Swarfcast Ep. 25 – Brett May on Keeping Cam Screw Machines Relevant

By Noah Graff and Rex Magagnotti

We interviewed Brett May of BME Inc. Screw Machine Attachments for today’s podcast. Brett’s mission in business is to make old cam multi-spindle screw machines like National Acmes, Wickmans, and New Britains into productive money makers in today’s competitive machining environment.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast with Brett May.

Brett builds unique attachments which eliminate secondary operations that many people would put on a mill-turn CNC to finish, or run on an accurate but achingly slow Swiss-type machine. When he does his magic he turns supposed clunkers into enormously valuable machine tools.

Brett sees an old Acme and visualizes value, where others see a candidate for the scrap heap. As part of the BME value proposition, he also rebuilds multi-spindle machines, particularly National Acmes.

Question: Have you given up on non-CNC equipment? Why?

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Can a Machine Sniff the Market?

By Lloyd Graff

I am not a big stock trader, but I have a portfolio of stocks in my IRA, which is a backstop for the volatility of the used machinery business.

Or at least I used to think so.

I know stocks go up and down. I know that when stocks go up a lot, I break up my day to check them. It is usually a reliable sell signal. When they are trending down and I don’t want to look, it is a reliable buy signal. Of course, being a sheep like most people, I rarely do that. I am in the market for the long term (at 74?), so I generally follow the passive approach of buying a Vanguard Fund and sit and hold.

Lately, stocks have been a yo-yo on a long string — a thousand points up or a thousand down on the Dow almost every day. The trained seals on Bloomberg and CNBC and their lackeys from the big investment funds parade onto the sets to explain why the markets are headed up or down. It’s becoming ever clearer that they are even stupider than I am, or they are being paid to deliberately babble impenetrable nonsense.

The fact is that most hedge funds lost money in 2018. Some funds are shutting down. It is pretty simple to see what’s going on. Machines have taken over the stock market. Computerized trading now comprises 85% of the daily volume, and machines are ruthless, headless sheepherders. They sniff a trend (can a machine sniff?), and in a nanosecond they sell or buy a sheaf of stocks, at which point all the sheep follow them.

To push the metaphor to the ridiculous, the sheep are on a teeter-totter and Vanguard Funds are on a yo-yo. Algorithms rule and investors get more nauseous with each bounce.

The babblers try to rationalize the see-saw ride, but being rational about the irrational is folly. They cannot go on TV and admit that the great old game of investing has been usurped by algorithms and artificial intelligence which have institutionalized stupidity on Wall Street.

Folks, this is a bad trend, because rational human beings are going to sell their shares and put them into gold or Bitcoins or U.S. Treasuries, and a traditional trove of value, publicly held companies, will shrink in value. This would be a disaster for the economy because going public is a good way for small companies to attract capital for further growth.

However, there is a way out of this computerized trading mess — force the computers to wait. Let them trade every 15 minutes. If they violate the rules call a personal foul on them. Five fouls and they are out of the game for a week or a month. Hire some good referees and pay them a million bucks or two to make sure the game goes back to human beings. This is what the casinos in Vegas would do if machines were screwing up their businesses.

While we are at it we can straighten out the destruction of privacy by Facebook, and the obliteration of small retail stores by Amazon.

Let 2019 be the year people strike back at the tyranny of technology. The new password is HUMANSWINONE.

Question: Which investments do you put money in?

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Swarfcast Ep. 24 – Albert Lettman on Lean Manufacturing Around the Globe

By Noah Graff

On today’s podcast, I interviewed Albert Lettmen, a Lean Six Sigma and Quality Systems consultant and educator who has worked for decades with prominent manufacturing companies around the world. Albert grew up in Jamaica, studied business in Scotland, and then worked for companies in Europe, China, Canada and the United States. I was surprised when Albert explained to me that a company eliminating waste and boosting efficiency does not necessarily translate to firing a lot of workers. Over the years I have heard many people in the machining business talk about incorporating Lean Manufacturing into their organization, but I must confess that until this interview the concept of “Lean” remained a mystery to me.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast with Albert Lettman.

Question: What areas do you think a consultant could help in your business?

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The Elusive Quarterback

By Lloyd Graff

I’ve loved pro football since the days of Johnny Unitas. Dropback quarterbacks have dominated the game, but in recent years defense has become more prominent. Now the sport is swinging toward a more elusive running quarterback. With this swing, another interesting trend has been evolving. The quarterback position has become more “athletic,” and the players coming to dominate it are primarily young and African American.

