Coping March 30, 2020
I pray that you are all safe and healthy. We are all doing fine. Melissa, our office manager, had to make an emergency trip to Arkansas last Friday. Her father is in the hospital on a respirator with pneumonia. They do not think it is Corona virus related but prayers for them would be appreciated. It looks like Florida may be another epicenter for the virus so all elderly folks were told to stay home. The big problem seems to be in south Florida but Michele and I will be playing it safe and staying home. The shop is still open, so we should still be able to send orders sent by email. Only Karl will be handling the orders and he washes his hands before pulling stock and packaging it. I spent two hours on the phone with Spectrum trying to get our phone calls forwarded to my cell phone but apparently so is everybody else. Their web site is down so for now, most phone calls will not be answered.
A couple of years ago, I set up full syncing of my home and work computers so anything I start one place, I can continue at the other. I also set up remote access to my computer so I can also work on things that are not part of the syncing. This will make it easy for me to work from home. For example, Karl called me this morning with something that was not clear on a drawing. I can open the file at home, make the changes and save them. Then I can go on to my computer at work, open that file, save it as a pdf, upload it to our data base and finally print out a new work order with the corrections on the printer at work. I have also been working on a major update of the data base in Filemaker. The update has been an on again off again project for about a year but we have been using different versions of it since 2004. This will be the sixth version and I guess I will have a lot of time to finish it.
$#!† Hole March 21, 2020
To be precise, three $#!† holes. When we bought our building in 2004, we were told that we were not on city sewer but had our own septic tank in the back of the building. I did not think about the fact that the plumbing in the front of the building had a 100 yard run to the septic tank in the back. About two years ago, after having a lot of drainage problems, we had a plumber use a camera snake to see if he could find the problem after a few hundred dollars and several visits, we found out we had a second septic tank in the front of the building. They found shop rags plugging most of the tank inlet. All fixed and working great. Not so the tank in the back of the building. We had it serviced at the same time including pumping but now the two toilets in the our tenants back shop keep backing up and occasionally our toilet in the middle of the building will overflow. So we call the plumber out with his camera again. When he gets here, everything is working normally (naturally) but he checks it out and pumps the tank. He sees a lot of rust modules on our old cast iron pipe that might catch debris from the toilet and temporarily clog the pipe. He suggests that he use a rotary chain device to clean up the inside of the pipe and then jet blast it clean. There goes another two grand. As they are cleaning the pipes something does not add up. They put their camera in again and discover a third septic tank of the side of the building. They add a trap and clean those pipes out too. They see what looks like packing peanuts in the septic tank, not a good sign. So now they will be back Tuesday to dig up the third septic tank, pump it out and clean it for another $700. Lest you think I am being ripped off by an unscrupulous plumber, I have inspected every step of their work and I trust them. For all of you folks who think owning your own business is glamorous, you are full of $#!†.
Training Day March 15, 2020
Denzel Washington is one of my favorite actors. He makes movies that can be watched over and over. The only movie of his I have never seen is Training Day. I just couldn’t stand to see him as a bad guy. We, however, are continuing our good guy training with Mike Rollins, our new Eastern Regional Manager. We finished an eleven day road trip that included a seminar, six demos, two customer trainings and signing up a new dealer, with a side trip to Niagara Falls. Not too shabby for his first time on the road. He continues to work on the assembly of machines and learn the basics of grinding. He has also done a complete 7000 grinding head rebuild in the shop and he did some electrical repairs while on our road trip. In a couple of weeks he will spend a week with Stephen Tucker to broaden his grinding experience as well as learn some basics of cutting unit maintenance.
We were planning on taking another road trip the first week of April but due to “an abundance of caution”, I have suspended all traveling for the next month by both Larry, our Western Regional Manager and Mike due to the coronavirus .
