Why the Machining Industry is Thriving, with Miles Free —EP. 149

By Noah Graff

Our guest on the show today is my friend Miles Free, Director of Industry Affairs at the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA).

Miles was actually the first featured guest on this podcast four years ago, and we are very thankful to have him back for episode 149. He is definitely one of the most passionate people I know about the machining world. It was a great conversation in which we covered an array of topics, such as tariffs, shop safety, electric cars, and even a bit about Ghostbusters.

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

Miles and I started the interview reflecting on the first episode we did together back in April of 2018. It was right around the time when President Trump was introducing tariffs on imported metals. Despite leaning conservative politically, Miles was very critical of the policy at the time and still is. He labels it the equivalent of implementing economic sanctions on ourselves—harsh sanctions. He reported to me that in December of 2021, for hot roll band, the US price for steel was $1,947 per ton. In Europe that same steel was $1,016 per ton, in China it was $634 per ton, and the world export price was $820 per ton. The policy was originally implimented to prop up the production of US steel mills. Today US steel mills are at 82.4% capacity, up less than 15% since the tariffs were implemented 

Despite the huge disadvantage in raw material costs, US manufacturing is currently thriving, which Miles attributes to the fantastic ingenuity of US shops. He says several months after the initial Covid-19 panic caused demand for parts to plummet, customers suddenly needed new parts and demand shot back up. US contract manufacturers were prepared to step up to the plate to fill the demand. In 2021, PMPA shops had their highest average sales ever for December, up 23% from the average sales of the last five Decembers. Sales were up 18% over the prior year.

Miles says he is not sure if reshoring is actually occurring but according to the last census report, exports of US manufactured goods were up 18% from 2020 to $1.1 trillion. 

Miles Free, Director of Industry Affairs with PMPA

Miles is a huge believer in the future of electric cars. He loves to reminisce about his first white paper for the PMPA back in 2003 in which he predicted a bright future for electric cars. Many association members said he was crazy at the time. Miles says today he can only think of five shops in the PMPA currently making automotive parts for the Big 3 automakers, but he can name a dozen PMPA members making parts for Tesla. 

He pointed outside his office window to show me his own Tesla Model Y, which he was able to buy from selling portion of his own investment in Tesla stock. He boasts that he spends 1.7 cents per mile driving the car. Prior to gas prices shooting up, his 2015 Honda Civic Hybrid got him 5 cents a mile. He estimates a conventional internal combustion engine car would get about 15 cents a mile. 

Miles made a point of covering the topic of safety in our interview. He says shops need to prioritize keeping their talented employees safe. He argues that if companies have a reputation for neglecting the safety of their people they will have trouble finding good talent. Also, the penalties for breaking safety laws can kill companies economically. Starting in 2022, the government passed a law that if a company even fails to post a sign with safety regulations they can be fined $14,502. Even accidental first offenses can trigger huge fines. It’s possible for a company to be fined $145,000 per violation per day.  

According to Miles, the EPA also has very harsh punishments for violations—harsh for gross violations that are obviously detrimental to the environment, but also harsh punishments for unnecessary regulations designed by people ignorant about the processes in question.

I told him that sometimes talking about the EPA makes me think about the scene in Ghostbusters when the the ignorant EPA agent shuts down the protection grid, releasing all of the captive ghosts. 

But I digress. 

Talking to Miles is always interesting and an upper because he is so passionate about our industry. If you want more of his wisdom, I suggest you check out his blog at pmpaspeakingofprecision.com and his podcast, Speaking of Precision: Mondays with Miles.

Question: What has been the most surprising thing to you about the machining business in the last year?

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Real Estate Populism

By Lloyd Graff

As Putin impersonates Hitler and attempts to steal a big piece of real estate with 44 million people, I’d like to discuss a few small pieces of the American real estate dream where ambitious folks are trying to build an investment safety net that will grow in value.

In the last five years, accelerated by COVID-19, Americans moved away from staying in hotels. They are seen as sterile, institutional, unsafe, and boring. The remarkable entrepreneurs who run Airbnb and their competitor Vrbo picked up on this trend early and figured out how to capitalize on it. When some observers saw the pandemic as their armageddon, they turned it into an opportunity.

