Hard to Find a Good T-Shirt

By Lloyd Graff

One of life’s mysteries for me has been the scarcity of great t-shirts.

I am not a clothes hound. My dad liked clothes. He had his suits tailor made by unintelligible Italian tailors who held pins in their mouths while they were talking. Once, he took my brother Jim and I to pick out suit fabric. We inspected bolts of luxurious fabric for our own future custom suits. I remember picking a ridiculous brown plaid. I rarely wore the suit. It never really suited me because it had padded shoulders like my father favored, to make his slender frame look more like a weight lifter’s physique.

I still have that plaid suit in my closet. It is one of the few physical items I ever kept from him, not because I like the garment, but because it was so him. I still gaze at it often, because it has so much meaning for me after all these years.

I receive several apparel catalogs every day. I seldom buy much because I hate returning stuff and the items hardly ever look or feel nearly as good as in the picture. I hate buying pants or socks, sweaters, shoes, or underwear. But I have a weakness—t-shirts.

The t-shirt is very “in” today, with many musicians and movie stars wearing them for dress. I wear mine every day as a single layer, or under a fleece or sweater. I guess I have a collection. I pare it down from time to time, but a t-shirt is the first article of clothing I choose each day. I want it to feel right. It has to be all cotton and soft. I never want to feel a seam.

I prefer Pima cotton, preferably from Peru. Some days I desire a little heft, but usually I search out the lightest, airiest jersey I can feel. The difference is maybe a fraction of an ounce, but I can assess it immediately when I lift it a centimeter.

Generally my t-shirts have no message and never a picture. I do have a shirt from a high school reunion that is not Pima cotton, but it has been washed so many times it now almost feels like it. I also have a beloved Powell’s Book Shop t-shirt from Portland, Oregon, which used to be America’s biggest bookstore before Amazon destroyed the genre. It is an ugly pea green and I adore it.

I still own several t-shirts made by American Apparel of Los Angeles. The company had a rather salacious reputation for risqué advertising and the predatory behavior of its founder,  Dov Charney, but they made feathery t-shirts for men. 

The perfect t-shirt in Pima cotton

The top of my tee collection however is held by the A-list shirts sold in The Territory Ahead catalog. They use Peruvian cotton, they run big, the colors do not fade over a decade, they sell both short sleeves and long, and they do not have pockets. They make them up to XXL and also in extra long.

Sadly the company went bankrupt a couple years ago without warning. When Territory went bust, I was truly depressed for a few hours, then I began to search for a replacement. I couldn’t find one. All I could do was hope for its return from the dead.

It finally happened several months ago. When I saw the announcement on Google I called the purchasing company, J. Peterman Outfitters of Cincinnati, and gave them my name for when the t-shirts returned. With the first sighting, I ordered one of each of the five colors they started with. Sadly there were no white or black, which were my favorites.

They were delayed, but they finally arrived.

They were good—very good. Yet not quite as light and airy as the Pimas of 1999.

It’s life.

We get used to disappointment. 

Perhaps only original Jays Potato Chips are as wonderful as they always have been.

But I’ll take it. They do still fit me—to a tee.

Question: What is your favorite t-shirt?

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As Old as You Look

By Lloyd Graff

My high school class has a Yahoo group to connect with classmates from yesteryear. It is usually dormant except for an occasional obituary notice.

Yahoo recently announced that it is abolishing such groups, perhaps because Facebook has made them an anachronism. The notice has awakened our group. An old friend of mine volunteered to rejuvenate the internet group on Google, which has brought out thank-yous from around the country.

As each person pops up on the Web, I feel a sense of relief that they are still alive and lucid. Sometimes it is a spouse or friend who joins the group for a now-deceased member of the class of 1962. It is sobering to watch the names appear and wonder why some do not.

One of the tough things about the COVID-19 pandemic is realizing that the virus almost selectively kills off older people. For most young folks, it is an annoyance. The unlucky or sick or terribly obese are its targets from ages 30 to 60. From 60 to 75, you probably fare okay if you started out healthy. But over 75 it is truly a scourge, and that is where I will soon reside.

Lloyd in front of his childhood home in Chicago

I swing between the acceptance and rejection of age. One of the most objectionable aspects of Zoom and Skype is that I get to see myself as others see me. I find it different than looking in a mirror in the morning. I expect to look a bit haggard then, and the mirror usually confirms it. But Zoom allows other folks to inspect the configuration of your neck, unless you pull a Pelosi and cover up with a colorful silk scarf. They can see your hair thinning and the expanding sag under your eyes. And maybe they detect the occasional search for the perfect word that used to flow without effort.

