STRESS March 30, 2019

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We have had our share of bad years financially but I was always confident we would get through it. This is mainly because of my wife, also known as the Queen of Cash Flow. She is genius at keeping suppliers happy while getting extended terms. Now I have the opposite problem, our sales have quadrupled overnight. The comment I get most often is “That is a great problem to have.” That may be true but the problems are much more difficult to solve. It is extremely difficult to hire people, let alone good people. Last week I told you we had to hire 14 machinists and fired 12. Well, make that 13. We have been trying to hire some one for the last 4 months straight. When you have that much turn over, you have additional quality problems. We have also had problems with our suppliers who are apparently having the same problems. Add to this, we have added six new dealers that I need to get out there and support.

The results are that we are taking too long to deliver product. We have customers screaming for their grinders. We also have dealers who are screaming for demos which are on hold while I outfit a new demo van. This is causing me to stress out. Where do I put my time? Do I work on the van or do I help in the shop? I will spend the next week working on the van and monitor the progress in the shop. I just finished installing the floor in the van. Hopefully we can hire another machinist fairly quickly and our new assembler is a quick learner. As odd as it sounds, too much sales is more stressful than not enough.

Now Hiring? March 23, 2019

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Last week, I told you that we had to hire 14 machinist and fire 12 over a period of 15 months just to get two good ones. We have also been trying to hire another assembler since January. It has been nearly impossible to even get applicants in for an interview. We have used Craigslist and other web sites, employment agencies and our trusty street sign. In over two months, we have had maybe a half a dozen interviews. We offered the job to three different people. The first was a woman who wanted us to consider her boyfriend instead. We interviewed him and suffice it to say, we withdrew the offer from her. The next person we offered the job, did not show up the first day. When he did not show up the second day, we called him and he said he changed his mind. Last Thursday, we hired someone who actually looks much better than any one else we interviewed. His experience is not real relevant but it is technical and he looks very trainable. Let’s just hope he shows up Monday. I am really getting tired of people (justifiably) yelling at me for their grinders.

I’m Having a Bad Week March 17, 2019

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It started with vibration in a grinder that delayed shipment for three days (see last week’s post) and then that machine was damaged in shipping. Luckily, Larry was in the area and could repair it. We sent a part overnite so it would be there when he arrived only to find out that part was defective. In fact, all of the parts we had in stock were made incorrectly. That is what happens when, over a period of 15 months, you have to hire 14 machinists to get two good ones. We made a new part and sent it overnite while Larry did a little body work on the grinder. Considering what broke loose in shipping, it is amazing so little damage was done. We also found out that the company that made the cases for our RHOC has discontinued its production. Then our boring mill broke down again and we have just found a broken pin inside one of the clutches sheared. Our welder had a brain fart and welded a part in incorrectly. We did not find the error until it was half way through paint. It took him a half a day to fix it. And to top it off, Melissa, our indispensable office manager, decides to take this week off, something about her husband needing emergency quintuple bypass surgery… oh…wait. I guess my week wasn’t so bad after all. Seriously, thoughts and prayers for Jack and Melissa.

Consequences March 9, 2019

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Last Saturday, I was helping in the shop trying to get some grinders completed. I started doing the test grind on a 7000 but when I turned it on there was a vibration. “No problem” I thought, “I’ll just replace the stone.” But there was still a vibration. Then I replaced the stone and hub. Still the same problem. I then checked the other grinders in the batch and they all had the same problem. I took the hub and stone off of my demo grinder which I knew ran smoothly and put them on the new grinder, no change. I changed out the motor and the vibration persisted. I then took the bearing assembly off of my grinder and mounted it on the new grinder without improvement. “Maybe we got a bad batch of motors.” I thought, so I took the motor off of my demo and mounted it on the new grinder. So now I had the whole grinding wheel drive system off of my grinder mounted on the new grinder and it still vibrated. I gave up. Darwin would be in Monday and I would let him look at it.