Maybe pleasure travel would die for a while, but Americans travel from one place to another for millions of different reasons. Many are tired of hotel boxes, waiting at front desks, and sleeping on institutional beds with the wrong pillows.

The Airbnb business model is brilliantly thrifty in its use of capital. Let individual owners be the host. Airbnb is the enabler, the rental agent, who takes a commission off the top for their internet marketing, branding, and knowledge of the business. A multibillion-dollar enterprise was born from this contrarian idea. Conrad Hilton would have smiled if he was alive. 

In the last decade, hundreds of thousands of regular people have scraped together a few bucks, lined up bank loans, very cheap money until recently, and looked for properties, usually in areas they know well, planning to convert them into Airbnb rentals.

This week I spoke to a machinery business acquaintance who gave me a free education on building an Airbnb side business with his wife, who recently retired after 21 years as an airline attendant. Before entering the Airbnb business, Chris had little real estate experience, but he understood borrowing from a quality lender, the value of a well-connected real estate agent, and the power of the Airbnb brand. He moved from Chicago to Charlotte with his wife. His business office was his phone and home. He quickly realized that Charlotte was a spot that many people wanted to move to, and if he was ever going to take the property plunge, Charlotte was the place. 

Over the last few years, he bought three rental homes, all in Union County, a middle-class suburb outside of Charlotte, and gradually learned how to turn them into cash cows.

He told me the first thing to do when getting into the Airbnb business is to make sure an area is accepting of rentals and that there are no regulations to get in your way. A good real estate agent will know where to check before the buying process gains momentum. Chris, with his machinery selling experience, knew how to check the pricing comps and borrowing costs, which would establish price ground rules.

Airbnb, with its fees, takes around 14% of the rental proceeds. Short-term rentals tend to be more lucrative but require more work by a host. Cleaning costs money, bedding gets holes in it, and big parties alienate the neighbors quickly. 

Being an Airbnb landlord is a second job with a lot of annoyances, but Chris and his wife felt they could handle the task. They took the jump and bought their first house, hoping for the best. Over the next couple of years they purchased two more, despite the red-hot Charlotte home market. 

Chris’s wife welcomes each tenant and gives them a bottle of wine. She makes sure the towels are clean and ample. She is available in emergencies and Chris is handy enough to do a lot of repairs. 

 One house has been continuously rented by a single person whose own house burned down. Insurance has paid the rent for 18 months. That property brings in less money but is less trouble than the other two homes, which average 5 to 7 renter changes a month. 

Airbnb and Vrbo provide most of Chris’s renters. He says he and his wife average about $7,000 gross rental per month. For the lodgings with frequent renter turnover they try to screen the renters, but outward appearances can be deceiving. He said their biggest partier was a woman who was celebrating after earning her Ph.D. 

Chris would like to buy another property for short-term rental. The tax benefits with the depreciation have made these investments extremely worthwhile, but high prices in the Charlotte area have him sitting tight. Also, three homes are plenty of work for him and his wife at the moment. 

The Airbnb game is definitely not for everybody, but it seems like a nice side gig and a great opportunity to build wealth. It’s America, not Russia. Opportunity is all over the place if you have the guts and are willing to work. Have you tried it?

Questions:

What’s your favorite place you’ve ever stayed in your travels?

Would you stay at an Airbnb?

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Best of Swarfcast: Live Tooling and Accessories for CNC Swiss, with Jim Gosselin —EP. 114

By Noah Graff

Our guest on the podcast today is Jim Gosselin, owner and President of Genevieve Swiss Industries. Genevieve Swiss sells innovative accessories specifically for Swiss CNC lathes, such as live tooling and cutting tools, to combat the problems small parts manufacturers constantly deal with.

