To Share or Not Share

Hamsters sharing a carrot

This is an unpaid, unprompted shout-out to the Precision Machined Products Association’s (PMPA) Listserve.

Every day, members jump on the association’s email forum with technical problems they encounter. It’s esoteric inside baseball stuff generally, far above my pay grade, yet invariably several folks quickly offer their unique experience in solving the tough machining challenges and other shop issues that come up for people living in cubicles of doubt.

A single company could never aggregate a fraction of the knowledge located in the heads of members of this small trade association.

One thing that makes the Listserve work so well is that it has a few very simple ground rules, some of which are not even articulated, yet are well understood by the group. One rule is that technical members who join the PMPA at significant cost, partly to gain access to the members at meetings, must never use the Listserve as a sales tool. Another is to always be helpful and never condescending when giving advice to other members.

A few years ago a particularly egocentric and bombastic PMPA member announced on the Listserve that he would never give out proprietary information that he had learned through hard experience. He mocked his peers for giving away the “family jewels” to potential competitors in the association. Previous to this incident he was already considered a bully by many members and eventually he was ostracized from the Listserve. Today he no longer is a PMPA member.

I know there are many other professional groups with wonderful collegial exchanges on the Web, but the PMPA cadre of dedicated online savants like Dan Murphy of Tsugami, Bob Drab of Corey Steel, and Miles Free of the PMPA staff seem unique in their willingness to be highly accessible resources, always willing to interrupt their workdays to give help to their struggling peers. The cool thing is to see competitors or possible future competitors jump into the colloquy to give valuable, hard-earned knowledge to help each other.

I am a member of the Machinery Dealers National Association (MDNA) and I cannot imagine my peers using a Listserve format to offer advice to one another on how to value machinery, though on a one on one basis I have experienced dealers sharing knowledge, but in a guarded way.

My one critique of the PMPA is that it has been only moderately successful in marketing the Listserve’s value to potential members in the machining universe. For the relatively modest price of admission to the PMPA organization, members get the cumulative knowledge of potentially thousands of seasoned pros, many of whom will unselfishly attempt to solve the most onerous of machining problems.

Question: Would you share hard-won expertise with a competitor in a trade group?

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12 thoughts on “To Share or Not Share

  1. dave

    I cannot and will not share proprietary materials, processes, dimensions and algorithms that my employer has developed over the years for this companies products. But I will share general machining knowledge and tricks without reserve. I am a toolmaker by trade & certs, but have always helped fellow machinists. Others helped me through my apprenticeship and after, so its only fair to pass it along.

  2. tom hempfling

    Absolutely, I’m on the PMPA website daily. It is a Godsend, and I contribute when I can. The free exchange of ideas is the driving force of innovation.

  3. Jim Fetcko

    My company is a long standing associate member of the pmpa and I regularly share information that I have learned over the years. Some of which has come via the PMPA events and networking. I personally feel that the many resources and relationships gained through this association are invaluable and certainly many, many times over the cost of membership. Like most things, you must be willing to truly embrace the association to realize the benefits but make no mistake they are there, just ask members like Dan, Bob and Miles, or any other truly active member for that matter. I am currently serving the association as a member of the marketing committee and anyone interested in learning more about the PMPA or membership opportunities is certainly welcome to contact me at their most convenient opportunity.

  4. Tom

    This was a very interesting article. This type of sharing is done all the time in the open source community as well as boards such as CNCzone, or LinuxCNC on freenode IRC.

    I find it interesting how 3d printing technology has been known for 30 years and it wasn’t until the reprap community formed that this technology has really taken off. I’m in the process of building my own 3d printer as a fun project at home, and plan to apply what I’ve learned from it at work. It is amazing what has been developed with people working co-operatively. The wheel doesn’t have to be re-invented by each individual working alone, but people make incremental improvements that are shared that move the technology forward.

    If the US wants to re-establish itself in manufacturing it’s not going to happen by everyone playing with a closed hand. Obviously, there are certain core technologies, know how, techniques you’re not going to blab about. ( My company helps me pay my mortgage…) but.. helping a non-direct competitor, why not.

    Btw… 80% sure those are Guinea Pigs not Hamsters you got pictured there.

  5. Peter @ Polygon

    We joined the PMPA in 2011 and I am also beside myself at the level of commitment each member has towards helping the others. We’ve been able to participate and reach out to other members with our own problems. The staff is always accessible, which is also impressive. Not all of the members are competitors, but I don’t mind sharing some of our experiences. The loyalty of this group is real.

  6. John Bressoud

    I am always glad to engage in conversation with a competitor, they are people too. But the information I would share would be in the area of industry knowledge. Beyond that I might phrase it as a question, “How are you going to address the problem of………?”.

  7. Greg Hale

    BY FAR, the most helpful information on the web for machine shops is the forum. Well managed, not bloated will ads, the folks on PM are knowledgeable, friendly, and always willing to help. And best of all, it is FREE.

  8. Randy Lusk

    The cost of membership in the PMPA pales by comparison to the wealth of knowledge and troubleshooting techniques that have been open shared with us. It has allowed us to not only solve problem, but more importantly avoid problems. Another fabulous thing is being able to find sourcing recommendations especially when equipment issues arise and spare parts are no longer available. Many machines we operate everyday are no longer supported as new, because a manufacuter has close long ago. Listserve ROCK!!

  9. Miles Free

    This is the first time I have been called a ‘savant’ that there wasn’t a qualifier in front of it… Thank you Lloyd. But it is really about the members. Our members are commited to keeping manufacturing competitive and sustainable in North America. That means that we understand that we are all in this together. What differentiates PMPA’s listerves from the “free sites” on the web is that we are professionals, known people with real shops, real jobs, with demonstrated commercial experience in their areas of expertise. No one is hiding behind “handles” or “online personas.” This allows everyone to understand the credibility of the response or suggestion, based on the experience and trust of the known member. Everyone on the Lists knows the value of an hour, a shift, or a week of lost machine time and so provide their possible solutions on a real time basis. PMPA is truly a sharing community, the Listserves are just one of our deliverables, thank you for recognizing (and sharing with your audience) their value.

  10. Albert B. Albrecht

    absolutly not – it is a competitive market and if a company has some advantage in processing, machining, or engineering they need to protect it

  11. Peter @ Polygon

    Practical Machinist has it’s place, it’s been a great place for us to bounce ideas off of others, get a wide variety of opinions, or see how most guys approach a certain task. But PMPA listserves are answered by professionals who usually list their credentials and company names. Because their identity isn’t completely hidden behind usernames, it’s easier to trust who they are and what they tell you.

  12. James Sylvester

    I agree sharing is an exciting passion of most machinist. They have tricks they’ve learned over the years and if you don’t know something ask. That’s the way we all appreciate learning from our piers.


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