Backordered Feb 17, 2018
If you are a regular here, you know that I have been doing a lot of ranting and raving about not being able to ship machines from stock. It has been this way for over a year. One of the main reasons for this is sales are up substantially but another factor is that we are having a hard time finding a replacement machinist for the one who left last April. We have had eight people in here and none was willing or able to do the job. We have added an assembler and an 83 year old gentleman and inventor who is working in our machine shop as a contractor (he is a blog post onto himself).
While at GIS last week, I realized that there was a third factor over which I have little control. I was talking with a couple of fellows about the big three and their delivery times. One fellow mentioned that there is a 5 month lead time for Deere tractors with one model not available until the 2019 model year. We are seeing a significant increase in lead times from many of our critical suppliers. Grinding wheel lead time went from 35 days to 90 days. We can’t ship grinders without grinding wheels. Our custom plastic former went from one week to 4-5 weeks. Our zinc plater went from 3 days to 14 days. Some of our pneumatic components went from 2 days to 3 weeks and our custom laser cut steel went from 1-2 weeks to 4-6 weeks. It is very hard to plan when you have this much increase in lead times in so many areas. We are now proactively and continuously asking our key suppliers what their lead times are. We are also ordering earlier and in larger quantities. I appreciate the patience of everyone who has been affected and can assure you that we are doing everything possible to get back to a one week lead time.
Remember the Alamo Feb 10, 2018
I just returned from the Golf Industry Show in San Antonio and I was disappointed but not surprised. The weather was bad. The floor layout was more like a maze making it difficult to navigate and most importantly, attendance seemed much lower. This is the first time that I can remember that no one came by looking to be a dealer. But is was much better than the last time we were in San Antonio. We used the same 10 x 10 booth we used in San Diego so it was only four wasted days instead of eight. To cap it all off, I overheard a couple of superintendents at the airport the next day, saying they would not attend a GIS in San Antonio if it ever returned.
I did have an interesting conversation with Mike LeClair, an engineer in charge of cutting units at Toro. Mike is based in Minneapolis but travels frequently to their test facilities at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage California where they have a set of our grinders. He was concerned about the manufacturing precision of the Toro bed knife because he was seeing a variation in the front face thickness after grinding on the Ideal 6000. I told him about our study which showed that the problem was in the variation of the hole locations on the bed knife shoe. Even if the holes are within tolerance, a .005 inch variation between the center two holes could result in a .030 to .040 inch variation at the end of the bed knife. We have been recommending to people that they snug the two end bolts first then use the standard pattern of tightening from the center. I was surprised when he said that that was the way he always does it. When I asked him why his manuals do not include the step of snugging the end bolts, he said he thought they did but that he would go back and check. Toro is a big company with its own bureaucracy. Mike told me he has been waiting for three years on a report testing what force causes what deflection in a bed knife and that guy is retiring next month. I went back and checked to see and their two latest manuals published in 2017 still do not include the snugging step. I am a lot more confident of recommending that procedure now that I know Mike is also recommending it.
One of my competitor’s introduced a new grinder at the show which appeared to be a mash up of their grinder and my other competitor’s grinder. There was no new technology and It made little sense to me as an engineer but they may have a very good marketing strategy for doing this (more McDonalds effect, see below). Speaking of new products, we gave a sneak peek at a new product and got rave reviews for the concept. It needs a few finishing touches before we are ready to announce it so check back maybe next week to see what it is, even you Mr. Kriz.
McDonald's Effect Feb 3, 2018
Beginning in the 1960’s, McDonalds would do extensive research to determine the best locations for their restaurants. Just as soon as the location was public, its competitors would rush to build their restaurants in the same area. By doing this, they would benefit from McDonalds research without paying for it. The folks at McDonalds did not mind too much because having several choices for a restaurant made that location even more attractive.
I have noticed the same thing happening in my niche industry. When one of my competitors introduced their “all new” grinder, it was nothing more than the same grinder my other competitor makes as its entry level grinder. It is also the same concept as our old Peerless 1360 that we stopped making in 1994 because it is a poor concept. Instead, I started without any preconceived notions which led to the development of the Peerless 2000.
This idea of following the leader was even more evident when I was asked to see if I could come up with something better for a reel heigh of cut gauge. There were maybe a half dozen companies making a gauge and I doubted, with that much competition, that I would be able to do any better. Once I surveyed the competition and understood the problems, the solution was pretty easy. Executing the solution is a little harder. You can come up with a design and it will have its own problems. You address those problems rinse and repeat. You do this until you have a significantly better product. I won’t bother introducing a product unless it adds something not otherwise available. I won’t make a mediocre, me too product. I am close to doing it again. Come back next week to see if I succeed.