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

Main Points

Jim gives an overview of Genevieve Swiss. He says the company’s mission is to make the job of the machinists easier. If machinists have the right tools to get better efficiency and quicker setups then machining companies will be more profitable. (2:30)

Jim says he was always interested in mechanical stuff from a young age. He liked to take apart his toys as a kid to try to understand how things worked. He dropped out of high school in his Junior year and went into the military where he became a combat engineer. He summarized that job as “building things and blowing things up.” (3:00) 

After getting out of the military, Jim got a GED and took college courses at night. He worked at a machining company called Savage Arms in Westfield, Massachusetts, that made shotguns and other hunting equipment. In 1983 he became a programer and ran the new Citizen CNC machines that the company purchased. The machines had 2 turrets with 5 stations each, with cross drilling and milling capability. He says those machines were not actually sliding headstock. Rather, they were sliding guide bushing machines. The turret and the guide bushing slid together on the machines. (4:00)

In 1987 Jim became an applications engineer and salesperson at Brookdale Associates, a Citizen distributor in New England. In the late 1980s Brookdale Associates began building high pressure coolant systems for Swiss machines. He says before then, high pressure pumps were not used for Swiss turning. The company also sold a line of accessories, including tool holders for Swiss machines. In 2002, he and his colleagues traveled to Switzerland where they began a relationship with PCM, a company that sold high quality live tools. Jim thought that Brookdale would distribute PCM’s tooling, but it was a difficult year for the machining industry, so his boss didn’t want the risk of taking on a new product line. He told Jim if he wanted to start his own company he supported the idea and would be his best customer. That was the start of Genevieve Swiss. (5:45)

Jim says that when he started Genevieve Swiss he realized at the time that many Swiss operators were getting older and they were burning out because the Swiss machining process caused too many headaches. He decided his company’s mission would be to make Swiss machinists’ lives easier by supplying them with products that enable faster setups and better cycle times. (8:00)

Jim talks about developing gear-driven head live tools for Swiss machines with PCM. He says that prior to gear-driven live tools, typically live tools on CNC Swiss machines turned at 4000-5000 RPM for cross drilling or cross milling. He says this wasn’t efficient for end-mills that could be as small as a diameter of .020” or .030”. The slower turning speeds caused burrs and slower cycle times. The new gear-driven heads produced 3 times the output as the older technology. (9:25)

Jim talks about the products Genevieve Swiss sells. The company sells accessories specifically for Swiss machines such as live tools and cutting tools. It sells arbors for slitting as well as coolant that is specifically designed for high pressure delivery. He talks about a thread whirling head for a Citizen L20 that is designed to have coolant flow right through the head and then delivered to the cutters. (see video above) (10:30)

Jim says that chip control problems are one of the most significant hurdles for Swiss operators. He says often in medical work that uses difficult metals like 465 stainless, chips can come off the machine like ribbons. Genevieve Swiss is working with its insert tooling supplier UTILIS to sell laser ground chip breakers. (see demonstration video below) (12:40)

Jim talks about insert tooling developed by UTILIS in which coolant flows through the tool and is focused on the tool tip. (17:00)

Jim says most of the Genevieve Swiss’ innovations come from listening to customers on the shop floor. He says the company talks to customers and distributors to find out what machining problems operators are complaining about. (20:00)

Jim compares the construction of older Swiss CNC machines to those of today. He says that Swiss machines used to have heavier castings to achieve rigidity. While today’s Swiss machines are built with lighter castings, Jim says they are designed more intelligently based on factors such as stress analysis, which enables them to stay ridged. (21:30)

Jim says the incorporation of lasers is one of the most interesting recent innovations on Swiss machines. Lasers can do cutting, milling, cross drilling, and knurling. They also enable welding two parts together while still on the machine. He says though 3D printing is slow right now, it could be a disruptor in small parts manufacturing one day. He brings up a scenario of a Swiss machine that also incorporates 3D printing. (22:30)

Learn more about Genevieve Swiss at Genswiss.com.

Question: What are the biggest challenges you run into running CNC Swiss machines?

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Putin’s Long Game

By Lloyd Graff

This is how I see the battle for Ukraine, from the comfort of rich, bumbling America.

Vladimir Putin is Dictator of Russia, a miserable place to live.

To Putin, the people of Russia are pathetic pawns in a narcissistic lust for power. The power game is his life and passion. He is a planner. Unlike American Presidents, he does not worry about elections or popularity. He sees their preoccupation with winning elections as weakness and silliness. He uses guile and corruption, backed by terror, to advance his almost maniacal lust for power and recognition on the world stage, using Russia as his vehicle. This makes him a dangerous foe because he doesn’t have to worry much about criticism from within the country. If dissenters get too much traction he just has one of his well-trained goons kill them.

