The Sweet Tango of Business

Thoughts while making applesauce for the winter.

Is the screw machine the Winesap apple of machining? I was talking shop with some apple orchard owners at a couple of farmers markets over the weekend. I asked why there were virtually no old varieties like Gravenstein and Winesap sold anymore. Even the more common Jonathan is scarce. They said the answer was pricing power and demand. People will pay $3 per pound for Honey Crisp and Jonagold. For Gala and Macintosh they can shop the supermarket and buy them for 99 cents. The farmers are doing what business people do, planting the hot varieties, and chopping down the commodity apple trees.

We saw this in our used machinery business, Graff-Pinkert & Co., as people pruned their National Acmes and Wickmans and brought in CNC lathes and Hydromats. Even with the refocus, the pricing power of screw machine producers eroded in the 1990’s and 2000 decades. My radar tells me that this weakness in the marketplace has ended and has now reversed. Using the apple metaphor for machining again, screw machines are now “heirloom” technology.

As the skills have gone away the people who can figure out the mystery of the old cam operated multis can compete with the generic Mexican tomatoes of machining, the “Chinese bushings and Indian fittings” that are just mushy enough to be irritating.

The new “hot” apple is the Sweet Tango. It is similar to the Honey Crisp variety, but a little sweeter—same crunch as the Honey Crisp with a wonderful flavor.

The owner of a machining firm has an orchard of machines. The smart ones are constantly clearing the machine tools that do not have pricing power. They are continually planting the “in” new trees because they take years to produce quality fruit. But for those with patience and marketing skill there is also a place for the “heirlooms” to launch a comeback.

We are finally beginning to see it on the few well tended screw machine orchards that are left.

Question: Does your business have pricing power?

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3 thoughts on “The Sweet Tango of Business

  1. Gus Madison

    Your article reminds me of what has been witnessed in this small midwestern town. An American bearing was bought out by the japs several years ago. When they came to view the factory before purchasing, it’s reported that as they walked into a large room full of Acmes churning out bearing races, they laughed at the ‘heirloom’ screw machines. They announced they would all be replaced by modern and more productive CNC’s.

    Well, the laugh was on them when they purchased the place and found out just how productive those machines, their operators and setup men really were. And economical! That was many years ago and those machines are still in there making bearing races.

    I did a little job for an employee of the place last week and ask him about what was new at the factory, etc. He informed me there was talk of finally starting to phase out the screw machines but nothing has happened yet. I do know for a fact that many of the men and women who started with the company from day one have since retired and a wealth of talent and knowledge of the machines went with them for sure. As anyone who’s been around that type of machinery knows, a good mechanic and setup man takes years to train.

    (old) Gus

  2. Joe Dvorak

    Running simple formed pin jobs on a B&S with a Lipe, the cnc can’t economically compete. We also made the move to the cnc world for close tolerance work, but there will always be jobs for screw machines.
    As far as talent… Some of you are missing the boat on the younger generation of gearheads. These kids know they are not CEO material. They are realistic with their goals and extremely motivated to learn a trade. As my seasoned journeymen disappeared I trained the younger generation. From not knowing how to spell Sharpe to doing set-ups in less than a year. Our production is up, morale is up, and most important, profits are up.The screw machine is alive and here to stay.

    Brown and sharpe forever!!!
    …Or at least until I die and my wife sells the place…



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