More Progress Auguat 25, 2021

MoreProgress

I know I missed last week but the blog I had planned would have been in poor taste considering world events. This week’s shouldn’t offend anybody. A few years back, I started reorganizing our assembly area to be more efficient. A few months back, Karl moved the paint booth to the paint bay. It was originally in the assembly area because when we moved into the building we only had the front two bays while we had to wait for our tenants to move out of the other two bays. Once the paint booth was gone, we had a lot more flexibility in arranging the assembly area so we swapped the tables from the 7000 assembly area with those from the 6000 area. We are also reorganizing the 6000 stock shelves. This left us enough room to add three more 12 foot by 8 foot racks. This will significantly increase the number of tables or completed machines we can keep and should help us further reduce our lead times. While we have been able to address the internal bottlenecks, we continue to have delivery problems from our vendors. We have machines on the floor awaiting parts from our zinc plater. He used to have a one week turnaround but we are now going on waiting four weeks for our last batch. We are looking at alternate sources but that is not an easy switch to make. We also continue to replace our old discharge lights with LEDs and are well pleased with the difference. We will continue to replace the old lights with LEDs as well as add or replace old lighting in the paint and welding bays. We are also going to add more racking in the welding area which will allow us to recommission our video studio (it is being used as an overflow storage area). It seems like getting things organized is a never ending job and I guess it is.

PS I will be on vacation for the next two weeks and will be working on our new web site so I won't be posting here until I get back.

I hate Adobe® Auguat 7, 2021

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In the 33 years we have been in business, three types of software programs have been key in running our business. Databases for accounting and manufacturing control, CAD (Computer Aided Design) for design and documenting or products and Desktop Publishing for creating all of the documents we use like brochures and manuals. We have used Great Plains, Mind Your Own Business, Account Edge and Filemaker for our databases. Great Plains was purchased by Microsoft and they ruined the software by making the server Windows only. MYOB was bought out and became Account Edge. They charged several hundred dollars a year for upgrades when all that changed was the tax tables which can be downloaded from the IRS web site for free. We have used a custom database I developed in Filemaker since the early 90s and as they have improved, I was able to easily add functionality. We are currently on version AM6. In version AM5, I added all of the accounting and payroll functions that we used to do in Account Edge. This eliminated the double entry we had to do and made it much more customizable. Several years ago, Filemaker added several different subscription models where you could choose to own the software or just lease it and included upgrades. The difference is that if you stop making the subscription payments, you can still use the software if you own it, you just don’t get the support or the upgrades. I opted to own the software with the subscription service which is cheaper than paying for the upgrades each year.

I have used CAD since 1977, CADAM, when it was only 2D, ran on an IBM mainframe and cost $50 per hour to use. I briefly used Auto Cad when I worked for another company but found it bloated. The first CAD program I owned was Claris Cad in 1985. Still only 2D but the program only cost $100 or two hours worth of CADAM. A slightly more sophisticated program was MacDraft which I used for about a year. The first 3D CAD program I purchased was Ahlar Vellum. It was about $500 but designing in 3D is much more efficient and worth it. The problem with Vellum is that it was vector based which means that it only modeled edges not solids. Ironically, the next 3D software I bought with solid modeling is called VectorWorks. It is the one I use today and it is pretty good, lacking only good animation capabilities. They also went with a subscription model which does include ownership of the software so I can continue to use it if I cancel the subscription service.