I’ve always regarded the National Football League as the most racist of the major sports. Yes, about 80% of the players are African American, but traditionally the quarterbacks have been White. The recent dust-up with Colin Kaepernick, an African American quarterback who ironically was raised by White parents, highlighted the deep-seated neanderthalism of the ownership, administration, and hardcore pro football fans.

Among this year’s playoff teams, five are led by young African American signal callers. Russell Wilson of Seattle, Lamar Jackson of Baltimore, Deshaun Watson of Houston, “Dak” Prescott of Dallas, and Pat Mahomes of Kansas City are all dynamic young stars. The myth in the bad old days was that Black quarterbacks didn’t have the savvy, intelligence, and leadership ability to be NFL quarterbacks. That has finally changed, as the ability to avoid 300-pound rushers has begun to replace the quick-release-but-immobile Tom Brady and Phillip Rivers style.

The Elusive Russell Wilson

Improvising and throwing on the run, epitomized by Russell Wilson when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2015, has truly altered the quarterback position. Nevertheless, the stone-age thinking still dominant in the NFL pushed Lamar Jackson down to 32nd pick in the 2018 draft. Despite being probably the best player in college football during two seasons at Louisville, some pro football GMs were thinking he should switch to wide receiver or defensive back, reflecting the bias against “athletic” Black quarterbacks who could advance the ball in ways other than by throwing sideline routes.

The elusive quarterbacks have proven what should have been an obvious fact. If a quarterback has 5 or 6 seconds to enable 5 or 6 receivers to get open, he has a better chance for a completion than chucking the ball in 1.5 seconds like the incredibly accurate, but relatively immobile, Brady or Rivers style.

But if quarterbacks like Wilson or Mahomes win themselves five extra seconds, they will usually do it at the expense of the ideal throwing position. They will throw off their back foot or sidearm or even with two hands like I’ve seen Wilson do. Their style is not classic Johnny Unitas high-top-shoes football. But, wow, can they put up points and excite a fan like me!

Wild Card Weekend was an interesting test of the mobile athletic quarterback versus the classic old-school, accurate, “statue” style. The games were not high scoring at all. Defenses seemingly were primed to bottle up the shorter running QBs. Two of the all-time great pocket passers, Phillip Rivers of the L.A. Chargers and Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, demonstrated that if you have a great offensive line to block for you and you have incredible composure, courage, and vision, you do not have to be evasive to be successful. Nick Foles of the Eagles also held up well against a superb Chicago Bears defense, as he did last year when he led Philly to the Championship.

To me, the conflicting styles of quarterbacking only make the game more fascinating. I think we will now be seeing more offensive linemen becoming first-round draft picks. The effectiveness of the Indianapolis guards and tackles in keeping Andrew Luck’s uniform clean against a tremendous Baltimore Ravens defense enabled Luck to dominate their game in the first half. Fabulous offensive linemen, like Jason Peters of Philly and Quenton Nelson of Indy, are game changers if you have an old-school quarterback to protect.

This week’s games should be great. Will Tom Brady defy age and immobility to lead the Patriots? Will Pat Mahomes of Kansas City show how he threw for 50 touchdowns this season? The game is changing, but the remarkable standstill, old-school quarterbacks are still holding up well.

Question: Which type of quarterback do you prefer watching? Russell Wilson or Tom Brady?

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Swarfcast Ep. 23 – Reflections on the Machining Business 2018

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

In today’s podcast, we reflect on the machining world in 2018 through the lens of what went right and what went wrong for Graff-Pinkert’s used machine tool business and Today’s Machining World.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

One key observation from 2018 is that Graff-Pinkert is becoming more reliant on our extensive knowledge of the equipment market rather than the cam machine refurbishing business, which historically has been Graff-Pinkert’s base business. Brokering the sale of modern CNC multi-spindles and consulting with customers on buying and selling machining businesses have become vital revenue streams.

As for Today’s Machining World, Swarfcast is our most exciting addition. The podcast is growing, but we admit it has been more of a challenge than we expected to convert readers to listeners. Many people tell us that they don’t have time to listen to a podcast. To that I reply that the beauty of a podcast is that you don’t have to consume it all in one sitting and you have the opportunity to listen while driving or exercising or doing chores. Also, recorded interviews give us the ability to provide more in-depth stories than blogs.

Sit back enjoy today’s podcast as we reflect on these topics, as well as China, Trump, gratitude and marriage. Happy New Year!

Question: What was the best thing that happened to you in 2018?

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Thoughts going into the New Year

By Lloyd Graff

It’s my birthday today as I write this, and I’m looking forward to a New Year.