Monday morning. I explained everything to him. I pointed out that I had changed some mounting bolts from socket heads with high collar lock washer to button heads with standard lock washers and flat washers. He agreed with me that this could not be the problem. He played with it for about an hour with no better results so I decided I might as well change the hardware back on a different grinder while Darwin played with the first. I did this just so I could eliminate it as the cause, but magically, the vibration disappeared. I showed Darwin and he did not believe it so he changed out the hardware on his grinder and voila, no vibration.

This is why engineers are loathe to make changes because it will always create an unintended consequence, usually minor, sometimes an improvement, but often enough, it will be bad.

New and Old March 3, 2019

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Last week, I was in Indiana picking up our new demo Van, a 2019 Ram ProMaster window van. I bought one for Larry three years ago and wanted to buy one for me the following year, but could not afford it. Last year again I was almost ready to buy only to find out that the window van had been discontinued. In January, I was supposed to go to the Northeast and Virginia but the Polar Vortex happened, so I canceled the Northeast Part of the trip. While returning from Virginia, my newly repaired and painted 2004 Sprinter, with 400,000 miles on it, went into “limp home mode” again. I was able to get it home but had to drive at 60 mph the whole way. While I was driving home, I began to plan what I was going to do about a new van. The Mercedes was too expensive with a 3-4 month wait for a window van. I looked at the Ford and it is significantly smaller on the inside. So I decided I would look at having windows installed in a ProMaster. When I got home and started researching this, I found, much to my joy, Ram had reintroduced the window van. That was all I needed to pull the trigger. I found only eight window vans in the whole country, the closest one that fit the bill was in Indiana in the heart of RV and Limo conversions.

 

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On my way home, I went by Baker Vehicle to discuss signing them up to be a dealer. I had also heard that Thomas Root, the son of our founder Percy Root, had passed away at the age of 95. I had met him on several occasions and he was always very gracious, usually giving me some old document or photo. His daughter, Susie, found some old photos of her grandfather, Percy and asked if I wanted to borrow them. So I also stopped by Plymouth Ohio. The photo above shows our new van next to the original SIP factory. It was given to the Root Brothers in the 1890’s for moving their business to Plymouth. I just realized and irony. The original Plymouth truck was made at these facilities in the building next door about 100 years ago. Oh and by the way, the ProMaster averaged 17.3 mpg on gasoline.

UPDATE. I found this photo of one of the original Plymouth trucks parked in almost the same spot as my van, just from a different angle.

 

New Dishwasher! Feb 23, 2019

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Last week, I told you about our three alarm fire. The next day I went out and bought a new dishwasher. The one that caught fire was an 18 year old Bosch. We originally bought it because it was very quiet. It also did not use a heating element to dry the dishes so you never had to worry about melting something.

I really did not want to buy another Bosch, all things considered, but I really liked the quiet. Turns out KitchenAid makes one as quiet (39Db) as the quietest Bosch for about $300 less. The KitchenAid also does not use a heating element for drying but does have a fan. This results in almost completely dry plastic dishes that used to come out of the Bosch covered in water.

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I bring all this up because I appreciate well designed and engineered products. One of the other faults with the Bosch is that it had a bunch of different led lights to tell you its status. You had to be close enough to read each label if you could not remember what each light was for. This reminded me of another machine with confusing led lights. A number of years ago, I was at Lake City College and I noticed that a competitor’s grinder was not running but that the led light next to the on button was lit. I looked at it and couldn’t resist. I hit the button and the grinding motor came on. The light stayed lit. I hit the button again and the grinding motor turned off. The light stayed lit. I repeated the whole procedure and no matter what I did, the light stayed lit. I finally called some one over to explain what was going on. He had a hard time understanding my question until he realized I could not tell the difference between the green light when it was on and the red light when it was off.

Yes, I am red green color blind as are about 10% of all men. When I worked for Martin Marietta, I was not allowed to handle any ordinance because I was color blind and all ordinance is color coded, even though the colors were so big and vibrant, I had no problem Identifying them. I only have a problem with small samples of off shades of red and green as was the case with the on off light of that grinder. I once got a ticket for running a red light because as a green light, it looked white to me and I did not realize until it was too late. When I first started driving, Palmetto Florida had the old fashioned stop lights which used the same bulb in both directions. The main street had the orangish red on top and a yellowish green on the bottom. It was reversed on the cross streets. I couldn’t tell the difference and did not realize it was green until the guy behind me blasted me with his horn. As an aside. Men with red green colorblindness were routinely used in World War II in spotter aircraft. They were basically blind to camouflage so they could easily see what was supposed to be hidden.