The third leg of essential software is Desktop Publishing. I bought Aldus Pagemaker in 1985 when it was one of just a handful of programs available for the Mac. In 1988, I bought the original version of Aldus Freehand, an artist’s 2D graphics program. Both products eventually were acquired by Adobe. They replaced Freehand with Illustrator and Pagemaker with InDesign and eventually bundled both of them with Photoshop in their Creative Suite (CS) series. I purchased every upgrade until CS5 when it became very bloated and expensive. The CS4 version was not written very well for future compatibility so when Mac upgraded the system software in 2011, InDesign stopped working reliably and it was only four years old. When I went to upgrade to CS6, it was no longer available. I could only rent the software, and if I stopped paying, I could not access my data files. This created huge problems for me. I looked for alternative software and found several that gave me all the functionality I needed. I am currently using Affinity Photo and Affinity Publisher and am very happy with both of them. They only cost $20 each during a special promotion. The only problem is that I had a lot of InDesign documents I could not use. Photoshop was not a problem because it uses .psd format which can be read by any graphics program but InDesign uses .indd which is proprietary. It turns out that Affinity Publisher can read InDesign files if they are saved in the .idml format but I had to open them in InDesign to do that. After fighting this for a couple of years, I pulled out my iMac from 2003, almost twenty years old, and reinstalled CS4, and it works perfectly. I had already tried to do this with several of my other old Macs and InDesign was very unstable or unusable. So now, in my spare time, I have to convert 163 files, determine which are most important and re-establish the links to the supporting graphics files. I have to do all of this because Adobe is too greedy to sell their software and has reverted back to the 1977 model of charging by the hour like the original CADAM software.

I apologize for this long and boring blog post, but sometime I write these as a form of therapy.

PS. Go to our home page and watch the new video by Mike Rollins featuring John Patterson of Atlanta Athletic Club.

iMac Transistion July 31, 2021

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It took us two and a half months to complete our transition to the new iMac M1 computers. We ordered our first computers May 1 and received them two weeks later. We ordered the next batch a week later but it was about six weeks before we received them. The first two computers were set up for me, one for work and one for home. They would be identical and would sync with each other and the iCloud back up. The work one also has two Time Machine back up drives, one new solid state and one old hard disk. The one at home has a new solid state drive. My computer is where we keep all important files except our Accounting for Manufacturing Data Base which is why I have six copies. I did a clean install on my work computer meaning I did not transfer any applications from my old computer but downloaded and installed new copies of only the ones I use. Then I manually copied all of my data files to the new computer. Once that was done, I made a Time Machine backup and then used that backup on my new home computer. So far, everything went smoothly. Since I had backed up a lot to the cloud, most of my settings including email and web browsing just appeared, very nice. Also I eliminated almost 90% of the crap that accumulated from 10 years of use. I also set these computers up on a virtual network so I can access my work computer from home and visa versa. I do this to access our database which is on its own server at work.

The last computer to come in went to Melissa, our office manager. She does most of the critical input to our database. I did a clean install on her computer as well and this also went smoothly. She did a two week transition period where she had both her old and her new computers on her desk. There were a couple of files I forgot to transfer, a couple of bar code fonts and apple scripts but after a week of no problems, I took her old computer.

Now is when it gets messy. My old computer at home was the only one of our old computers that can run the latest operating system and would eventually be Karl’s work computer but it is also the computer I kept at an older operating system so I could run the software I use to build and update our web site. I took Melissa’s old computer, erased it and restored it from the backup of my home computer. This not only loaded the web site software but also installed the older operating system. That went surprisingly well and I am using it now to update this blog page. Now I can take my home computer, erase it and restore it from Karl’s work computer backup. This was the only major hiccup in the whole operation. I had to repeat the erase and restore process about half a dozen times before it finally took. Karl then ran both computers on his desk for about a week with no major problems. He then took his work computer home and set it up on his desk. His two computers are set up the same as mine. They sync to each other and iCloud so if he starts something at work, he can continue working on it at home. This is especially important for his homework from college. Karl also has these computers set up on a virtual network so he can access his work computer from home. He says he sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night remembering that he forgot to issue some work order. Now he can just get up and do it rather than try to remember it until morning.

The really good news is that these new iMacs are really faaaast. The bad news is that even after the transistion, I will still have at least 5 Macs on my desk but that is for another blog post.

Help Wanted July 26, 2021

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If you were hiring, you ran an add in the local newspaper. Now you have to go online to a myriad of sites and services. What worked last year doesn’t work this year. We have had the most success with this simple sign but COVID, unemployment benefits and a recovered economy in Florida have rendered it useless. In the two weeks it has been out, we have had one applicant so it is on to plan B, unless you are looking for a job.