Putin has been planning to take over Ukraine since the Soviet Union disintegrated. The key to taking Ukraine was weakening NATO and neutralizing Germany. 

Germany is the richest and most economically powerful country by far in Western Europe. Putin was a KGB operative stationed in East Germany when the wall came down.

He saw how Germany prospered afterward, and it must have galled him. But he also saw the country’s huge weaknesses that he believed he ultimately could cultivate and use to take over Ukraine and Belarus, and reassemble the rest of the Soviet Union without the cost of a big shooting war.

Vladimir Putin, Russian President

The horrors of World War II made Germany and the rest of Western Europe quite pacifistic. Germans paid an incredible price for Hitler’s war and would do almost anything to avoid another military conflict.

Germany joined NATO, but they saw their role as funding it and having others do the military stuff.  

Putin understood this fear of war and planned on exploiting it, even if it took decades. To Putin, NATO was essentially American military strength with Europe paying as little of the bill as it could get away with. 

When Ukraine allied itself with NATO and sought to join it, Putin was enraged. So he waited for the United States to take Europe for granted and look more and more inward while developing its economic relationship with China. 

Unfortunately for Putin, Russia became increasingly impoverished, alcoholic, and shrunken in population. It had only three strengths: military power, fossil fuels, and Vladimir Putin’s brilliance at keeping power and pushing his goals.

Putin believed that if Russia could weaken Germany, he could gobble up Ukraine, unravel NATO, and be America’s equal. His problem was corrupting and entangling Germany in his web without war. 

His key to the puzzle was the Greens in Europe and especially Germany. It would take decades, but he knew the weakness of politicians and the power of money.

Putin was a fitness buff. He was tough, and fossil fuels were his spear and net to capture Germany.

A subtle long-term promotion of the idea that coal was dirty, nuclear was too dangerous, and wind and solar could ultimately fuel the continent, was sold to a sleeping European population. While the new green energy infrastructure was being built, Russia would provide the least awful fossil fuel, natural gas, through huge safe pipelines under the sea. 

Angela Merkel bought the idea and saw it as her vehicle to gain and maintain power. Meanwhile, her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, was artfully corrupted. As soon as he left power he became head of Nordstream AG and later Nordstream 2, the gas pipeline of which Russian oil Giant Gazprom is sole shareholder. Earlier this month he was nominated for Gazprom’s board.

Putin’s huge headache was American fracking, which kept the world oil prices down and could reduce Germany’s dependence on Russian gas. Clever entrepreneurs developed liquid natural gas which could float all over the world in huge tankers. 

But in 2020 Joe Biden became the American president. He thought he owed his election to the Greens and Progressives and shut down much of American fracking. The stars aligned for a 69-year-old Putin. COVID had reduced oil and gas demand worldwide. Prices fell, and frackers dependent on big borrowing were economically fragile. 

If there was ever a moment to move on Ukraine this was it. Biden was weak, America had COVID, Germany had a new leader. European countries were uninterested and almost totally militarily dependent on an inward looking USA. 

A ruthless, fit, dedicated Vladimir Putin now has 150,000 troops facing Kiev. Biden could probably stop the implementation of Nordstream 2. He could stimulate fracking production in the US, which would reduce demand for Russian gas and slow inflation.

Does Biden have the guts to do it, or will Putin get his dream of reassembling the Soviet Union with minimal losses?

Question: Will Putin’s gamble in Ukraine lead to his downfall?

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A More Intelligent Way to Hire, with Brian Balasia—EP. 148

By Noah Graff

Our guest on the podcast today is Brian Balasia, CEO and Co-Founder of TalentEi, a company that produces a software platform that matches employers and job seekers across a variety of sectors. Brian says the platform enables companies to hire superior people, more quickly, and at a better price than traditional hiring methods such as job descriptions and resumes.

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

Find us on Social:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/swarfcast

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/swarfcast/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/todays-machining-world/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/tmwswarfblog

Main Points

TalentEi’s software platform surveys hiring managers, asking them what they are looking for in a particular role. In addition to the obvious information like how many years of experience a candidate should have, the system asks managers questions about the day to day experience and the particular tasks the job requires. An example question would be asking if candidates are expected to learn things on their own, or if will they be receiving continuous coaching and instruction. 