Back to the dishwasher. The KitchenAid has an led next to each button that is on when that option is selected. This panel is hidden when the dishwasher door is closed and there is a single led visible to tell you the status, blue when washing, red when drying and white when done. Easy for even me to see from across the room. Very appropriate for a machine built in the USA. It is also so quiet, I could not hear it run even when I put my ear up against it. A real triumph in design and engineering.

Fire! Feb 16, 2019

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Last Sunday, Karl and I went window shopping at the local Ford dealer to look at the new Ranger pick up truck. On the way home, I got a call from our home security company. They told me my house was on fire and that the fire department had been dispatched. I was scared to death that Michele would be trapped inside. I sped home with Karl screaming at me to be careful. Two minutes later when I pulled up, Michele and the neighbor were standing outside. The neighbor told me that the dishwasher had caught fire and was still smoking. She had already turned off all of the circuit breakers and called 911 and Michele had hit the panic button on our security system. I went in to look. There was a lot of smoke and it reeked of electrical fire. Another neighbor was in the house and was trying to turn off the smoke alarm. He had emptied our fire extinguisher which had slowed the fire down but it was still smoldering.

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A minute later, the fire department arrived and shooed us out of the house. They extinguished the fire and told me they would have to remove the dishwasher as it still was a concern. A few minutes later, the dishwasher was outside. They opened the windows and used this “Tim the Tool Man” powerful fan to blow out the smoke. They had been very careful removing the dishwasher. There was no other damage from either the fire or from removing the dishwasher. They picked up their tools and took down some information, the fire chief was more interested in Karl’s Mustang than anything else. Then they left. There was still some smell of electrical fire but it took less than an hour to clean up the kitchen. Monday, we bought and installed a new KitchenAid which was quieter and worked much better than the 18 year old Bosch it replaced and today the fire smell is completely gone. I have to marvel at the technology involved. Our smoke detector went off which alerted our alarm company which notified the fire department which arrived less than 10 minutes later. Michele hit the panic button on our security system which alerted our alarm company which sent the police who had come and gone by the time I got there. Our neighbor used her cell phone to call 911 which made it a very small three alarm fire. But then I think that it was the computer board in the dishwasher that caught fire and caused this whole mess in the first place so I guess it’s a wash.

 

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That night, I did not feel like cooking so I picked up some food at the only place I could, Firehouse Subs. They had a mural of the fire truck that was just at our house. Fortunately, they did a better job at my house than the one in the mural.

 

Random thoughts on GIS Feb 9, 2019

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You all well know that going and coming to GIS is one of my least favorite things while being there, seeing old friends and making new ones, is one of my most favorite things. We were able to minimize the former by minimizing our booth to the World’s Smallest Grinder Booth featuring the World’s Smallest Grinder. Apparently, we are trend setters as it seemed everyone had reduced their booth size. Even though the show floor seemed smaller, it still did not seem crowded which probably means attendance was down. We will have to see.

I guess GIS will sell your email to anybody. I have gotten over 200 emails from random people offering to sell me a list of all the GIS attendees with contact info. This is a royal pain in the ass. I wish GIS had a little more class. If I am wrong and this is just a scam, I apologize to GIS, but I don’t think so.

San Diego may be the best venue in California but it is still a miserable one. Downtown venues are expensive and it is difficult to get around or find parking. Yeah I know, you can walk anywhere you need to go but Larry and I are getting too old to walk from our hotel to the convention center, one mile, uphill, both ways. We can’t afford anything closer. We are also too old to ride those electric scooters or bikes. And the people are rude. Larry was moving in and was stopped and told he could not come in that way. When asked where he was parked, he was told that was employee only parking. He pointed to the sign that said “Public Parking $15”. The guy got flustered and finally told him he needed to use the next door down which was only 30 feet away. Why didn’t he just say “Sir, you need to use that entrance, the one marked Contractors.” I may be willing to try Los Angeles again but I will never go back to San Francisco. Las Vegas and Orlando are two of the World’s best venues and the folks at Orlando are especially nice and friendly. It doesn’t hurt that it is only an hour and a half from our plant.