But the really weird thing is that on a good day I can ignore all that baggage and feel 35, not 75. I want to go out and shoot baskets. I see no reason why I can’t run six miles before work. And my voice has the timbre of youth. 

I do have the privilege of continuing to work and write a blog, which most of my classmates have chosen not to do or have been forced by ailing health or arbitrary bosses to stop doing—unless they are running for President.

Acknowledging my age to myself is awfully scary. I do it, though, every day when I run through my morning prayer ritual and remember friends and family, many of whom died at a younger age than I’ve already attained. The upside for me is to consider that I probably was scheduled to die 12 years ago when I somehow survived a heart attack that is lethal for most people.

Now I get to be what people used to think of as old. I get to wade in the lovely illusion of youth. I daydream of the swish of 10 straight 3-pointers rotating off my fingertips.

Life is strange. I relish it. I cherish it. It’s an amazing privilege to be able to dunk at 75.

Question:  Do you feel younger than your age?

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Ep. 99 – Machining a Successful Product for 160 Years, with Howard Smith

By Noah Graff

Today’s Show is part one of a new season in which we’re talking about companies that produce their own products. Our guest is Howard Smith, owner and CEO of Wilson Bohannan, a 160-year-old padlock manufacturer.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

Main Points

Howard talks about Wilson Bohannan’s products. The company makes brass key padlocks with stainless steel shackles, as well as other locking devices. The padlock business is still the company’s most important product. The company began in 1860, making padlocks for railroad cars. At the turn of the century, as the railroads were consolidated, it turned its focus to utility companies and heavy industry. Its products are designed for extreme weather conditions—freezing cold, wet, desert, etc. The locks range in size from an 1-1/4” to over 2” wide. Howard says the locks vary in security, from a “glorified seal” to sophisticated highly secure locks with computer chips in the key and lock. (3:30)

Noah asks if it’s possible to break locks by shooting them with a gun like in the movies. Howard says it’s possible to engineer a lock that when shot with a gun collapses the mechanism and the casing around the key barrel to stop it from breaking. He says that Wilson Bohannan actually won a customer who shot a magnum rifle at one of the company’s locks but was unsuccessful at opening it. (6:45)

Howard discusses the company’s computer chip locks. The chip in the key and the lock talk to each other, allowing the owner to change the combination via computer or cell phone. (7:25)

Howard talks about the history of Wilson Bohannan. He says the company was founded in 1860 in New York by Wilson Bohannan and his son Todd. He says it was a good time to start the company because from the 1870s to 1930s it was the Gilded Age of America, when manufacturing had few restraints, regulations, and taxes. (8:20)

Howards explains that Wilson Bohannan was his wife’s great great grandfather. He started working at the lock company 47 years ago in the accounting department. He is the 6th family generation of owners, and his daughters are the 7th generation. (9:00)

Howard discusses how locks have stayed relevant and how they have changed over the years. He shows Noah a few of the locks the company makes such as a cable lock, a shrouded lock that has a component around it that protects it, and an interchangeable core padlock. (10:20)

Howard Smith, owner and CEO of lock manufacturer, Wilson Bohannan

Howard states that while innovations like computer chips and bluetooth have kept locks relevant and added functionality, the mechanical components remain the heart of the products. He says that computers can be hacked and magnets demagnetized, but a quality mechanical lock will still require a key, giving the analog components an advantage over other technologies. (13:50)

Howard says that Wilson Bohannan has an extensive R&D department, which is focused on continuous improvement so that its products remain relevant. He says that the company remains competitive by gauging what customers want by going to trade shows and by tailoring products to individual customers’ specific requests. For instance the company had a customer who needed a lock for an irrigation system. It had another customer in the oil business who needed a shackle lock with a loop to keep leaded and unleaded gasoline separated. (15:40)

Howard talks about Wilson Bohannan’s facility and the machines used to manufacture its products in house. Every component of the locks is manufactured and assembled starting with the raw materials at the company’s 40,000 square-foot factory in Marion, Ohio. The company employs around 70 people, working three shifts, five days a week, and can make just about any lock on its machines.(17:35)

Howard says that outsourcing components, even to other US companies would compromise the integrity of Wilson Bohannan’s products. He says keeping everything in house protects the products’ quality and allows the company to make products to order. (18:40)

Howard refers to Wilson Bohannan as a job shop because it tailors its products to the specific needs of customers. He says making products to-order helps the company avoid the expense of having to buy and store large lots of component parts and allows it to produce custom products more quickly. For certain parts that require larger volumes the company has a Tornos MultiAlpha multi-spindle and two EPIC Hydromats. (19:30)