If you read the papers (I still read the sports page) you’d think the economy was sinking into a worldwide sewer, but if you look at the stats and feel the vibe around you in America you would have a totally different feeling.

My gut feeling is that bankers and financial speculators (right at the bottom of my economic intelligence scale) are joining the herd in yelling that the sky is falling.  Part of this lemmingness derives from the intelligentsia’s abhorrence of Donald Trump, so they are praying (probably the wrong word) for economic disaster to bury him.  They can’t stand the success of the American economy during his first two years in office and have convinced themselves that it cannot, and must not, continue.  Convince the dummies in the hinterlands that they are, or soon will be, underwater, and they will start to believe it and hide their pennies under a rock.  And soon we will be in the recession they are predicting.

The Federal Reserve continues to live in its insular parallel universe raising interest rates every few months because their playbook, and God knows who wrote it, says that’s what you should do when people are happy and actually making enough dough to save a buck.  They are so bright and enlightened that they feel it is their ordained right to mess up a good thing, because otherwise we might have 3% inflation in 2020 even though they can’t get the 10-year treasury yield to stay over 3%.  The interest rate barometer of belief in American inflation over the next 10 years is stating emphatically that the Fed is wrong about inflation, and oil prices have dropped $20 a barrel in three months, but the brilliant old men at the Fed are convinced it will take a Brink’s truck of bills to buy a head of broccoli in a couple of years if they don’t starve the economy now.  It’s the usual “good is bad” rubric of the supposed smart people.

2019, Chinese Zodiac Year of the Pig

In the “real world” of machine tools and precision parts where I spend much of my time a lot of interesting things are happening.

For the first time in about 25 years the Chinese are on their back foot.  The mass exodus of manufacturing to China has reversed.  One major multinational firm, which I cannot mention by name, is moving a lot of its production of machined parts out of China.  It will not all come back to the U.S., but a significant chunk will.  Being dependent on China is becoming too dangerous for precious supply lines.  The price differentials are no longer large enough to justify the risks.

Meanwhile, companies from all over the globe are looking to relocate here.  Graff-Pinkert has been asked by numerous foreign manufacturers to find them an opportunity to buy in America.  From their vantage point the U.S. is safe and still relatively unregulated compared to Europe or South America.  Also its taxes are lower.

Politically, America is a bit messy now with the Trump hating reaching full pitch.  But look at the European Experiment.  The European Union looks extremely fragile from here.  England could have a Labour government headed by an ardent Socialist if Brexit is a failure.  Italy’s government is chaotic, though that is hardly anything new.  France has riots because poor people are waking up to the fact that the French state has not delivered the goodies they believe they deserve.  Meanwhile, the Germans sneer at their stupid neighbors but are almost totally dependent on their buddy Vladimir Putin for natural gas after shutting down those awful nonpolluting nuclear power plants.

Meanwhile the European intelligentsia have convinced themselves that they are the smart ones to save the planet with electric cars.  I think they will be surprised when people still want to buy the reliability of gasoline for a while.

Thank goodness the Europeans are united on climate change.  Unfortunately it means nothing except allowing them to feel good blaming the Americans while the Chinese and Indians are the real offenders in the carbon war.

Question: Do you think 2019 will be good for you economically?

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Swarfcast Ep. 22 – Federico Veneziano on Machining Business Around the World

By Noah Graff

Scroll down to listen to the podcast with Federico Veneziano.

On today’s podcast we interviewed Federico Veneziano, COO and CFO of American Micro, a 100 person machining company near Cincinnati, Ohio. In the interview Federico compared the various philosophies he has observed in machining companies throughout Europe, China and the United States.

Federico grew up in northern Italy and got his first job as a CNC machine operator when he was 12. He studied engineering in Italy and worked in several shops until he was hired by DMG as a service technician in his early 20s. For several years at DMG he worked on machines in shops all over the world, and in 2005 he was assigned a large project to install a Gildemeister GMC35 at American Micro in Batavia, Ohio. After observing Federico’s work on the project American Micro’s management saw great potential in Federico and he joined the company the following year.

Question: What is the best way for a machining company to find good employees?

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Barber School

By Lloyd Graff

Sometimes you can learn a lot from getting a haircut.

I’ve been going to the same barbershop for 20 years.  My needs are simple.  Same hair style since I was 12.  It’s a 15-minute trim.

