Making the Fastest even Faster August 11, 2017

The Ideal 6000 is the fastest bed knife grinder with users regularly reporting that it takes 3-5 minutes to load, grind both faces and unload. So why would we want to make it faster? Dumb question! It started when I took my own advice and worked on a 6000 in the field. They were having a problem with the cylinder which required me to disconnect the air lines in the component housing, remove the whole cylinder tube and the conduit then unmount the cylinder and slide it and the pneumatic tubing out one end. What the #&*% was that +0&%$#@! engineer thinking. Oh wait, I’m the +0&%$#@! engineer. I was thinking that I was trying to keep the cost down. There are a couple of other issues with this design such as when you mill the slot on the bottom, the tube wants to collapse and cause it to rub on the cylinder shuttle.

In Proud Dad I talked about developing a two piece cylinder tube. It turns out the cost is virtually the same as the old design. Machining that slot was expensive. As I was finishing the design details, my son Karl reminded me that I was going to try and add a quick return like the one used on the Peerless 7000 Reel Grinder. I laid out a couple of different concepts and we built the prototype for my concept. It was kind of sloppy so we built another prototype, this time using Karl’s concept. It was much better. In the video above, you can see how it works. Average travel time in one direction is 30-40 seconds. The end pause with out the quick return was 5-9 seconds depending on travel speed and bed knife length (a short bed knife leaves more air in the end of the cylinder to bleed off). The quick return is less than 3 seconds which is a 10-20% reduction in grinding time. Is it really worth all this effort to save 30 seconds on each bed knife you grind? Probably not…unless you are grinding 50 bed knives a week.

 

New Computer August 5, 2017

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If you are a regular reader here, you know that I got my first Macintosh computer in 1984. A going away gift from my friends at J&J was a case big enough to carry that Mac with its keyboard and mouse. All together, it probably weighed 20 pounds. Since I weighed about 130 at the time, it was no small feat for me to carry it back and forth to work every day. Eventually, I persuaded them to equip the engineering department with several Macs and the original Apple Laserwriter. Now all I had to carry back and forth were the floppy disks. When I bought my own company, I would upgrade my computer and move the older one home. I would still have to transport data via floppy disk. In 2001 I bought my first laptop, a Titanium PowerBook G4. This was Apple’s top of the line computer. Now I could have all of my data with me wherever I went. At just over 5 pounds, it was a lot easier to carry than the 20 pound Macintosh I started with, especially since I was then carrying that extra 15 pounds around my waist. At the same time I equipped the rest of our office with those translucent iMacs. I have since upgraded my laptop twice and we are still using all three.

By 2012 we needed to upgrade our office computers, so I replaced them with the new 21 inch flat screen iMacs. Because I do a lot of CAD and video editing, I opted for the 27 inch iMac. My MacBook Pro went home but now I could not share files on floppy discs and rewritable CDs were not real practical either. Flash drives were becoming popular but were still a little pricey, and you still had to remember to copy the files you wanted.

Our back up system up to this time was to make a weekly backup to CDs. We eventually moved to flash drives but again, you had to remember to do it. We used two flash drives and kept one at home so that we would have an off site backup. Apple had introduced Time Machine which automatically backed up the whole computer and would back up any changes every hour. This was fine but did not provide for an off site back up. I signed up for a free trial for a cloud backup service which kept up to date backups on their remote servers. It also had a sync function which would keep files on two different computers at two different locations synchronized. If I made a change to a file on my work computer, the sync function would automatically update the same file on my home computer. No more carrying anything back and forth or remembering to make a needed copy. This was working great and I was about to upgrade to the payed version which would significantly increase my storage. Then the company went out of business.