Howard says Wilson Bohannan considers itself as a small business, making just 5,000 locks a day. He says Master Lock makes hundreds of thousands of locks per day to stock retail stores like Lowes and Home Depot. Howard says Wilson Bohannan tried selling locks to Lowes and Home Depot in the 1990s, but it was not a successful business model. (21:25)

Howard describes the evolution of the lock making business. He says that over 100 years ago there were hundreds of lock manufacturers in America, and 40 years ago there were around 30. He says that in the last 10-15 years, everything has changed. Now there are around five padlock makers in the US. Most of these companies mass manufacture and widely distribute their products, whereas Wilson Bohannan has always built custom locks, which enabled the company to stay successful. (23:30)

Howard says that the company doesn’t worry about intellectual property theft. Instead, it focusses on reinvesting in talent and equipment, and maintaining a good company culture.

Howard discusses how Wilson Bohannan remained a family owned business by buying out its early stockholders. Today, just three family members run the business, Howard and his two daughters. (27:10)

Howard says he is excited about the current reshoring of American companies and the improving infrastructure in the US to revitalize its manufacturing sector. (31:00)

Howard says that Wilson Bohannan has not considered buying out other lock manufacturers. He says it prefers to grow its business through technology and innovations. (31:45)

Howard states that he is not in the business just to make money. He says he has no interest in ever selling Wilson Bohannan. He says he is proud of the company’s identity as an American made business where the focus is on building something useful that benefits the lives of employees and customers. 

He says that Wilson Bohannan will represent the State of Ohio at the Made in America Showcase at the White House (Oct. 5 this past week). (32:40)

Howard says he worries about the future of America, especially with the current political climate and the pandemic, but he still remains confident that things will soon improve because of the entrepreneurial spirit of American businesses. He says he hopes that soon people will feel safe walking around again and being neighborly with each other. (35:00)

Question: Do you lock your door during the day?


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What it Boils Down To

By Lloyd Graff

This was a good year for applesauce. My farmers market guy, Mr. Hardin from near Kalamazoo, selected a bushel of apples, Honeycrisp, Mac, Fuji, Cortland, Jonagold, Gala, and a few Golden Delicious. Risa and Noah’s wife Stephanie peeled them, Noah and I sliced them up, and then we boiled them into the applesauce which will never last until next October.

Applesauce is a ritual for us every year. It’s a punctuation mark for the end of summer. College football is a mess, back to school is back to chaos, but for apples in the Midwest it has been a wonderful year, though not for the orchard man who relies on farmers markets to get a decent price. COVID-19 has crimped the crowds. Markets where I go in the Southern Suburbs of Chicago are drawing half the normal attendance because of fear and masks and a general fatigue.

But nothing deterred us this year. The ritual of making sauce was more compelling than ever in 2020. We aren’t the only ones. Ball Corporation, the famous jar maker, is painfully short of lids for the canners. People are searching the Web from eBay to Etsy to find extra jars and lids, and it is generally fruitless. Even plastic containers are short for winter storage.

I don’t think it is so much that folks fear shortages or think they will save money. It’s the participation in a yearly ritual, performed as a group with family and friends, that attracts people.

The Graffs gathered for traditional applesauce making.

When I was growing up, the biggest sign of fall was pulling out the football, corralling a group of guys, and heading to the park for an afternoon of touch football. Three on three, maybe four on four, counting “one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand” before you could rush the quarterback. We used to play on the street to add a little zest to the game. Parked cars were part of the challenge. Sorry to pull age, but Fortnite is pretty hollow next to catching a high spiral between a Chevy wagon and a Mercury convertible.

If you were religious, you had the fall holidays to miss school. But this piece is about the secular rituals that separate the seasons.

Today, people barbecue all year round. Growing up, the barbecue began in June. It was a charcoal affair. Kingsford did not own the market then. A mushroom was just a toadstool, cauliflower was for boiling, and propane resided at country homes. 

The finished product.

But even then, my mom made applesauce in October, and we loved it. It was demonstrably better than Mott’s, with its preservatives and possibly even corn syrup (I can’t bear even saying the words). It’s the ritual of it, the sacred event that you took for granted until you got old enough not to take any yearly event for granted.

Thanks, Mr. Hardin. The apples were superb this year. But the sauce won’t last past March.

Question: What are your sacred rituals?