When people apply for jobs on an employer’s website or on sites such as Indeed, their contact information goes into TalenEi’s database. Then TalentEi contacts the candidates and asks them to answer a series of questions tailored specifically for that position. After collecting data from employers and candidates TalentEi’s software places applicants into the spots where it feels they have the best chance to succeed at a company. It has the power to pinpoint positions at a company that management may have overlooked. It can even find job openings at different facilities if the company has multiple locations. 

Brian says there is a lot of waste in a traditional hiring system. TalentEi sets out to eliminate the waste using a system with common characteristics to the Toyota production model. He says contrary to what tons of employers are saying right now, there actually are a lot of good job candidates out there, but they are being overlooked or falling through the cracks when there are a high number of applicants. 

Brian Balasia, CEO and Co-Founder of TalentEi

One type of waste TalentEi tries to limit Brian calls queueing waste. It occurs when a company receives an abundance of job candidates. If a company has 100 spots and 200 applicants, it ends up choosing candidates in the order they apply, plugging them into arbitrary roles at the company simply because they are vacant. This type of hiring neglects to understand applicants’ strengths and needs, which results in placing them into jobs where they are not suited or they will not enjoy. Many people who could have been successful hires for a certain occupation turn out to be failures just because they were placed in the wrong shift. Queuing waste also occurs when good people are skipped over because they were so far at the back of the line of candidates they never got a chance to be evaluated. 

Employer bias is another cause of hiring waste that TalentEi tries to limit. It occurs when hirers come in with preconceived notions about why a candidate would or would not be a good fit for a company. Brian talks about one manufacturing company that decided they only wanted candidates with “prior manufacturing experience.” The problem was that there are so many different types of manufacturing companies and so many types of jobs in manufacturing companies. Many of the people the company hired because of their past manufacturing experience ended up being poor fits for their positions. Meanwhile, many qualified candidates who didn’t have past experience in manufacturing but could have been great fits in the company were passed over. Brian says it’s not uncommon for an employer to decide against interviewing a candidate simply because they were worried they couldn’t pronounce the candidate’s name correctly. The hirer, already bombarded with resumes, picks someone else to interview because it was hard to differentiate among any of the resumes in the first place. 

Brian says placing job candidates in positions they enjoy is a key goal for TalentEi. The company has found that when employees enjoy what they do, they do good work and don’t leave. The objective is to place people in jobs that fit their needs and strengths as well as satisfy the requirements of the companies that are hiring. The software takes into account things such as working hours, commute length, if the job requires social skills, if it requires patience to do one thing repeatedly. Brian says the key to his company’s success is that it attempts to treat applicants as individuals and people, rather than commodities.

Question: Are live job interviews unnecessary in your experience?

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Tracking Your Shop’s Performance, with Lauren Dunford—EP. 147

By Noah Graff

Our guest on today’s podcast is Lauren Dunford, CEO and cofounder of Guidewheel. Guidewheel produces a sensor that clips onto a machine tool’s power supply to collect data while it runs. The data helps manufacturers understand what processes on the shop floor need to be improved and guides them toward solutions.

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

Guidewheel’s sensor is a current transformer that clips around the first phase of the 3-phase electrical connection to a machine. This means it can be configured for use with virtually any type of machine tool, no matter how sophisticated. It monitors the electricity draw recording when the machine is running on load, idle, or off. The live data is transferred to the cloud where a software platform sends alerts to shops to inform them if the machine is functioning correctly. The software also analyzes the data in the context of what’s happening on the shop floor, layering in metrics such as production, quality and speed. This helps management understand which processes need to be improved upon. 

Lauren Dunford, CEO and Co-Founder of Guidewheel

Guidewheel’s data might reveal that various shifts differ in production output, pointing out inefficiencies of certain personnel. It could also reveal that some machines are poorly maintained or not well suited for certain tasks. Guidewheel’s sensors often show that machine changeover and setup are processes that could significantly be improved. When the sensors record that one worker averages 3 hours to change over a machine while another worker takes 30 minutes, a company can then observe both people working and compare their processes.