My old barber, Ed, died several years ago, and his employee Erin bought the shop.  She inherited my head, I guess, and as a creature of habit I just continued the monthly routine.  I rarely make appointments with her ahead of time, preferring to call her when I know I have a free half hour.  She usually can fit me in on the day I call, but lately I’ve been having trouble fitting into her schedule.  She runs a one-person shop with an occasional helper coming in.  She does not work Sunday and Monday and is on a 9-5 schedule with Saturday ending at 2:30.

A couple of months ago I needed a haircut and had procrastinated until the last minute.  I was going to a wedding, and my hair was getting a bit sloppy.  I called Erin for an appointment for Friday afternoon or Saturday, and she told me she had nothing available.  I figured she could stay a little later or sandwich me in, and I requested that.  She would not fit me in, so I had to look for options.

An expanding Midwest supermarket chain had recently moved into the neighborhood named Meijer.  I had noticed on one of my infrequent visits to the store that it had a Great Clips barbershop that always seemed to be doing a thriving business.  I also needed to buy some strawberries and yogurt at the time and decided I would check out the shop.

The attitude was refreshing the second I walked in the store.  I was heartily welcomed, and the person who greeted me said she could cut my hair immediately.  I cruised into a chair, gave her my hair specs, and she pleasantly cut my hair, quite professionally, in 17 minutes start to finish.  The tab was $11 for a “senior.”  I was so pleased I gave her a $5 tip.  My cost at Erin’s shop, which was much more sterile than Great Clips, was $25 with a tip.

Erin, my barber, became my former barber that day.

As a student of business I understand how big chains like Great Clips and Sport Clips are killing off the small guys, and there is something sad about that.  But the clear fact to me after that first haircut in the Meijer superstore building was that I like this approach more than the Erin approach I had clung to.

I also realized that a small business like Today’s Machining World and Graff-Pinkert cannot afford to disappoint its customers, because they always have other options.  I knew this, of course, as a business veteran, but when it was demonstrated to me as a customer it had extra impact.

Erin has a real problem as a one-man band who wants a “life,” but as a client, I do not care.  I want my haircut when I want my haircut, and if I do not get it I look for another option.  If that option turns out to be significantly better for me she loses me as a client.

It is a lesson to teach employees who may take a cavalier approach to deliveries.   The customer has their needs.  The needs may conflict with your well-laid plans or unexpected breakdowns.  And they don’t care – nor would you.

Question: Do you prefer a private barber shop or a chain?

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Swarfcast Ep. 21 – John Saunders, Entrepreneur and Self-taught Machinist

By Noah Graff

Scroll down to listen to the podcast with John Saunders.

In today’s podcast we interviewed John Saunders, founder of Saunders Machine Works and the creator of the NYC CNC YouTube channel. John is an innovative entrepreneur who lives and breaths CNC machining. When he was 24 he had an idea to sell an automatically resetting steel target for practicing firearms, but he had no engineering background, no CAD experience and no machining experience. After working on a prototype with a contracted engineer he decided that before he would pursue production of his product he wanted to fully understand the production process.

He bought a Taig CNC milling machine and put it in his one-bedroom New York City apartment. He quickly realized he was passionate about CNC machining and taught himself to use his machine on nights and weekends for two years. Using resources on the Web, instructional DVDs and New York’s MakerSpace NYC community he eventually gained the skills to machine a prototype of his automatically resetting target by himself. Since his first time experimenting with his Taig until today he has religiously documented his machining projects on YouTube and now NYC CNC has acquired over 273,000 subscribers.

Today Saunders with a staff of six employees, runs a machine shop in his hometown of Zanesville, OH. His company runs an intensive training course on machining and welding, and it uploads at least one YouTube video a week about machining. He also cohosts a weekly podcast where he discusses his challenges running a small machining business.

Question: What practical skills have you learned on the Internet?

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Football Breather

By Lloyd Graff

I needed a football weekend badly.  It had been a week of business travel, end-of-the-month tension, end-of-the-year push, and what I really wanted was to watch some competitive football on TV and forget about business.  Wow, did I ever get what I was wishing for.

First game I watched was Oklahoma versus Texas for the Big 12 Championship.  I wanted to watch this game for one reason.  “Who is this kid, Kyler Murray, playing quarterback for the Sooners?”

He didn’t play last year because Baker Mayfield won the Heisman for them and became the Number 1 pick in the NFL by the Cleveland Browns.  Mayfield threw the ball a million times a game, and Oklahoma scored 60 points just for the fun of it.  I wanted to know if Kyler Murray was the real thing or the next Tim Tebow.

