Efficiencies June 23, 2017
A few weeks back, I talked about how we were drowning in a good way. Our sales this year are way up so when I was not busy, I decided to help out in assembly by putting together the Ideal switch panel assemblies. This reminded me of something I had been thinking about in the past as a way to improve efficiencies. When we first moved into our building, we only occupied the front 6,000 square feet while we waited for one of our tenants to move out. The assembly area had to double as the weld shop and paint area. Once the tenant moved out, we moved the welding to the back bay and rearranged the front bay for assembly. It was divided into two main areas, one for reel grinders and the other for bed knife grinders. This worked out pretty well but since there are many shared parts, we had to keep them in two locations. This is most acute in the wiring and pneumatic subassemblies. It made more sense to have assembly areas designated by function rather than product model.
So I began to look at what this assembly station should look like. I wanted a work station on casters with a metal frame and a wooden top. It needed to have storage areas for small parts and all of the tools needed for those specific subassemblies. It should also have power and lights and it would be really nice if the table height was adjustable for either standing or sitting. Commercially available benches like this can run between $1,000 and $2,000 each and since I was eventually going to have at least 6 of these work benches, that price seemed a little steep. Anything in my price range was pretty flimsy and didn’t even meet half of my criteria.
I got an email ad from Northern Tool where they had a portable scaffold on sale, normally priced at $199, on sale for $159. It was the perfect size and with a little bit of modification, would meet all of my criteria. So I bought two of them. I assembled it and once the platform was in place, it was very rigid. I built a simple frame for a light and slid it on to the top extension brackets. A four foot LED lamp from Sam’s Club was added and cost $40 (we have since bought a ten pack of these lights for the weld shop which drops the price to $25 each). I used u-bolts to attach a peg board on one end for tools and bolted short lengths of 2x4s to the back legs as shelf supports. I bought some nice bins at Grainger and Harbor Freight then built shelves from one inch lumber to fit the bins. The lumber and power strip with a 15 foot cord cost about $100. The bins another $40. I added a couple of tools including an electric screw driver and a ratcheting crimping tool for another $50. I also put a coat of polyurethane on the shelves and 5 coats on the table top. It took me about a week to feel my way and put this together for a total cost of about $400.It is working out great. The only problem is that I have created a lot more work for myself. I will need to replace all of our current work stations and reorganize all of our inventory to be function specific instead of product specific. Wish me luck.
Sherlock Holmes June 17, 2017
In April, I was on a two week trip that spanned most of the North East and Mid Atlantic. As I was driving from North Carolina to Michigan, I realized that I would be passing close to Plymouth Ohio, birthplace of SIP. I had been in contact and met with Tom Root, son of our founder Percy Root, several times. He had always been very gracious and provided me with good information. I had tried to contact him a month earlier and could only get his answering machine. I couldn't leave a message because it was full. So I figured I would drop by his home. When I got there about dinner time, I saw a pick up truck in the drive way. I new it wasn’t his because he alway drove Lincolns. I knocked on the door and was informed he did not live there any more. He had moved to a nursing home near by.
I checked Google and there was only one nursing home near by and it had a different name than the one they gave me. I went there anyway. I asked about Mr. Root at the reception desk. He was not a resident there. I asked about other nursing homes in the area and she confirmed they were the only one close by. I gave her the name I was given and her face brightened. It was not a nursing home but an adult living facility just a few blocks away. On we went.
This time the receptionist knew Mr. Root and took us to his room. It was very nice and the facilities are right next door to the local hospital. We had a nice chat with him and he was doing very well considering that he is 94 years old. He confirmed that his daughter had access to all of his documents and photos and he gave me her cell phone number.
I had this information, with out the cell phone number, a year earlier. What I did have was her name and that she was a teacher at the local school. When I tried to look her up, I got an exact match, the right name, the right age, the right area and that she was a teacher. I tried calling several times and wrote her a letter. Finally, she called me back and had no idea who Thomas Root was. It was a dead end.