Companies often find that the culprit for slow setup or changeover time is that necessary tools for the job aren’t already next to a machine. When workers have to leave their machines to obtain the tools they need, they may have to walk across the shop floor where they could be held up by fellow employees or sidetracked by other distractions.

Guidewheel’s data helps companies cope with labor shortages by boosting their efficiency. Sometimes it produces data revealing that more employees are needed, justifying the cost of additional staff.

Lauren says typically a manufacturing company’s perceived utilization for its equipment is much higher than its actual utilization. For example, she sees high volume shops targeting 85% utilization while having actual utilization of 60-65%. She says low volume shops often have actual utilization of 30-40% or even lower.

I asked Lauren at the end of the interview if the increased efficiency was enabling people to work fewer hours. Her first reaction was that people are still working the same amount but output is being increased. However, she added that Guidewheel’s monitoring tools have enabled supervisors to spend less time at their shops because they don’t have to stand around watching employees and troubleshooting problems.

Questions:
What are the most inefficient processes in your work?
When are you least efficient in your daily life?

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From the Heart

By Lloyd Graff

Valentine’s Day is coming up this week. A Hallmark invention. But the idea of expressing your love or kindness or compassion to a person you care about is no joke. 

People have trouble communicating feelings. Not just people “on the spectrum,” but almost everybody on the planet has trouble connecting with people they care about.

One problem is the language of connecting. The hug, the kiss, the handshake, even the wink or a laugh, often connect more naturally than words. A gift is one way to express feelings. Often it’s a clumsy way, but sometimes it strikes the right note. I have found that the best gift is the unexpected item that expresses something unique about the relationship.

My wife and I have pots and pans we received 50 years ago as wedding gifts. Prosaic gifts, yes, but some days we are making chicken soup in a big stainless steel pot, and Risa and I will both think of Shirley Silverstein, who wanted us to have utensils that would last for the rest of our lives.

Revere Ware

Could the perfect Far Side comic greeting card say as much as that copper-clad Revere Ware?

When I think about gifts and holidays my thoughts turn to my father. Money and things meant a lot to him. He grew up during the Depression. Buying a Cadillac was hugely important to him to symbolize his business success. Yet, for his birthday all he wanted was a $2 white knit tie that he wore everyday to work to go with his tailor-made suits. He did not want other people to buy things for him.

Late in his life, I visited him by myself at his apartment in Florida. My mother had died several years earlier, and he was alone and feeling vulnerable.

My dad did not normally express his feelings easily and very seldom discussed his relationship with my mother, but he was in a pensive mood and said, “Lloyd, I wish I had given her more jewelry.” The remark hit me really hard because it was so unlike him. I knew he felt it deeply, but I really did not know what to say to him except that I thought my mother had never wanted for anything material.

I was seeing a psychotherapist on a regular basis in those days, and I couldn’t wait to discuss this with him. His name was Herb Cibul. I learned so much from him over the 10 years I worked with him. 

He told me that the jewelry my father emphasized symbolized the love and sexuality which he must have felt were lacking in his relationship with my mother. That nugget of knowledge had an enormous impact on me. I realized it was a really good thing to express my feelings clearly and outwardly to the people that I cared about.

I felt a genuine sadness for my father that he wanted to tell me about how he had come up short, at least in his own heart, with his most important relationship.

I don’t need Valentine’s Day to let my wife know how I feel about her. I write her love notes almost every week. They may be only a line or two, but they come from my heart. 

My dad and Herb Cibul taught me one of the most important lessons in my life.

Question: What was the most memorable gift you have given or received?

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Work Like a Lion

By Noah Graff

For those who don’t know yet, I’m going to have my first child in April. Many people are telling me that I won’t have any time of my own anymore. Life is going to consist of going to work and then coming home to be with my newborn son—and I’m going to love that as my new existence.

Right now, I spend a lot of time after work toiling on my weekly podcast, Swarfcast, along with some other creative projects. I know I’m going to have to alter my working habits to keep those projects going.