Speaking of coronavirus, I was a little shocked to see how empty the supermarket shelves were. I never binge buy like that because I normally have enough of everything to last at least two weeks…except now. Just before we left on our trip a couple weeks ago, my freezer quit. When I called our repair man, he said it could be the relay which I could easily fix myself and save the service call. If it was anything else, he said I should just by a new freezer. I protested that the freezer was only six years old. He responded “Doesn’t matter.” “When did a $700 freezer become a throw away item?” I wondered. While we were gone, Karl moved everything he could into our 20 year old refrigerator. When I got back, I went freezer shopping online. I had a hard time finding a freezer as big as my old one that would fit in the cabinet space built for it. I also decided I had better not push my luck and get a refrigerator too, which also had some restrictions on size. I found both on sale at Lowe’s and paid $2,300 for both, which was an $1,100 savings. One problem, they are backordered until the first week of April. So we are not the only company struggling to keep up with orders (it is getting better) but at least we do not make throw away grinders.
The Perfect Storm March 7, 2020
We are always trying to improve our products. Sometimes it comes with obvious benefits for the end user and other times it just makes the product easier or cheaper to produce. The latter is usually a lower priority. One of the improvements I have been contemplating for years is our slip clutch design. If all of the parts are made correctly it works fine. The problem is the #6-32 tapped holes for the screws that engage the clutch. If they are not precisely located and drilled straight, the screw heads will rub on the clutch. The screw heads are turned down to the absolute minimum size to prevent this but occasionally it isn’t enough. What usually happens is if the assembler gets a bad clutch, he sets it aside and gets another one. Eventually, all you have is bad clutches in stock. Sometimes, a little rework or adjustment will fix the problem but as often as not, the clutch housing has to be scrapped, and it is not a cheap piece to make.
So last week, all we had left were bad clutches at the same time we were starting a new batch of housings. I had a knock down drag out with my son, Karl about putting a hold on production until we came up with a better design. He assured me that when he makes the parts, they are right. I did not doubt him but I felt is was the perfect opportunity to fix this problem once and for all. He had two pieces already started when I asked him to stop. He finished one to fill an old back order and I took the other one. Once he had reconciled himself to the redesign, we spent about an hour and came up with our solution. He was too busy to do the machining so I stepped in. I screwed the piece up enough so that we couldn’t sell it but it was good enough to validate the design.
Decoupling is an engineering term which means if you try and get one part to do too many things, it will not do any of them well. It is usually better to have one part perform one function so it can be optimized for that function. The old clutch design used the #6-32 screws to both hold the clutch in the housing and engage the clutch to the housing. This resulted in too little clearance between the clutch and the screws. We replaced the screws with roll pins to engage the clutch and and internal snap ring to retain the clutch in the housing. This is one of those “Doh” moments when I say, “Why didn’t I design it that way in the first place?” This housing replaces tapped and counterbored holes with drilled holes and a snap ring groove. The groove is added as the last step in the lathe operation and only adds about a minute’s worth of labor. Eliminating the tapping and counterboring probably saves about 10 minutes. The best part is that all of the clutches in the pilot production batch went together without a hitch and took about half the time to assemble. The final proof will be when we do a full production batch.
So Karl had to admit the old man was right this time, something that is happening less and less frequently.
Road to Phoenixville March 3, 2020
Starring Mike Rollins as Bing Crosby, Mark Pilger as Bob Hope and the lovely Michele Pilger as the lovely Dorothy LaMour. We just finished our first road trip with Mike Rollins, our new Eastern Regional Manager as he continues in the training process. Lasting eleven days, it began with a seminar in South Carolina, then continued on to training and demos at our new dealer in Ohio, Baker Vehicle. Over the weekend we played tourist and visited Niagara Falls, then on Monday and Tuesday we continued with more demos in New York. Wednesday was a couple of training sessions in Boston. Thursday was a demo in Rhode Island and finally on to Lawn and Golf in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania on Friday. We did a demo for their whole crew and have just signed them up as our new dealer for Eastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and Northern Virginia. A long and very successful trip with more coming soon to a theater near you.
Tuskegee February 22, 2020
A couple of weeks ago, I saw a news item about a Tuskegee Airman being honored at the State of the Union Address. I thought “Wow, he probably flew fighter cover for my Dad!” If you are a long time reader of this blog, you know that my Dad flew B17s in World War II. He flew out of Foggia Italy and began his tour there in August 1944. This was about the same time the Tuskegee Airman reached their full strength of four squadrons stationed at Ramitelli, about 45 miles north of Foggia. By the time Dad entered the war, the allies had clear air superiority to the point that they stopped camouflaging the planes. This reduced weight and drag and extended the range. This was important because one of my Dad’s first missions ended with just a couple of gallons of fuel left in the tanks.