Now armed with her cell phone number, I called her latter that evening. No answer, so I left a message. She had not called back by the next morning, so we headed to Plymouth to see the old plant and to go by the Plymouth Ohio museum. On the way, I keep a look out for a school were the daughter might work. In small towns like this, I find the hardware stores, auto parts stores and schools are usually located on the main drag through town. Sure enough, we find a brand new school building that houses the elementary, middle and high schools. This had to be the place. I went to the front door and it was locked with all kinds of security including something that looked like and iris scanner. As I was fumbling with all of this, a woman came to the front door to help. I told her who I was and who I was looking for. She knew immediately who I was talking about and volunteered to send her a text message. I still was not sure if this would be the right person or the same dead end I had encountered previously.
We continued on to the museum which is housed in the old hardware store in downtown Plymouth. It is only open on week ends so I was not very optimistic about getting in. Sure enough, we get there and the door is locked but there are people inside. A woman comes to the door and I explain to her that I am now the owner of the SIP division of the Fate Root Heath company. The Fate Root Heath company was the main employer in Plymouth for about eighty years and has one floor of the museum dedicated to it. The woman was thrilled and invited us in. She turned on the lights in the basement an let us go down there for a self guided tour. When we returned upstairs, she explained that they were preparing for “A Night at the Museum” the following night. Citizens of Plymouth were going to dress up as their forefathers and man exhibits from different eras.including the bookkeeper from the Fate Root Heath company, also a family member. Apparently one of her jobs was to review all expense reports from which she learned all of the dirty little secrets of Plymouth society. She could have been rich from black mail but took all of the secrets to her grave. Then I got a phone call. The woman on the other end said she had gotten a weird text to call this number. I explained to her who I was and that I was looking for the daughter of Thomas Root. “That’s me” she said. “Eureka” I thought. I told her what I was looking for and she said she was a little busy right then. She was on her way to the Plymouth museum to help prepare for their “Night at the Museum.” I told her I was already there. She told me to wait and she would meet me in twenty minutes.
Twenty minutes later, she shows up and we have a delightful conversation. Turns out she is the relative playing the bookkeeper. She tells me that they have all of their father’s documents in storage and that it may take some time to dig out what I am looking for. She also tells me he brother knows even more about the history of the Fate Root Heath Company and gives me his contact information. He now lives in New Hampshire and later sent me an email. I told him what I was looking for and he sent me the above photo of the first commercially viable reel mower grinder that first went into production in 1902. I have artist renderings of this machine which were commonly used in printed material but this is the first time I have seen an actual photo of that first grinder.
I know, one of my competitors says they have been doing it longer but the old photos they show are grinding reels that are out of frame on a machine that is obviously meant for something else. As best as I can determine, the earliest photo of a purpose built reel grinder from them dates from the 50s or 60s. My other competitor started making cheap knock offs of our grinders in the 1930s. In any case, this turned into a real fun adventure and made me proud of my sleuthing talents
Scrap It June 10, 2017
What did Skip Heinz do when he started a new job as a golf course equipment manager at Royal Poinciana which already had a 12 year old Express Dual 3000, a 15 year old Foley 650 and a 22 year old, first generation Peerless 2000? You keep the one that works and scrap the other two. Which one did he keep? Do you have to ask? Of course he kept the Peerless 2000. Not only was it still working with the same precision as a new Peerless 7000, he was also able to add a couple of upgrades and a Simplex 500 Electric Lift Table that brought it up to date. Something else you can not do with the competitors’ grinders
Proud Dad II June 3, 2017
Our dealer in South Florida, Jon Gowen of Southern Outfitters, recently shipped a new set of grinders to Trump National of Jupiter. He normally goes in and checks the calibration of the grinders after they are set up, but he had to wait because they were cleaning and painting the grinding room for the new grinders (see Dirty Little Secret). This week, he went in to check the calibration of the grinders and show the customer how precise they are. Now Jon has sold a lot of our grinders for many years and he has always done this, but this time he had to call me right after he left.
“Mark, I just left Trump. I checked the calibration of both grinders and they were perfect. I have never seen grinders this good, and the fit and finish is really good too. The customer is thrilled”
I think he thought that he implied all of the other grinders were not any good so he quickly added “Your grinders have always been good, but this is near perfection.”
Obviously, getting a phone call like that will make you feel good, but this is especially true since it is my son, Karl, who is so obsessive about quality and precision (see Proud Dad). Our spec is that the grinding head travel has to be straight to within .001 and parallel to the top within .002. He will fight with it until he gets everything within .001. We have also spent a lot of time improving the processes we use and surprisingly, processes that are quicker usually lead to better quality. We do this because we want to build the best possible grinders and it is especially gratifying when the customer notices.