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Ep. 98 – How to Prevent Fires in Your Machine Tools with Mike Campo

By Noah Graff

On this week’s episode of Swarfcast, we’re talking about preventing fires inside of machinery. Our guest is Mike Campo, Midwest Regional Sales Manager with Firetrace International, makers of fire suppression systems and solutions. Fire suppression systems keep businesses, people and equipment safe by automatically detecting and suppressing fires in high-risk equipment, like CNC machines, vehicles and wind turbines.

Mike says that machine tools are most at risk for fires when running oil based coolant while unattended. Suppression systems aim to hold back the fire, helping to mitigate the damage and allowing time for emergency personnel to respond.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

Main Points

Mike shares his background. He has been in the fire protection field for 43 years. He began his career in the engineered fire systems business, protecting data centers and telecommunications centers. He eventually went on to work at Firetrace International, a fire suppression system manufacturer that specializes in protecting critical small environments like CNC machines and wind turbines. (2:50)

Mike talks more about the niche market of working with what he calls micro environments. He says that the Firetrace system is designed for small enclosures, not rooms or spaces where there are people, such as a residential structure. (3:40)

Mike says that sprinklers are a valuable type of fire suppression for structures and are often mandated by local fire codes. He says Firetrace works heavily with the wind energy business to help protect wind turbines, which have structures that do not lend themselves to using sprinkler systems. He says that though an insurance company or local ordinance may instruct a business to purchase a fire suppression system for specific equipment, there are generally no official laws requiring a machine shop to install fire protection systems on its machines. (4:45)

Mike says the biggest risk for fires in machine shops occurs when machine tools are running unattended using oil based coolant rather than water soluble. (8:40)

Mike says that machine tools running oil create an oil mist that can ignite. Mist collectors can help evacuate some of the mist, but any kind of activity that would cause a spark in the oil mist such as a broken tool or failure of an oil pump, could lead to a violent fire. (10:50)

Mike says fires often occur when machining titanium, stainless steel, and aluminum because a lot of friction can occur, which can lead to broken tools. (12:10)

Mike explains that various Firetrace fire suppression systems correspond to different sizes of machine tools. Different volumes of space inside the machines require different amount of chemicals necessary to suppress fires. Larger machines necessitate larger tanks. (13:40)

Mike describes how the Firetrace systems work. A man in Great Britain developed a thermoplastic tubing that could hold pressure for a long period of time. Initially this technology was applied to create a fire suppression system for engine compartments of farming equipment. When pressurized, the tubing becomes a linear pneumatic heat sensor, so that if the tube comes into contact with high heat or flame, the tube ruptures, releasing the pressure that is holding down a piston in the fire protection tank. It releases and then dispenses chemicals to control the fire. (16:00)

Mike points out that Firetrace’s system “only works when it fails,” meaning that it will only go off only when the tube loses pressure. Thus Firetrace systems should not produce false alarms or go off when they are not supposed to. (18:00)

Mike says that Firetrace fire suppression systems target Class B and C fires. Fires are classified into four types, A, B, C, and D. Class A fires occur in materials such as wood and paper. Class B, fires are caused by flammable gasses or liquids, such as oil based coolant. Class C fires are electrical fires, which can occur in the electrical cabinets of machine tools. Class D fires are metal based fires. Those can occur when machining certain metals such as magnesium. Mike says that Firetrace’s system is not designed suppress metal fires, and the most common way to put out those fires is applying sand-like powder. He says if you see a yellow fire extinguisher next to a machine it’s probably meant to put out metal fires. (18:50)

Mike talks about the chemicals used by the Firetrace system. He says Firetrace’s goal is to have a clean fire suppression system that leaves no trace after use in the machine. (20:30)

Mike says that Firetrace is usually purchased aftermarket, though a few machine tool builders offer it as an option for purchase. (24:35)

Mike says the wind turbine business has been very successful for Firetrace. The company sees mostly electrical fire applications in the turbines. (27:25)

Mike says that the Firetrace has been very busy lately. Medical and automotive industries make up the majority of the company’s machine shop customers, while the Aerospace sector has fallen off since COVID-19 hit. (28:40)

Mike says that the cost of a fire suppression system for most CNC machines is $6,000 to $7,000.. He says that Firetrace’s systems are engineered to be simple, as they have no electrical components. Installation typically takes 2-4 hours. (29:25)

Mike says there are several competitor fire suppression systems which emulate Firetrace’s technology, as well as some others that function differently. He says that some systems that come installed on used machines coming from other countries might not be in compliance with US regulations. (30:35)

Mike talks about something he recently learned. He says COVID-19 has presented him with challenges that come when working from home. He says he has been honing is patience for working a lot in close quarters with grandchildren (who he says he loves dearly). (34:50)

Mike states that Firetrace is a simple technology, but the company is constantly performing R & D. He says although the system rarely fails, pressure leaks can present a challenge, whether it’s a leak in the suppression system or in the machine itself. (38:40)

Question: Have you experienced a machine fire in a CNC shop?