If you are going to GIS, come see us in Booth 3109. You may get a sneak peak.
Inspired Jan 27, 2018
Last week I posted a video by John Patterson and it reminded me of how effective videos can be. It is not like I did not know. I have a two walled room in the shop dedicated to making videos. My problem is no matter how much I yell and scream, junk gets “temporarily” stored there. It then takes half a day to clean it up so I can spend thirty minutes shooting a video. Well I did not let that deter me this week when a customer called in with some questions about repairing his spin motor clutch. I gave him some direction and then went out and made this video on disassembly and reassembly of that clutch. I promise to do more of these so if you have any requests, let me know. I did not do this video in the studio so now I am going to go out and do a little more yelling and screaming..
A little choked up Jan 20, 2018
Those of you who know me know that I am not an outgoing person unless you get me talking about my family or my grinders, then you can’t shut me up. I am very proud of both. So when John Patterson of The Atlanta Athletic Club made this video, I got a little choked up. Thank you John.
John is also featured in this John Deere video and I suspect that there are some Deere engineers with a little tear in their eye too.
I love Canadians Jan 13, 2018
I have used Filemaker as my relational database software for over twenty years. Prior to that, I used several other databases including FoxPro, Omnis 3, d-Base and 4th Dimension. I have been using Filemaker to develop our MRP (Materials Requirement Planning) database and am currently on version 5 in which I added all General Ledger Functions and Payroll. This eliminated a lot of double entry. Filemaker used to have a neat feature which let you share databases over the internet. About 10 years ago, I developed an SIP Store database that allowed our vendors to go online and order parts and check pricing. This saved a lot of phone calls. Unfortunately, Filemaker deprecated that feature from the standard software and created a Filemaker Server which costs about $1,000 per year. I also had a database of sales calls that I made on the server in my office that I could connect to with my iPhone. It was not real reliable because it depended on a good 3G cellular connection for me to log in while I was at the customer’s shop. When I lost web sharing, I kept the database on my phone where it didn’t require any internet connection but made it more difficult to analyze the data.
I want to do more work with this data and add Larry’s sales calls as well. I found a program that would store the Filemaker database locally on the iPhone and then sync the data with the computer once you had a good internet connection. It was free for the server and first device and then about $100 for each additional device. What was not explained very well is that you need the $1,000 per year Filemaker Server to make it work. What’s the point?
I had tried Tap Forms, a different relational database for MacOS ($50) and iOS ($17) and the software can be loaded on to multiple devices. It is a fairly lightweight relational data base with one very important and unique feature. It has sync capability built in. So I can develop and have the data base on my main computer at work then copy that database on to my iPhone and my computer at home. Any changes I make on any one of the platforms will automatically be updated on the other two as long as I have an internet connection. If I don’t, it just waits until I do to sync the databases.
My problem was that I have thousands of records in different tables I needed to import into the Tap Forms database I created. Then I needed to link the records from one table to another. For instance, I have one table with all of the golf course records, another table with all the different contacts at that golf course and a third table with a record of each time I visited that course. Each table has a link field used to create the link between the tables. Normally that is created automatically when the record is created but since I was importing so much data, I did not want to go into each golf course and manually create the links for each record. I needed a way to create a unique value in each record to use as the link field. I could automatically create a sequential field but that could be duplicated if I were creating records off-line on two different platforms and then the links would be corrupted. I needed what is called a UUID (universally unique identifier) to be automatically created.
I emailed tech support at Tap Forms and explained my problem. The owner and programmer emailed me back and asked if a function that created a UUID would help. I emailed back that that would solve my problem. The next morning, he emailed me back and said he had added that function and it would be available when the next maintenance version is released. That is pretty amazing customer support. Maybe not so amazing when you consider he is from Calgary, Canada.
This is the kind of customer support that I really value. We have several vendors including Norton and MSC, that give us very good customer support. It is also the kind of support we strive to provide. Any customer who has a set of our grinders should have either my or Larry’s cell phone number with the knowledge that they can call or text any time they need help. I hope that your feelings on SIP support are the same as mine are for Tap Forms. If not, email me and chew me out.
Revolving Door Jan 7, 2018
Well we just finished a pretty good year, the first in almost a decade. We were slammed in the beginning of 2017 and could not keep up. Prior to 2017, we would normally ship machines within one week of the order but our lead times then were 3-4 weeks. Then we lost our lead machinist, Ken, who had been with us for about five years. He was probably the best machinist we had ever employed and that is not just my opinion but Darwin’s as well. Darwin is our semi-retired general manager/machinist who had previously held that honor. Ken had not been looking for a job but was approached by a company he had applied to at the same time he had applied with us. The problem was the new job was only a 15 minute drive instead of the hour it took him to get to our plant. We tried to change his mind but I knew it was a lost cause.