Memorial Day 2017 May 27, 2017
On this Memorial Day, I want to thank all of our veterans and active duty personnel for their work and sacrifice. My father-in-law was a WWII army veteran who landed in the second wave at Normandy, slogged through France, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and battled to Berlin. He had several field commendations and promotions and was the only survivor of his original squad. It is hard to imagine living and fighting in those conditions for almost a year but he did. He was very proud of his service, he was one of those guys who battled his home owners association when they would not let him fly an American flag and won. The above video is something I put together for his wake in 2008. I was originally going to just have his picture for this blog, but this video is a much better tribute to him and all of our Veterans.
Help, I’m Drowning May 20, 2017
In a good way, of course. We normally do more than half of our business in the first 3-4 months of the year. This is partially because many courses are on a calendar year budget and have their capital funds available in January. Since a lot of courses are shut down in the winter and performing annual maintenance, the first pieces of equipment they buy are grinders. Our goal is to be able to ship grinders within one week of receiving the order. We build the grinders so they are almost complete, then put them on the shelf. When we get an order, the grinder is pulled of the shelf and completed based on the options the customer orders.
I worry that during our peak sales, we will not be able to ship grinders on a timely basis, so for the past four or five years, I have sent out a warning to our dealers that they may see some delays. Every year, we have been able to adapt and only occasionally extend the shipping time to two weeks. I felt like the boy who cried wolf, so this year, I did not send the warning to our dealers. And the deluge hit. We have already sold more than all of last year and almost double what we sold two years ago. It is hard to plan and adapt with that much of an increase, so we have been looking at shipping delays of up to 6 weeks. It is almost June and it is still taking up to 3 weeks to ship grinders. The hardest hit is my son, Karl. He is the General Manager and has been working 6-7 days a week, 10-12 hours a day all while trying to take his final exams. He has also had to deal with our lead machinist leaving for a job closer to home and our painter taking two weeks off for shoulder surgery. He was also blind sided by a supplier, who normally delivers custom cut steel in a few days, taking four weeks because their shop is so backed up. I think we are about to get our heads above water. However, if this is the results of not warning our dealers, be warned, no more warnings and thanks for your patience.
Pure Genius May 15, 2017
I saw this article in a local publication and thought it was pure genius.
Golf is known as a traditional sport, and one that's been well-loved for centuries.
Golf course offering golf bikes
Adds cardio to the sport
Bikes can hold 12 clubs and other gear
Players usually strap their bags onto a golf cart or carry them through 18 holes, sometimes with the help of a caddy. But, Largo Golf Course is mixing it up, giving golfers another way to get around using bicycles.
The pro shop has had four golf bikes inside for about two months. Employee Gordon Gundle says they've been taken out a few dozen times. With six speeds and spots for 12 clubs and your gear on the back of the bike, it's picking up in popularity.
"A lot of people really enjoy it, especially those who are a little bit healthier," Gundle said. "They're like 'Oh I got exercise today and I got to golf so it's been good'".
Avid golfer Gary Burkett says its certainly a workout, but a challenge he's enjoying.
"It's been good! It's good exercise and it's good on the legs, I mean my legs are feeling it now, but I would do it again," he said while standing by the 9th green on Sunday.
For the Largo Golf Course, it's just about mixing it up, and adding some cardio to a sport based on practice and precision.
"We're trying to make it fun and interactive and something new!" Grundle said. "Golf is very traditional, and we're trying to up it one better and make it something new and exciting.”
The golf bikes are just $2 more than the price to walk the Largo Golf Course.
Best Engineering 50 Years Ago May 5, 2017
Last weekend, I was cleaning the garage and found this old piece of burnt wood. I hung it in my office today. Why, you ask? It is all that is left from my Soap Box Derby racer. My dad had glued to it the plaque from what was left of the trophy I had won. The trophy was for best engineered racer. He was flying down to visit us and deliver this mash-up of a trophy. While he was taxiing his Riviera amphibious airplane in Kentucky, the engine quit. He did not realize that a fuel leak had filled the fuselage with aviation fuel vapors so when he tried to restart it, the plane caught fire. He barely escaped with his flight bag and my makeshift trophy.