One of the main reasons the allies enjoyed air superiority was the Tuskegee Airmen. My dad said he did not worry about enemy fighters when he was being escorted by the Red Tails, the nickname for the Tuskegee Airman because of the all red tail on their P51 Mustangs. Dad’s confidence was borne out by the fact that the Red Tails lost only 27 bombers compared to the average of 46 for other P51 squadrons in the 15th Air Force. They did this because they were very disciplined and would stay with their bomber group and not be lured off by enemy fighters. They did all of that while still maintaining an impressive enemy kill rate.
The man honored at the State of the Union and who probably flew fighter escort for my Dad is 100 year old retired Brigadier General Charles McGee. He flew over 150 missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. As a Tuskegee Airman, General McGee had to fight for the privilege of fighting for his country. It is inspiring to see that his fight resulted in him seeing his great grandson plan on going to the Air Force Academy, and then join America’s Space Force.
Pumped II February 16, 2020
Seems I spoke a little early last week when I said we had the air compressor fixed. When we turned it on the next day, it pumped up to 125 psi and kicked off. Perfect, right? Except it did not kick off, it blew the circuit breaker. So I waited a few minutes and turned the circuit breaker on. It pumped up to 135 psi and blew the circuit breaker again. I tried once again and this time it went to 150 psi. Now I am thinking that the top pressure cut off was supposed to be 125 psi but maybe I had it wrong and it was 150 psi. One more time and then it went to 165 psi. I knew I had a problem with the pressure switch so I adjusted it every way I could with no change. Karl came out and noticed bubbles coming from inside the switch. We replaced the switch and now I was thinking that this is what may have caused the pump failure, too much pressure broke something inside. We turned the pump on and it kicks out at 125 psi. Perfect. Not so fast. When it kicks on again, it blows the circuit breaker at 120. A quick trip to Grainger for a new circuit breaker and we now, finally, hopefully have compressed air. It has been working since Tuesday.
Pumped February 10, 2020
And not in a good way. A couple of days before GIS, our Ingersol Rand compressor died. We bought it new in 2005. The first thing we found out is that the pump is obsolete and parts are no longer available. Since we still make some parts for a machine built in 1937 and we are still designing upgrades for machines that were discontinued in 2005, either IR is crazy or I am. The compressor it replaced was at least 40 years old and still running, a little tired, but still running. A replacement pump from IR was not a direct replacement and cost $3,500. I could buy a whole new compressor and tank for $3,200 but it would not include the auto blow off valve, oil level switch and intercooler. That would cost over $5,000. At that point, you need to think about a screw compressor for about $7,000. Eventually, I found a Chicago Pneumatics pump equal to the IR for $2,000 from zoro.com. I told Melissa to order it and she says “ I have a 25% off coupon” so it ended up costing us $1,500. We were told that we would have it in a couple of days. The tracking number said it was in Jacksonville. When we didn’t get it, we called and after a couple days of no answer, it was lost. Thanks UPS Freight. We contacted Zoro and they sent us another one the next day. We were supposed to get it last Thursday but it did not show up until Friday. We just finished all of the modifications and reinstalling it so we will have compressed air tomorrow after almost three weeks without it.
“You will miss me when I am gone” is the theme of many Country Western songs and it is especially true of compressed air in our shop. We can’t prep for paint, paint, use the chop saw, use the auto chuck on the mill, blow chips, run coolant mist, or test machines. This has basically put us three weeks farther behind. Just when we think we see the light at the end of the tunnel, someone adds more tunnel.
The Greatest Show on Earth February 1, 2020
The title may be a little hyperbolic but this week’s Golf Industry Show was the best in my memory of the last 31 years. If you are a regular to this blog, you know that I am not a big fan of GIS, it is a necessary evil. The worst in recent memory was the first San Antonio Show in 2015 when it took us six hours of waiting to get to the loading dock, four hours of arguing about whether we had to pay extra to move our equipment from in front of our booth to in the booth (we did not) and eight hours waiting to get to the loading dock to move out, all in the freezing cold. After that, I decided that we would only take what we could carry in through the front door. That meant we could move in and set up Tuesday afternoon and be on the road 30 minutes after the show closed.