I have heard in the news recently about companies successfully implementing 7-hour workdays or 4-day workweeks. Bolt, a tech startup company in Silicon Valley, implemented a 4-day workweek last year. Since then, the 600-person company has grown the fastest since its inception. The founder, Ryan Breslow, believes the 4-day week was critical for the growth because the company’s employees felt happier and were extra focused at work. They approached their days with intense bursts of energy to get what they needed done. Breslow says they worked like lions as opposed to employees at most companies who work with little urgency like grazing cows.

It made me think back to one of my favorite Swarfcast episodes, in which I interviewed David Wynn, CFO of ABF Engineering, a Brown & Sharpe shop in Tennessee. David told me that his company gives its employees flexibility to work when they want and as long they want, provided they get their work done and work as a team.

I think in my job as a machinery dealer it would be difficult to change to 4-day workweek because most of the positions at Graff-Pinkert have little redundancy. I would be worried that customers would try to call us with opportunities, and then when we weren’t available they would call a different dealer who would answer the phone or return their email. 

I admit, I don’t always devour my to-do list like a lion. One rationalization I have for working less deliberately is that some of the longer than planned conversations I have with customers lead to serendipitous discoveries or grow important relationships. Also, sometimes I get off task on the Web looking for a piece of equipment and discover buried treasure that I would not have found if I had been so focused.

I know there are lots of inefficiencies in my day that if corrected could theoretically allow me to get more things done in less time. I could put limits on phone conversations, check email less, automate and outsource more tasks. I promise I am working on implementing these strategies at this very moment.

Everyone’s efficiency is a result of Parkinson’s Law—work expands to fill the time that’s available for its completion. Right now there’s no plans for Graff-Pinkert to reduce hours or shorten the workweek. But going forward I will still have to be more lion and less cow than ever before.

Questions: 

What tasks take up too much of your workday? 

Would you rather have a shorter workday or a shorter workweek?

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A Climate Change Fable

By Lloyd Graff

When my kids were young, I used to make up goofy bedtime stories. They were silly, with crazy characters. I called the main characters Ooga, Wooga, and Mooga. The kids laughed loudly and always begged for more.

For my readers today, I have decided to tell you one of those stories.

Long, long ago, about 1980, at a Paris coffee shop that stayed open until 3 a.m., Ooga, Wooga, and Mooga were sipping Turkish coffee and smoking cigarettes around midnight. Ooga said “I miss the good old days of Hitler, Stalin, and McCarthy in America.”

“Yeah, those were the days. Big lies, strong states, huge prisons,” said Wooga.

“Wouldn’t it be great if Communism could make a comeback? It’s all falling apart right now. I think the Germans are even going to tear down the Berlin Wall one of these days. Wouldn’t that be sad,” said Mooga.

Ooga chimed in, “We need a new ism or a new religion. Something based on fear, but without the ruthlessness of Hitler and Stalin. Something that the professors and the scientists and nice people would get behind without knowing that they were being used to bring on the new Communism.”

“We’re on to something,” said Wooga and Mooga. “Any ideas?”

Ooga said, “We have to get people scared. How about monsters?”

“Sounds too much like a comic book, not that there’s anything wrong with comics. I love Captain Marvel. How about volcanoes?” said Wooga.

“Not enough of them to really scare folks,” said Mooga.

I really like it here!

They puffed and sipped, ate a couple of stale croissants, and then Ooga said, “Freezing to death. Maybe if we could get enough folks to be terrified that their world of apples and lilies was going to turn into a refrigerator, and plant life was going to shrivel, and they would have to pick up and move to the Congo to survive on bananas and fight gorillas, we’d have something sensational to sell,” he said.

“Not so fast,” said Wooga. “Cold is cool, but I read an article that said we are in a sunspot. The temperatures are inching up a tad. We could recruit some scientists and bearded university nerds at Harvard and Oxford and the Sorbonne. They’ll believe anything if you give them a grant, and then they’ll tell everyone that hell is approaching.”

“Now we are getting warm,” said Ooga. “Sweat rolling down everybody’s brow, even in Siberia and Alaska. Glaciers melting. No snow skiing for the rich people,” he went on. 

“But we need something else for people to get paranoid about,” Mooga added to the party. “Any ideas?”

“We need some plagues and sickness,” said Wooga. “A lot of coughing and lung disease,” he said, puffing on his Camel cigarette.