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I see one of our competitors rolled out their new look for the show, new logo, new website and new slogans. They did have one little error. Since they used “others” plural, that has to include SIP. Even though they used a green checkmark on themselves and an orange checkmark on others, it still has to include SIP. And as everyone knows, the SIP Total Parallel Grinding™ system is the most precise system available. It is typically an order of magnitude more precise than measuring off the reel shaft. Our TorqueControl™ Relief Grinding is the fastest, most consistent relief grinder available anywhere. I am sure that it is just an oversight on their part and it will be corrected shortly. It is a good thing I am not litigious.

 

See you at the show Jan 28, 2019

 

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The first ten people who come by our booth 4501 at GIS and tell me what their favorite blog post is will get a free pi tape. This is for end users only and excludes anyone who sells our products. See you there. I hope it is warm.

Read the &#!%% instructions Jan 25, 2019

 

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A few weeks ago in this blog, I wrote about what I thought were two of the smartest people in this industry. Apparently I was wrong. Mike Kriz was visiting one of them last week and was working on the bed knife grinder when he noticed it wasn’t working quite right. He immediately realized that the wood used to protect the counterweight during shipping had not been removed. Once removed, the grinder worked perfectly. When he relayed the story to me, I remembered that I had the same experience with that other tech genius. A year or so ago, I was visiting him and he complained about a problem with a bed knife grinder. After a brief investigation, I too realized that the wood around the counter weight had not been removed. On page 5 of the manual is the above instructions. We also put this tag on every grinder that we ship but apparently it’s too much trouble to read!

 

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Mike told me that he knew about the problem because the used 1100 he purchased also still had the wood in it. So that made at least three cases where the wood was not removed. After thinking about it a while, I realized those guys are pretty smart and if they missed it, they are probably others who also have not removed the packing material. If you have an Ideal 1100 or 6000 and do not remember removing three pieces of wood from around the counterweight, please check it now. There should be one piece on the left side and two underneath the counterweight. And while your at it, make sure you have removed the set screw that locks the counterweight for shipping.

Since I now have at least three cases of the wood not being removed, the 1-2-3 rule kicks in. I will be adding a chord to each of the pieces of wood that will hang outside of the grinder with similar tags on the ends. Hopefully that will make it idiot proof.

 

We almost made it. Jan 18, 2019

 

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If you read this blog regularly, you know that we have been struggling to keep up with orders. This has been a problem for two reasons. We have been experiencing higher than normal volumes and we have had a hard time finding good people. In the last year and a half since our machinist left, we have had at least ten different people in here to fill that position. Some last a few months, others a few days. I believe we finally have our guy. We are also trying to find at least two more assemblers and maybe another machinist and we can’t even get qualified people to interview. Despite all of that, we have worked our lead times down from 10-12 weeks to a more reasonable 2-3 weeks. Our goal is to get back to shipping within one week of receiving the order. And then January hit. We booked as many orders in the first two weeks of this year as we did in 6 months last year. So we are back to 8-10 week lead times on any new orders. And this is before we feel any impact from Neary shutting down. It is going to get worse (better?).

I know, I know. You are playing me the world’s smallest violin right now, and I appreciate that.

RIP Neary Jan 12, 2019

 

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Yesterday, Foley announced that they will discontinue the Neary product line due to low sales volume.

In the late 1970’s Bob Neary was President of Foley. Bernhard had just started importing the Atterton and Ellis automatic spin grinder. Bob went to his bosses, the Ringers, and told them that Foley needed to make an automatic spin grinder. They declined, saying that those grinders would not sell because they could not do relief. At least that is the way the story was told to me. Bob knew better and left Foley to start his own company. He made a copy of the Express Dual for his spin grinder, a copy of the Foley manual reel grinder and a copy of our Ideal 50 Bed Knife Grinder. Apparently, he felt it was a better design than Foley’s (it was). There was some contention that Bob absconded with Foley’s engineering drawings which left a bit of animosity between them. I suspect that he just bought or borrowed one of each of the grinders he copied and reverse engineered them.