Summer is usually slower for us so I thought we could get caught up, even with a new machinist, but it did not slow down much. Our lead times stretched to 6-7 weeks as we began to run out of key components. And trying to find a machinist is not easy. We have since hired and fired eight different machinists in as many months. If you did the math, you figured out that we still do not have the position filled. We are also adding a new assembler position which requires much more training.
As a result, we have gone the whole year without being able to ship machines within a week. We also have several interesting R&D projects that have been on the back burner. Our number one priority is increasing our production capacity and that starts with hiring the right people. Please bear with us as we continue our quest.
The Beast is Back Jan 2, 2018
With apologies to Sir Elton John but I try to keep this blog family friendly. The beast of which I speak is my 2004 Dodge Sprinter by Mercedes Benz. Last year, I replaced Larry’s Sprinter, which had 470,000 miles on it, with a Ram ProMaster. While my Sprinter only has 370,000 miles on it, there were a number of problems that made it a prime candidate for replacement. Three of the five glow plugs did not work, the rear brake sensors were not replaced correctly and did not work, and the front end was chewing through tires. The first two. I could ignore as long as I don’t drive it in freezing weather. The last was fixed by spending $200 on new tires which was a whole lot better than spending several thousand dollars to repair the front end according to Mercedes-Benz. They also recommended against replacing the glow plugs because they would always break off due to dissimilar metals corrosion (steel screwed into aluminum). Again, according to M-B, once the glow plug is broken off, the head has to be removed, costing about three grand. The cost of those two repairs alone are close to the value of the van.
In order to maximize my financing potential, I do not want to buy another vehicle until next spring, so I took the Sprinter across the street to the tire shop to see about buying a couple new tires. He said the wear was not due to front end problems but that the tires were probably under inflated. I told him that I was very careful to maintain the factory specs of 50 psi in the front and 90 in the rear. He told me that was the problem. Truck tires like these need to be kept at 90 psi. He said he would rotate the tires and check the front end anyway. I then asked him if he could troubleshoot the rear brake sensors. He said no problem. Two out of three problems solved for very little money so I decided to go for broke and ask him if they worked on diesel engines. He replied only the external stuff like turbos and water pumps. I asked about glow plugs. He said yes but you have to be careful not to break them off. He also told me that he worked closely with the local FedEx fleet manager who had about 60 of these older Sprinters to maintain. As it was then Friday afternoon, I took the Sprinter back to the shop, removed the plastic cover on top of the head, let the engine run until it was warm, then sprayed all of the glow plugs withProBlaster and let them soak over the weekend.
I brought it back in Monday to get an estimate to replace the glow plugs, repair the rear brakes and front end. Turns out the front struts needed to be replaced but the whole bill would be a little over $1,200. I gave him the okay and told him there was no rush as I did not need the van until the new year. A week and a half later, the Van was still in his shop, so we gave him a call. Three of the five glow plugs had broken off. Instead of removing the head they found a tool for $350 just for removing broken glow plugs from M-B Sprinters and it had taken a week to get it shipped to them.
A few days later, the van was done. The tool had worked although it took about four hours to remove the first one. Once they knew what they were doing, the other two took two hours a piece. Eight hours and the cost of the tool instead of one and a half hours to replace three of the glo-plugs, still a lot better than removing the head. They replaced the rear brake pads and replaced them with the correct ones and replaced the sensors. Finally they replaced the front struts, repaired and rotated the tires. Total bill was a little over $1,500. This vehicle is still averaging less than $1,000 per year for repairs and maintenance including tires and still gets 21 mpg. I can’t complain.
Dave, the mechanic who replaced the glow plugs, did not enjoy the job and that is putting it mildly. The top of that Sprinter engine is not easy to access. He had to use mirrors, flashlights and a right angle drill but I am very grateful that he got the job done. It just so happened that the FedEx fleet manager came by while they were working on my Sprinter. He naturally asked about it. When he found out that they were replacing broken glow plugs, he told them that you had to remove the head. They told him that they were using a kit that let them fix the glow plugs without removing the head. Long story short, they now have 35 FedEx vans with bad glow plugs that they are going to fix, one a week until they are done. Sorry Dave.
So now my big decision is do I replace the beast this spring or do I put a paint job on it and drive it a couple more years. What do you think?