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The Healing Has Begun

By Lloyd Graff

September 30, 2020. End of third-quarter. First presidential debate. Baseball playoffs beginning. NBA finals start. For Jews, it’s the beginning of a new year. 

Today feels pivotal.

Sometimes you can sense things are changing. The weather has abruptly shifted in Chicago. It went from summer to decidedly fall overnight. The real apple cider has come in. The sweet corn is all but gone. I plan to buy my two bushels of 10 varieties of apples this Sunday at the farmers market from Hardin Orchards near Kalamazoo. It is my yearly ritual. My wife, Risa, peels them, I slice them. We boil them for an hour and we have applesauce for the year.

Business has shifted too. For six months, the focus was on staying alive, finding the Kleenex, arguing about masks. No longer. It’s no longer about finding hand sanitizer; it’s about finding hands to feed machines. Companies are ordering stuff and requesting that it be flown in. I looked for a propane bottle for my Weber and the hardware store was sold out. This is late September.

Apples and honey, a Jewish New Year tradition

People are no longer frozen in place. Populations are in flux. New York has been abandoned. Rentals in Florida are being snapped up early. 

COVID-19 is still a real threat for folks over 60, but despite 40,000 positive tests every day, hospitalizations are half of what they were in April and May. As terrible as COVID-19 is and has been, we are getting used to it. We expect successful vaccines and effective treatments. It has been awful, and still is, but it is not the Black Death of Shakespeare’s time that killed 1/3 of the population. 

The election will happen. It will be messy and contentious. There will be sore losers. We will endure shouts and certainly litigation. People will yell fire, they will scream robbery, and we will get through it with perhaps a few windows broken.

I am happy it’s fall. I am happy that Patrick Mahomes is still invincible. I’m sorry for you if you sold perfume at Macy’s. I pity you if you rented office space in New York. I am sad for you if you were a waitress at a pancake house in Chicago. And I am truly tearful if you are 88 years old and imprisoned in your apartment, by the rules that are supposed to help you. 

But things are really changing right now, September 30, 2020. And it will get much better soon. I believe it. We will heal, if we can just live through it.

Question: Was there a winner in the debate last night?

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Ep. 97 – Reducing Machine Setup Time up to 50% with Paul Van Metre

By Noah Graff

On today’s show we’re talking about how to set up machine tools efficiently.

Our guest is Paul Van Metre, co-founder of ProShop ERP. ProShop produces a comprehensive web-based and totally paperless shop management system for small to medium manufacturing companies. Paul says that using a few best practices, guided by ProShop’s management system, can reduce a machine setup time up to 50%.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

Main Points

Paul shares his background. He grew up in New York and studied mechanical engineering in college. He says he found it dry, so he began looking for something more hands on. He found a program in Washington State that was heavily involved in the Formula SAE competition, which he fell in love with. He and his teammates decided to start a machine shop together right out of college. (3:10)

Paul says that for their machine shop’s first three years (in late 1990s) the company used Excel to make its job routers and travelers. As it added more machines, it put a computer next to each one. (5:15)

Paul explains that the idea for his company’s proprietary shop management system came out of desperation and need. As the company grew, introducing more machines and employees, Excel was not keeping up. His team researched shop management software in the old school Thomas Register books. (6:25)

Paul says that none of ERP software firms his company looked at offered products designed specifically for managing the shop floor. The products also required paper printouts, which Paul and his team felt was a step backward from what they were already doing using Excel. Ultimately, they decided to hire a software designer to design a custom ERP system for the company. Paul says it took a little less than a year to develop workable software to handle the company’s needs. (7:35)

Paul says it took about eight years before the company’s ERP software received outside attention. During the economic slowdown in 2008, a production manager from his company’s biggest customer came to the shop to work one day a week. When he tried using the ProShop ERP he liked it so much that he told his own company about it. (10:50)

The customer convinced Paul’s company to let it use ProShop ERP. Paul says that within six months of using the system his customer’s productivity was boosted so much it was able to free up three full time employees, and it drastically decreased its lead-times on various jobs. Then the customer asked if Paul’s company would allow some of its vendors to use ProShop ERP. Paul and his team then realized the opportunity to start a new business selling their ERP, which they founded in 2016. (12:30)

Paul says he misses the joy of the production process of running a machine shop, but he says providing ProShop to help other companies succeed is what he enjoys the most. (15:45)

Paul says that by using a few best practices a shop can save up to 50% of machine setup time. (17:45)

Paul says proper setup process starts when a machine has already been torn down from its previous setup. The teardown should be part of the machine’s previous job’s processes. (18:46)

Paul says the first thing to think about when starting a machine setup is to have all of the materials ready for the job at the machine—tooling, instructions, and rich media such as videos and photos to guide the setup person. This is because if a setup person has to leave the machine to get something that she forgot she can run into a multitude of distractions in the shop which significantly delay getting back to work on a machine. 