Guys, this Kyler Murray is the real thing.  Against a very capable Texas defense he showed accuracy, passion, and phenomenal quickness as a runner.  Oklahoma beat Texas 39-27, got into the National Playoffs, deservedly, and Murray probably won himself the Heisman Trophy.  And the amazing thing is that Murray is also a terrific baseball prospect.  I foresee him as a Top Ten NFL pick, similar to quarterbacks like DeShaun Watson and Russell Wilson.  Loved watching that game, but it only got better.

The late-afternoon game was Alabama versus Georgia, #1 against #4 in the college rankings.  Alabama was last year’s National Champion, top ranked all year behind the “Throwin’ Samoan” Tua Tagovailoa, who was recruited out of Hawaii to play in Tuscaloosa.

Tua had put up amazing numbers all season and ‘Bama has been completely dominant, but Saturday Georgia was even better—most of the game.  The Bulldogs led by two touchdowns in the middle of the third quarter and had completely ruined Tagovailoa’s game with a brutal pass rush.

The back story for the Crimson Tide is that its coach, Nick Saban, who everybody loves to hate, except his players, had replaced Jalen Hurts, who had brilliantly led the team for two seasons, with the Throwin’ Samoan because he was a far superior passer.  But Tua couldn’t deal with the pressure Saturday afternoon and finally was forced out of the game with an ankle injury.  In comes Hurts to finish the game and come back from a seemingly insurmountable Georgia lead.

The rap on Hurts was that he was a lousy passer, but on this Saturday he threw like Joe Namath.  Alabama rallied, and Georgia crumbled.  With very little time remaining Hurts bluffed a pass and ran a quarterback draw play for the winning touchdown.  It was an incredibly emotional finish when the substitute, who everybody thought should have left “Bama when Saban benched him, embraced his coach who was almost in tears on the podium accepting the Conference trophy.  I felt like crying sitting in front of my TV in Chicago.  This is why I love football in December.

On Sunday the Chicago Bears played the New York Giants without their starting quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky.  The Bears are trying to go from last to first in their division and had an 8-3 record going into the game, but with Chase Daniel, a career backup at quarterback, against a team with a still-capable Eli Manning and Rookie-of-the-Year running back Saquon Barkley, in New York, it was going to be a tough game.

The Giants played better than the Bears, particularly in the second half.  With less than two minutes left in the game the Giants punted the ball to the Bears end zone and with fantastic athleticism downed the ball on the one-yard line.  The Bears were down a touchdown.  On the first play Chase Daniel throws a short pass to Taylor Gabriel.  The Giants defender punches the ball out of his hands, and the fumble is recovered by New York on the ten-yard line.

But the Bears did not give up.  The Giants played traditional safety-first football, figuring that a field goal puts them up 10 points, a seemingly insurmountable lead with one minute left in the game and the Bears with only one timeout.

This is FOOTBALL in the NFL.  The Bears took the kickoff and quickly marched down the field.  They were stopped deep in Giants’ territory and opted to kick a field goal to save time.

With less than a minute left, the only long-shot chance the Bears had was to try an onside kick.  Only 3 of 39 such kicks had been successful this season, but the Bears recovered the ball when the overrated, self-proclaimed Giants’ superstar O. J. Beckham, Jr., casually sauntered to the bouncing kick allowing the frantic Bears to recover it.

With just a few seconds left, the Bears moved the ball towards the end zone culminating with a halfback pass by the team’s star, Tarik Cohen, a 5’7” dynamo from Bunn, North Carolina, for a touchdown at the buzzer.

The Bears lost in overtime, but the comeback was fantastic.

I was still not totally footballed out, so I checked out the Sunday-night game, Pittsburgh Steelers versus the L.A. Chargers.  You watch this game because it is Phillip Rivers versus Ben Roethlisberger, both Hall of Fame quarterbacks who have weathered a hundred injuries and concussions but play with a passion that even a baseball nerd can enjoy.

It was another nutty game of two totally different halves.  Pittsburgh rushed Rivers like madmen early, and Rivers struggled, even though he has the fastest release in the game.  L.A. racked up two yards rushing in the entire first half and trailed 21-3.

Seemingly, the Steelers were exhausted after their brilliant start, and Rivers began a counter-assault.  Players on both teams were dropping like flies in the contest, but Rivers kept throwing, and his top receiver, Keenan Allen, kept catching (14 receptions).  Pittsburgh’s big lead melted, and the Chargers pulled ahead in the end with a winning field goal.

I was exhausted, but exhilarated.  I was looking for a football breather from real life, and this weekend gave it to me.

Question: Do you enjoy the violence of football?

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