“I’ve got it. Coal! Yeah, it’s black and yucky and miners look ugly coming up from the mines,” he added.

“What if we added all carbon fuels and threw in nuclear energy and terrified everybody with the specter of nuclear explosions at power plants,” said Ooga.

“Guys, I think we’ve got ourselves a new “ism” or a new religion. Christianity, Islam, Judaism will be yesterday. Climate change, global warming, they are a great new one-two punch. We need to get a few charismatic prophets and some venture capital money, buy off some writers and TV people, and we will be in business,” said Wooga. 

“We need one more thing to sell this to Bill Gates and George Soros, a slogan or a jingle,” said Ooga.

“The existential threat of climate change,” said Mooga as he doodled it on his napkin. 

“Dude, I think you just won yourself a Nobel Peace Prize,” laughed Ooga. 

And now we can all go to sleep.

Question: Do you see the existential threat of climate change as a fable?

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Machinery Auctions Off the Stand with Robert Levy, (Part II)–EP. 146

By Noah Graff

Today’s episode is Part II of our interview with industrial auctioneer Robert Levy. In Part I, I tried to get an understanding of what’s going on inside the mind of an auctioneer. In the second part of the interview, I asked Robert to give me some practical advice on how to be a successful bidder at an auction. 

The first tip Robert suggests for auction bidders is to talk to the auctioneer before the sale about what items they are interested in and even tell the auctioneer their spending targets. This advice first surprised me because I’ve always figured if an auctioneer knew a bidder’s price limit, they would do their best to push the item’s price up to that limit quickly. To me that’s not a great start for getting a good deal.

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Robert says if bidders come to him before the sale and promise they will buy items for what seem to be respectable prices, he will try to protect those buyers from getting into bidding wars and losing their desired items by small amounts of money. One method he uses to try to prevent bidding wars is controlling price increments for bids he will accept after the item reaches the target price. For instance, if a buyer tells him he can spend $100,000 for an item Robert will promise that he won’t allow the person to be outbid by a small amount like $1,500. Of course, if another bidder tops the customer by a significant amount like $15,000 he will allow the price to go up. The thinking is that a bidder will be less frustrated if they lose an item by large margin as opposed to a small one. 

Robert Levy, President of Levy and Associates

Robert does admit that you really have to trust an auctioneer before you share your target prices. He suggests asking around to research the reputation of an auctioneer before confiding in one. Call me cynical, but I would be scared to divulge my price target to any auctioneer. After all, Robert told me that it’s the auctioneer’s fiduciary responsibility to get the most money for their client. It seems like it would be difficult to truly be on the side of both the buyers and sellers. But perhaps in the end, it’s not about being on both sides, but rather, making buyers feel comfortable and earning their trust, which Robert says is one of the most important qualities of a good auctioneer.

In our experience at Graff-Pinkert, it has been helpful for us to ask auctioneers for specific information about items before a sale. We ask them if they will combine certain items into one lot if they naturally should go together. We also try to get a sense from them about what they think items will bring. 

Robert says it’s much harder to provide bid protection to buyers in online auctions than live ones because they are designed with the intention of creating bidding wars. In a standard online auction, in the last few minutes of bidding if a new bid is submitted, the expiration time for that item extends. Bidding on items can slowly climb for hours after the original closing time. His suggestion for buyers is to go into a sale with a specific budget, and stick to it.

Robert says he very rarely considers selling an auction item before a sale. He only does it in a circumstance where the offer seems considerably attractive to his clients. He doesn’t want to take the items out of a sale that attract the most bidders. Also, he often sees that after an auction ends the seller finds out they could have gotten an even higher price if they had left it in the sale.

When the manufacturing economy is strong, like it is currently, Robert says it’s a good time for the auction business. Prices go higher because there are more happy buyers. Also, during good times, assets switch hands more often because companies want to sell older equipment before they buy new equipment. During bad times, on the other hand, there are a lot of auction sales, but supply is high and demand is low, meaning equipment prices go low. He sees a favorable outlook for industrial auctions in the near term. Assuming manufacturing remains hot, as the supply chain gets better and people are able to receive new equipment they will want to sell more used equipment. 

I hope so.

Question: What piece of equipment do you wish you had the opportunity to purchase right now?

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