Paul says one of the worst obstacles in slowing down setup time is when the shop doesn’t even have a necessary tools or materials on site. Then the setup process loses days while the company waits for materials to be shipped in. (23:00)

Paul says it’s very important for a setup person to have detailed work instructions for a job ready (SEE VIDEO BELOW). He says that ProShop ERP’s paperless system makes it easy for people to have all the important info about a job at the machine at all times (again, so they don’t have to get up and leave the machine). Having paperless instructions also makes it smooth to set up jobs that were already run on that machine in the past because the setup person doesn’t have to find an old printout. The instructions from the old job are ready on a computer next to the machine and may have important updates from the last time the job was run. Having organized instructions at a machine that are easily accessible enables a different person to set up a machine than the previous one. Paul says that ProShop ERP has plans to have software integrated right on machine tools in the future.(24:45)

Paul says ProShop ERP also helps with cutting time on the inspection step of a setup. It sets up processes for a setup person to do her own inspection on a part so the part looks good before it is sent to the Quality department. When the part goes to the Quality department there are notes for the quality technicians to pay attention to. (29:45)

Paul says another important part of every setup is continuous improvement on a part. One of the key features of ProShop ERP is that it allows machinists to document process improving ideas, flag their planning department, create action items, and assign tasks to save even more time. It’s all in one place so that communication is simplified and efficient. (31:40)

Paul says one of the most interesting things he learned last week was that 6% of the forests on the West Coast have burned this year within the last few weeks, which is nearly 20 times more acreage than last year. (34:05)

Paul says a key takeaway is that setup is very logical and doesn’t require specialized software if you have key systems in place. He believes that a little upfront work will have huge ROI on your time on the back end of the process. (35:15)

Question: What aspect of work do you wish you were more organized for?

For more information on ProShop ERP, visit: https://www.proshoperp.com/.

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Best of Swarfcast – Ep. 73 – Tracking Your Machine’s Productivity with Eric Fogg

By Noah Graff

Today, we’re going to do a quick Throwback Thursday to March of this year, to a discussion about going digital with machine data.

This week’s podcast is an interview we did with Eric Fogg, co-founder and head of machine connectivity at MachineMetrics. MachineMetrics produces an IOT device that connects directly with machine tool PLCs and controls to track realtime and historical data on equipment. Operators use the data to assess how machines are truly performing, which is often quite different from what they perceive.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

Main Points

Eric explains that MachineMetrics is a machine data connectivity data platform. The company makes a device (he calls an “edge device”) that connects directly to machine controls and sensors of production equipment. The device gathers valuable data on how the machines are performing and sends it to operators to analyze. (3:10)

Eric talks about taking machine shop classes in high school. During high school he worked at a lot of different machine shops on nights and weekends and taught himself programming. (4:10)

Eric says that MachineMetrics can gather data from all vintages of machine tools, not just CNC machines, though CNC machines provide the most data. He says right now MachineMetrics has a client using its edge device to gather data from a punch press that was manufactured in 1925. He says, “As long as it moves and has electrons flowing through it we can probably get some useful data out of it.”(7:00)

Eric says that in college he majored in theology because he wanted to work in the field of corporate ethics. Eventually he started his own machine shop in his mid 20s that specialized in green technology products. (10:00)

Eric Fogg of MachineMetrics

Eric says that when the 2008 recession hit he started doing more job shop type work with low margins. He eventually closed his company started doing Six Sigma consulting for job shops in Vermont. The experience of analyzing the processes of different shops inspired the idea for MachineMetrics. He says he observed that shops were often making decisions based on a gut feeling rather than based on data. He came up with the idea to pull the data that already was on the machines’ controls to create reports, dashboards and analytics to help machining companies make decisions. (14:00)

