tell the difference from the regular cup.

I guess a great machine can only do so much with mediocre material.

Source: Wired.com.

Question of the day: Do you drink Starbucks coffee? Why or why not?

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