At about the same time, my wife retired and started coming in to the office with me. She inherited my laptop and we went without a computer at home, using only our iPads and iPhones. I have a couple of projects at home that require a computer, one being scanning all of my old family photos dating back almost one hundred years. My wife just started therapy classes at the YMCA three mornings a week so we get in late to the office on those days. I used all of this to justify buying a new computer just for use at home. I opted for the second cheapest iMac which upgrades to a Retina Display and a Fusion Drive (part SSD and part Hard Drive, much faster). I have since found a new cloud backup service and have just started using their sync feature. So now I have all of my files backed up to two external hard drives, to the cloud and to my home computer. I feel like I am finally entering the 21st century about a decade late. (Note to Robin and Teri: you should have received a link to the Old Photos Folder in your email. If not, call me).

 

Idiot Proof July 29, 2017

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Michele, my wife and Melissa, our office manager teamed up to buy me a father’s day present. Michele bought me the t-shirt but when she showed it to Melissa, they rightly figured that I would not wear it. So they framed it and now it hangs in my office.

It is a common sentiment among engineers that no matter how hard you try, you can not make your designs idiot proof because someone will figure out a way to screw it up. But we do spend a lot of time trying. Now I happen to think that our customers are of way above average intelligence, but they do come up with some doozies. One of the first I remember was a guy who steam cleaned his grinder without trying to protect the electrical components, the week before a major tournament. I had to drive to Georgia just to install a new circuit board. I like to brag that we have never denied a warranty claim in the US. I always make that caveat because of the claims I get from my Japanese customers. Like their counterparts in the US, I believe most of them are of above average intelligence (they bought our grinders, didn’t they). but they had one customers who wanted all of the bearings replaced because they were made in China, not Japan. Another tried to use the mist system like a flood system, then left the water filled with grinding grit in the grinder. Guess what, it rusted and they wanted me to pay to have it repainted. The dealer did have it repainted and 6 months later, it rusted again. Probably the worst was the customer who did not think the reel grinder was precise enough so he took it to a machine shop where they put the whole grinder on top of a large milling machine. They milled off the top of the reel support rails which removed both the plating and the case hardening. When the dealer tried to make a warranty claim, I lost my cool. I not only denied the claim but informed them that they had ruined that grinder. The rear rails are tweaked with shim stock and the front rail pads are tweaked by filing their supports. I go a lot fewer warranty claims from them after that.

Now it wouldn’t be fair to rant and rave about customers without also pointing out that engineers that design things should be forced to fix them too. I am sure we have all been in a situation where we are working on something that is either impossible to get to or requires that you spend hours disassembling just to make a ten minute repair while either mumbling under our breath (or maybe screaming at the top of our lungs) “What the #&*% was that +0&%$#@! engineer thinking.”

 

All Fixed July 22, 2017

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A while back, I spoke of the joys of ownership. We had been having drain issues with our plumbing for years and had been living with it. When times are lean, you just make do. If it got too bad, we had a plumber come in with a snake and that would help. This time it didn’t, so he recommended that we get a plumber with a snake camera. We thought that our problem was somewhere in the drain pipe halfway between the front and back of our 300 foot long, 40 year old building. The pipe eventually drained into a septic tank. Well the first camera was too big to even make it around the first bend so they came back with a second smaller camera. It made it around the bend and went immediately underwater where you couldn’t see anything. So they tried a longer snake and ended up getting it stuck somewhere out in front of our building. They dug up our front garden only to find a second septic tank just for the office area, which in hindsight makes perfect sense. But that plumber did not work on septic tanks so we called a third one that did. He dug it up, found that the pipe into the tank was almost completely clogged with rags. The snake had caught on those rags and now was easily removed. They pumped both tanks, replaced the lid with an extension and treated both drain fields. The also had to make some repairs on the back tank’s sump pump and added an alarm. So $200 to the first plumber who recommended a plumber with a camera. $1,200 to the second plumber to figure out that I had a second septic tank and $3,500 to the third plumber to actually fix it.

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It gets better. When they dug up the front garden, they had to cut through the roots of a tree that had wrapped around the drain pipe. That left the tree unstable and it and the matching one had to be removed for another $1,700. And while we are at it, let’s spend another $1,400 for a brake job on the fork lift. Ah, the joys of ownership.