Eric says the most basic data MachineMetrics tracks is machine utilization—how much machines are running versus how much people think they are running. He says the average perceived utilization of equipment by MachineMetrics’ customers is just under 80%. The actual average is in the high 20 percents to low 30 percents (the numbers are based on active shifts). He says that the numbers can be surprising as various markets differ. For instance, he says for some types of very low volume work (1 or 2 part runs) 15% utilization might be considered world class. He says for high volume shops utilization is often much higher. For instance, he says shops making millions of parts with much thinner margins sometimes have utilization in the 90 percents. He says that no matter what type of shop, clients are usually surprised at their utilization rates. (20:25)

Eric gives some examples of how MachineMetrics data uncovered problems that led to low machine utilization. He gives an example of a client who was using cheap 1/4” drill bits on a drill and tapping center. The company calculated it took only 5 minutes to change a drill bit out, so they used cheaper ones with short tool life. The problem was that while operators left to get a new drill bit from the tool crib they got sidetracked and the average time to change the drill bit was actually over 40 minutes. After learning this the owner of the company decided to go out and buy the most expensive drill bit that lasted 10 times longer than those he was using. It was a solution that was much faster and easier to implement then changing the procedure in the shop which could have tons of variables to consider. (24:10)

Eric says that MachineMetrics generally does not advise customers how to use the data they collect. He has found that customers usually take the initiative to solve their problems. He says his company is often surprised at the interesting ways that clients utilize the data. (27:40)

Eric discusses a phenomenon he sees in CNC shops he calls “cyclecreep.” What happens is that over time people gradually alter they way they run jobs by making tweaks such as changing tools or feed rates which often increases cycle time. The problem is that the manufacturer continues to bill its customer for the original cycle time. Operators see green lights on machines which makes them think everything is running fine but problems are occurring behind the scenes. (30:15)

Eric gives an example of a company running the same parts on 20 vertical machining centers that were bought over 10 years. MachineMetrics found that no two machines had the same original cycle time of 40 minutes. He says that some cycle times only differed a few seconds but the delta between fastest machine and the slowest machine was 15 minutes. After seeing this data, in just a week the company was able to adjust the machines to all have a cycle time within a few seconds of each other. (35:30)

Eric says it can be difficult for his clients because often MachineMetrics is delivering them bad news. He says that the consistent trend he sees is that the most successful shops have a culture around change. (37:25)

Question: Are the effects of the coronavirus a net plus or a net minus for your machining business?

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Sleepless in Chicago

By Lloyd Graff

Sleep and lack of it has long been one of life’s biggest mysteries to me. Some days it feels so easy and comfortable, an effortless, pleasant activity, and the next night it is an elusive phantom that I mentally grab for and continually miss.

I used to find it much easier. Wash up. Light stretch. Hug my wife. Casually discuss the next day’s plans. Turn over, and sleep would easily take me. Not so anymore.

For years, after being told I had sleep apnea disorder, I struggled with an annoying breathing apparatus that was supposed to provide me with a healthy, peaceful night’s rest. Over time, I doubted that analysis, and finally decided that at least for me, sleep apnea was a sleep industry fraud. I slept better without the infernal breathing apparatus that I used to schlep everywhere when I traveled around the country.

I gave up the machine after my heart surgery 12 years ago. I do not miss it at all.

Like many men, I suffered from prostate enlargement for decades, which impaired my sleep. Surgery solved that issue, though one interruption for urination is normal for me after four hours sleep. That is the tough one for me. It usually happens between 2:30 and 4 a.m. These days, slumber all too frequently eludes me.

I get back in bed and nothing feels quite perfect. The quilt is in disarray. Risa may be snoring. Light sneaking past the window is annoying.

And the thoughts, the challenges, the fears, the things I should have done better the day before, the Cubs bullpen collapse. It could be anything. Lately it has been a troubling dream, or the inability to remember the number sequence of the burglar alarm disarming code. Other nights I struggle to remember whether the name of the high school English teacher I hated was Rosenstein or Rosensweig. A lot of dumb stuff, but they are stealthy and persistent intruders.

I use my tried-and-true tricks, counting 1 2 3 4 5 while breathing in, 6 7 8 9 10 breathing out. I put tape over my mouth these days to eliminate mouth breathing. Other nights I envision shooting free throws and enjoying the imagined feel of the leather basketball releasing from my fingertips.

I usually swallow a melatonin pill before going to bed, but now I add a few sprays of melatonin if sleep feels distant. Unfortunately, a couple times per week, I stay up for two hours and occasionally never reenter the sleep state.

I pay the price during the daylight hours to come, and often the following day. It also tends to increase migraine symptoms like scintillating scotoma, the half moon shaped floaters that interrupt vision for around 25 minutes.