Orlando is the exception. It is a little over an hour drive from our plant so we save a lot of money in shipping and travel. So we go with a larger booth and bring our machines in. The folks at Orlando are much more accommodating and helpful. This year our waits at the loading dock were less than an hour with the move in and out times adding only an hour. Our crew was on the road an hour and a half after they started moving equipment. We did have one little glitch during move in. The fork lift operator tried to pull the aisle versus booth scam on us (I think she was looking for a kickback to grease the wheels) but Melissa was prepared and it took less than an hour to get it resolved. The best part, I wasn’t part of the crew. For the first time ever, I did not have to work either the move in or move out. I did go home and prepare them a really good steak dinner.
The first hour and a half of the show is restricted to dealers and it is always a little slow but when they opened the show to all at 10, the flood gates were open. We did not have a moments rest until 30 minutes after the show closed. It took me two hours to eat my lunch. That reminds me, for convention center food Orlando is not bad, a little pricey but not bad. We met a lot of great people and a few really important people. We also made progress on filling in the remaining holes in our dealer network. I was really surprised at how many people from Ireland to Korea and all points in between are reading this blog. Thank you all for the encouragement. The second day of the show was more typical but it was still busier than normal. The picture above was taken the second day, apparently we were too busy the first day to take any pictures. I did not have a lot of time to walk around but the show did seem noticeably smaller as many of the major exhibitors downsized their booths. A trend that I believe I started with the worlds smallest grinder booth, a title I lost this year.
New Hire January 24, 2020
Meet Mike Rollins, my son-in-law. I just hired him to take over the marketing for SIP, as well as my sales responsibilities in the Eastern US. Mike has a degree in Film and Media from the University of Florida and has worked on a film team for NatGeo Wild, was a drone pilot for a Netflix documentary, and has independently created short films for construction, golf courses, and weddings. He got his start in the film industry by starting his own drone videography company in 2015. Before Mike paid his way through college, he grew up working for his father, which included a big rig repair facility and towing service and a trucking company that specialized in oversized loads. For the past 7 years, Mike worked with his father at their company that focused on sales and service of heavy duty trucks and equipment. Mike’s past experience is a great foundation for his job at SIP; but, obviously, he will need training that is specific to the golf course industry and grinding, in particular. So, I am starting him from scratch - with the assembly of the grinders. He will do at least two batches of the 7000 Reel Grinder and two of the 6000 Bed Knife Grinder. I will also train him on the basic operation of the grinders and have him take service calls. He will not know all of the answers, but he will find them and he will learn, quickly. He will also accompany me and Larry, our Western Regional Manager, on several sales trips. I have also arranged for him to spend time in several high-quality shops where he can learn the basics of cutting-unit maintenance. Obviously, he will be a little green, but he is enthusiastic, learns quickly, and what questions he can’t answer, he will get for you as quickly as possible. I look forward to working with him and showing him the ropes, and I appreciate your patience while I do. Come by and meet him at our GIS booth 4404.
Clean Sweep January 13, 2020
I apologize for being a little negligent with this blog but between the holidays and a couple special projects, I have been swamped. When we first moved into our current building in 2005, we only occupied the front 2 bays. We prepped everything with new lights and painted walls and floors. A few years later, our tenant finally moved out and we doubled our production area. The new areas are used for painting prep and welding as well as storage and staging of materials so we did not paint or add lights right away. The floor we painted in the front two bays, used for machining and assembly, was bare when we started so we had it acid etched and painted. Considering that was 15 years ago, the paint has held up really well. The one mistake I made was to add sand to reduce the chance of slipping and falling. That has made it more difficult to clean and almost impossible to paint. When we do get ready to paint, the floor will have to be ground or sanded smooth rather than just recleaned. In the mean time, we sweep the floor regularly and every 3-4 months we wash it with a steam cleaner and industrial vacuum. The guys bitch and moan while we do it but working in a clean environment does help improve quality.