Wedding Bells July 15, 2017

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Last week I was watching a news show that said that pictures of people looking at each other were better than looking at the camera. I have to agree because two days earlier, this picture of my daughter and me was taken minutes after she accepted a marriage proposal. It was prearranged to happen on Bayshore Boulevard with the sunset and Tampa skyline in the background. We were all hiding behind bushes across the street. They were on a bike ride when Mike feigned mechanical problems, stopped, got down on one knee and proposed. After a few minutes, we came out of hiding and almost got killed crossing Bayshore. Lots of pictures were taken. This is my favorite and is now hanging on my wall.

 

Screwed July 8, 2017

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If you have been reading my blog, you know that I am updating the shop. Most of this is reorganizing the assembly area but we have also added LED lighting to the welding area. This week I spent reorganizing our fasteners. When we moved into our new building, we bought metal bins for the fasteners. We thought they would be rugged and would last. However, when ever we changed a design or added a product, we could not easily rearrange the bins to keep the fasteners in some kind of order. About five years ago, we added a detailed bin location system to our data base so it was less important to try to keep them in order. We also had to keep the same hardware in two places, one for the reel grinder area and another for the bed knife area. You still had to go to a computer to get the location for a specific part number. After ten years it has become unwieldy. I also figured out that the steel bins we bought had a corner at the bottom of the front lip which made it difficult to remove small parts. Plastic bins and well designed steel bins have a radius on the inside of the front lip which makes it much easier to remove small parts. I had to use a magnetic dial indicator base to remove most of the hardware from the old bins.

 

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The new fastener rack uses plastic bins which hang on a rack and can easily be moved. I started with steel wire shelving with casters that I purchased at Northern Tool for about $120. I bought 200 5x4x3 bins at Harbor Freight for about $110. We had the particle board but it would have cost about $20 and the hardware was about $25. A couple pieces of scrap angle were used to attach the particle boards to the top and bottom shelves. Total cost of less than $300. Similar mobile storage would have cost close to $1,000.

 

I decided to use plastic stick on labels because the ones that just slide into the bin did not stay in very well. Now that all of our hardware is in one place, it is much easier to see what we have and what we need, so I modified our database to use an iPhone to add parts to a shortage report. Most parts are tracked and automatically added to the shortage report when they get below a certain level. We do not track nuts and bolts this way because the actual quantities would never match the database. Once a month or so, we would go out with a piece of paper and write down what looked low then go to the computer to verify it and then create a purchase order. It could take over an hour. Now it should take only a few minutes. One more reason we can make the best grinders for the best price.

 

Let there be light July 1, 2017

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When fluorescent lights first became popular during World War II, people wanted to use them everywhere. They create UV light inside a tube which has a coating that fluoresces visible light when excited by the UV energy. When used on an alternating current like our 60 Hz, the early lights had a bad flicker that could act like a strobe light. You do not get this effect with a light bulb because the filament does not have time to cool between each cycle. When the early fluorescent lights were used on machine tools like a lathe or a mill, they could make the machine look like it was stopped when it was, in fact running. This resulted in several deaths and serious injuries. That is why, even today, most machine tools are equipped with an incandescent light.

Last week, I told you about the new assembly station where I used a four foot led light that I bought at Sam’s Club for about $40. It works really well so I bought a 10 pack of the lights for $250 or $25 each. Up to 10 lights can be daisy chained with either a small coupling or with a 5 foot cable. If you couple two together you get the equivalent of an 8 foot light which cost $50 and emits 9,000 lumens. The closest equivalent fluorescent at Lowes cost $65 and emits 8,600 lumens. The LED of course also eliminates the need to replace bulbs and ballasts as they are maintenance free. They are also more environmentally friendly for disposal. In the top photo you can see the difference between the old fluorescent light on the right and the LEDs on the left. Below it you can see the finished job. The only downside is because they come in four foot lengths, you have to hang an third chain in the middle. The next step is to install these lights over each new assembly station and a couple of key machines in the machine shop. Happy Independence Day and to my friends up north, Happy Canada Day.

 

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