Hopefully your sleep is always peaceful, me and the other sleep deprived world would like to know your secret.

Question: Are you a successful sleeper and do you have any advice for the rest of the world?

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Ep. 96 – Precision Machining in Spain with Patrick Bosch

By Noah Graff

On today’s episode we are discussing the machining industry in Spain.

Our guest is Patrick Bosch, Managing Director of Nagamohr, a 150 employee Tier 2 automotive company headquartered in Madrid, Spain. According to Patrick, despite Spain’s reputation as having a relaxed culture, its people are quite serious about manufacturing.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

Main Points

Patrick talks about his family’s German origin and about a subsidiary his company started recently, Nagamex, in Mexico. (2:55)

Patrick talks about Nagamohr’s business, producing turned parts for Tier 2 automotive. The company has over 80 machines in its shop in Spain, including a large number of Hydromats, as well as CNC multi-spindles and other CNC machines. It has a turnover of around 15,000,000 euros per year. (4:05)

Patrick says Nagamohr was originally a joint venture between a Spanish firm and a German firm, Nagares and Mohr, but the two could not get along, even while the company just existed on paper. Nagares, the Spanish division, wanted out of the partnership, so Patrick’s family took its place. Only a few years after the company was founded, the Bosch family assumed full ownership of Nagamohr. (5:25)

Patrick talks about his background. He studied business administration and engineering at university. For a few years he worked in the finance field, but when the opportunity arose he decided to join his family’s company in 2011. He assumed a leadership role in 2013. (6:40)

Patrick’s talks about why his family moved to Spain. He is the first generation of his family born in the country. In 1962 Patrick’s father originally visited Spain to study Spanish, but decided he preferred to stay in Spain than return to Germany. Patrick’s mother is also German. (8:00)

Patrick says that the automotive industry represents over 10% of Spain’s GDP. He says Spain’s manufacturing is most significant in the country’s Basque region (in the north) as well as Catalonia, while his location in Madrid ranks third. 

Patrick discusses the division between the regions of the Spain. He says half of the people in country identify themselves as Spanish, while the other half of people identify themselves by their region. (11:45)

Patrick talks about the skills gap in Spain. He says it’s hard to find skilled workers in the machining field, so usually its necessary to train employees in house. (13:10)

Patrick talks about the industries commonly found in Spain besides automotive, including the energy industry and engineering. (14:40)

Patrick says unemployment in Spain fluctuates quickly and can be very high because of the country’s reliance on the seasonal tourism industry. He says before the COVID-19 crisis the country’s unemployment rate was around 11%, but right now it is around 18%. (15:22)

Patrick dispels the myth that Spanish people are lazy workers. He says the Spanish work day is similar to that of other countries but the custom of the Spain is to operate one hour later than the rest of the world, as though it were in another time zone. For instance, someone working in a shop in Spain might start at 7:00AM rather than 6:00AM, but then work an hour later in the day. Rather than eating lunch at noon,  Spanish people often eat lunch around 2:00PM. Then they typically start eating dinner around 8:30PM and as late as 10:00PM. (17:10)

Patrick discusses salaries in Spain and Spain’s government-run programs such as health care. He says salaries range widely, with entry level in a shop around 20,000 euros a year, with an additional 33% going to the government for social security and health care. He says that Spain’s public health care is very good. He says inexpensive private insurance is also available but generally everyone uses the public health care providers for serious medical concerns even if they have the private insurance. He jokes that he always asks himself why he pays for private insurance. (18:50).

Patrick says people in Spain work much harder than other nations realize.  (21:20)

Patrick explains the origins of Nagamex, Nagamohr’s Mexican subsidiary, which was originally conceived in 2015 (See video below). Two major customers suggested the company should build an additional facility to be a local supplier to North America. It started the company there two years ago. Patrick says the biggest challenge of working in Mexico is the paperwork. He says there is significant employee turnover there but also many good workers. He also says he hasn’t encountered any corruption there so far. He says the Spanish language and Western culture was one of the driving factors behind building a plant in Mexico rather than in Asia. (21:55)

Patrick says business slowed for just a few months due to coronavirus. He says demand for automotive parts is at its peak during September and October, after which it will be easier to see where the company will be in the future. (25:50)

Patrick says that 99% Nagamohr’s work is automotive. The company was hit hard by COVID-19, with a reduction of more than 70% for two months. Business has picked up somewhat in the last few month. (27:00)

Patrick talks about something new he learned recently. He says two weeks ago at the beach he saw someone riding a special bicycle on water. (27:45)

Question: Do you prefer to work early or to work late?

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