Bob passed away before the brand really took hold and the company was taken over by his nephew, Tim Neary. Tim had worked in sales for Honeywell, I believe, and he was a little more successful with the company. He added a patented relief grinding system to the spin grinder in the late 80’s or early 90’s. Foley introduced their first, all new, automatic spin and relief grinder with a similar system in the mid 90’s. Neary sued for patent violation and Foley eventually decided it was cheaper to buy Neary than to pay them royalties on the patent. Although, if the figure that Tim Neary mentioned to me is correct, it wasn’t cheap. That is especially true when you realize that the Neary patent was probably worthless. The Neary patent was exactly like the design of our original grinder, produced from 1902 through 1910. It included the spinning shaft, sliding hub, dual end in-feed and the rotating finger guide for relief.

I was a little surprised that they did not shut the product line down at that time. Tim had designed an all new, top of the line, enclosed grinder, the Neary 700. It was a total disaster in that many of the key components were made from aluminum which was too soft so they would shake themselves loose in a very short period of time. Fred Zimmy was traveling around the country full time trying to fix them before he came to work for me. When Foley acquired Neary, they decided to scrap the whole inventory of them.

In my opinion, there were two reasons to keep producing the Neary. It was a cheap alternative to the Express Dual for people who preferred that technology. Neary had one problem though. They did not copy the Express Dual exactly. They deleted the spring loading of the spinning shaft. Common sense would tell you that if you are trying to do a precision grind, that it is better to have the grinding head mounted solidly. And that is what Neary did. What they did not understand was that those springs prevented the user from over loading the shaft if they did too heavy and in-feed. On the Express Dual, you would just compress the springs which would not change the grinding pressure. On the Neary, since there are no springs, the grinding pressure would increase resulting in a greater force on the spinning shaft. If enough force is applied, the shaft will deflect and go out of balance, causing significant damage to the reel. The Neary could be very sensitive, too little in-feed and the grinding wheel would chatter, too much and the shaft deflected.

The second reason was to tie up dealers in an attempt to keep me out of markets, not an entirely unsuccessful strategy. They apparently did not care too much whether the dealer sold much because they figured they would probably get the sale through their Foley dealer. This is all speculation on my part, but it makes sense. A common response from a Neary dealer I was trying to turn was “We have the Neary line and besides, we don’t sell enough grinders to warrant the effort to change.” Well Doh! I have had more success lately converting these dealers and that may have contributed to Foley’s decision.

A few years ago, Neary private branded their grinders to John Deere under the Frontier product line. This was probably a final attempt to save Neary by adding another distribution channel. It turned out to be a disaster. First, it pissed off their neighbor Toro. Second, it under cut their own dealer network because the Deere dealer could and did undercut them in price. It removed any incentive for the Neary dealers to actually go out and sell. And finally, Neary’s margins we so low that they refused to support the Frontier grinders and Deere did not have anyone who could so the end user was left out in the cold. I believe Deere decided to opt out of the agreement at the earliest possible time. I was pretty sure then that Neary’s time was limited. Then last year, Foley introduced a new grinder which was a Neary spin grinder in a Foley enclosure, the final nail in the coffin.

Their dealer network was decimated from the Frontier fiasco and now they could compete with the Express Dual technology with a Foley grinder. There were no reasons left to keep Neary going. They have met the same fate as Mercury, Oldsmobile, Plymouth, Pontiac, and Scion.

Two of my favorite people Jan 7, 2019

 

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John Patterson and Stephen Tucker are two of my favorite people with whom I share a character flaw. If we start talking about something on which we are passionate, you cannot shut us up. For me, it is about my family or my grinders. For them, it includes maintaining golf course equipment. At least with them it is interesting. They produced a great pod cast worth listening to, just make sure you wont be interrupted for about an hour.

 

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