A Nickel for Your Thoughts July 21, 2021

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You say it is supposed to be “penny” instead of “nickel”. You forgot to factor in inflation. Last week, our plater informed us that they will be discontinuing nickel plating because the cost are too high. The next closest place that does nickel plating is north of Orlando, about 90 miles from our plant and they do not pick up or deliver. Worse, their prices are double what we have been paying. We have tried not to have an interim price increase this year even though we are seeing increases across the board. We will have our annual price adjustment on the September 1 and, unfortunately, it will be a larger increase than normal. If you are planning a purchase, make sure you get your order in before September 1.

Mystery Product July 10, 2021

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At 2:30 Friday afternoon, we received some components for a new product we are working on. The process used to be: I would come up with an idea, run it by Darwin, our now retired shop manager, then do a sketch. Darwin would build a prototype from my sketch and we would then test it. It usually required two or three iterations before we had a working prototype. This would take weeks or months depending on the complexity of the design.

Now, I discuss the design with my son Karl who took over for Darwin and the process goes something like this:

Mark: We need to be able to do this and this for the product to work.

Karl: Okay.

Mark: I was thinking that we could do it this way but I am not sure how to make it…

Karl: That won’t work because you can’t do…

Mark: Wait, let me finish. I am not sure how to make it but I think we could do this.

Karl: That won’t work because you can’t do that to that. What if you do this instead.

Mark: No I don’t like that but we could try it this way.

Karl: That creates this problem.

Mark: I don’t understand what you are saying, I think it should work.

Karl: (Using hand gestures) If you do this, that is going to happen.

Mark: Okay, (a little frustrated) I see now. We can’t use that idea unless we rewrite the laws of physics. But we could try to…

Karl: No that won’t work …

Mark: (A little heated) Let me finish. We could try to do this with that.

Karl: (A pause) Are you finished?

Mark: Yes.

Karl: That won’t work because of this and that. We should try to do it this way. Does it really need to be able to do this?

Mark: Yes it does and if we do it that way, it will be a pain in the ass to use and expensive to make.

This goes on for a couple of hours until we are too tired to think straight and agree to take a fresh look Monday morning. On my way home, I remembered something Karl said and I realized we were trying to make it do something it did not need to do. By eliminating that requirement, the design becomes easy with just a few details to work out. Karl got home a half an hour after us and I told him my idea. He did that blank stare he does when he is visualizing the idea. The stare only lasted about 15 seconds instead of the usual one or two minutes. He agreed it was a good idea but you would have to make it do this. I agreed and so on Monday, we will start to build the prototype of what I am confident will be a great new product. I can not tell you how much fun this is.

This is Why July 6, 2021

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I have had a love hate relationship with computers since the early 80’s. If you know me, you know that I am pretty easy going. However, I can become violent if a computer does not do what it is supposed to do. I suspect that I am not alone. It may be a sad commentary on our company but I am the IT guy. I am currently in the process of installing new computers for everyone. It is going reasonably well mainly because I left them their old computers to use if they have any problems with the new ones. I still have a couple of kinks to work out but nothing major. And yet I will still pull out what little hair I have left.

In the late 90’s, I built a prototype of a fully enclosed, fully computer controlled reel grinder. We had it at the Golf Industry Show in Orlando. There was no interest in it. It was too complex. I then realized that if you can get the mechanical design right, there really isn’t any reason to control it with a computer. I use the example of the cylinder block honing machine used by Ford. There was a honing head and motor for each cylinder. It was pre-positioned very accurately and only had to move in and out of the cylinder. It was very fast as it would do all six or eight cylinders at one time. An on and off button were the only controls.

We put a great deal of effort into getting the basic function of our designs right so that they do not need computer controls. The results speak for themselves. Our grinders are two to four times faster and ten times as precise as our competitors. They are also easy to maintain, repair or rebuild because the key components do not wear out and they have no custom computers which are sensitive to their environment. Dirt and heat are the enemies of computers which is why CNC manufactures require their machines be in a clean, air conditioned space or the warranty is void. Otherwise you will get what you see above, which is why we work so hard at not having computers. I am sure there are plenty of you who, like me, would like to keep our hair.

 

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