My racer had several unique features which I had very little to do with engineering. My dad either developed the ideas or borrowed them from somewhere else. The standard brake design was a single piece of 4x4 hinged at one end and cut at an angle at the other end. A piece of tire was cut to match and attached to the angled end. A cable and a series of pulleys were attached to the brake and a brake pedal. When you pressed the pedal, it would drag the tire end of the 4x4 on the ground. Most racers did not cut the angle quite right so only a small portion of the tire actually dragged on the ground. My design used 1x2 boards that were double hinged. The pad was 2 inches wide by 5 inches long. When I pressed on the brake pedal, the pad would automatically drag flat on the ground. I could stop in half the distance of any other car. It had the added benefit that it would seat completely flush with the bottom of the racer which improved aerodynamics.
The second feature was a floating axle fairing. All other racers had a large hole in the side that allowed the front axle to rotate allowing you to steer the racer. The floating fairing sealed the hole but still allowed the axle to move. Again, this improved aerodynamics.
My racer also included the unique feature that the top of the racer could be removed to allow easy access for repairs and adjustments. This lead to a problem with the fourth innovation.
My dad found a source for scrap lead ballast used on certain aircraft to maintain their center of gravity. We used that ballast as a bolster for the rear axle. By putting as much weight on the rear axle as possible, we increased the potential energy of the racer when it was on the starting ramp. The lead was perfect because it was soft enough to be machined with woodworking tools and of course it was heavy. Because our tops were removable, the judges saw all of that lead and were going to rule that we could not use it. The rule was you could not use metal as ballast so any metal in the racer had to perform a function. Most people just added angle where ever they could and called it bracing. The judges said it was too much lead. The rule did not limit the amount of metal used, just that it had to be functional. If I had removed even one piece of lead, the axle would not have been secure and I would have had to replace it with something else. My dad wrote a scathing letter to the judges. He said that if I were forced to remove what they called extra lead, he was going to demand the every extra piece of metal, including screws and nails be removed from every other racer. They backed down but then came after me to try and prove that I did not build the car, “It was too good”. So with out my dad present, they questioned my brother and me about our cars, asking about every little detail. Apparently, we got the answers right because the judges proclaimed that “if anybody built their racers, these two boys did.”
My brother, three years my junior, was able to build a narrower more aerodynamic racer with more weight on the rear axle. He was on his way to winning by a large margin when he crashed his car into the curb in the championship heat. He won the next year and went to National in Akron. He lost in the second heat in what was the closest photo finish they had. I think they decided it with a coin toss. That heat winner went on to take fourth place out of nine finalists. So close. Ironically, his car was considered a little crude compared to most of the other racers there.
When my kids were of age, I was excited to hear that Soap Box Derby now let girls compete, so we went to one of the races. What a let down. There had been so much cheating that they had to take all of the creativity out of it. One racer whose father worked at Boeing, used thousands of dollars worth of wind tunnel testing which violated the $50 max. The straw that broke the camel’s back and led to the withdrawal of Chevy sponsorship was the fellow who hid an electromagnet in the nose of his racer which was activated by his helmet. The magnet would cause the steel starting gate to pull the racer down the ramp and give it a big head start. When I raced, the kit they provided included four wheels, 2 axles, a steering wheel a helmet and a t-shirt. Now they give you a choice of two kits which include everything you need to build the car. It is so sad that all of the creativity has been removed because I know that my Best Engineered Racer trophy is what started me on the path of being an engineer
Mid-Life Crisis April 28, 2017
I saw this video on line and it reminded me of a friend who somehow talked his wife into letting him install a Corvette engine and running gear into his Mazda Miata. I am sure his conversation with her had to be better than the one in the video.
A few months ago, we decided to change the design of the cylinder tube of the Ideal 6000 Bed Knife Grinder. This is the tube that encloses the rodless pneumatic cylinder that moves the carriage left and right. The current piece is made from 1/8 inch wall by 3 inch square steel tube. A slot is machined in one side to allow access to the cylinder. On assembly, the cylinder is preassembled in the tube and then mounted on the back wall of the grinder. This results in three problems. First, when machining the slot in the tube, the wall wants to collapse a little which can cause interference with the cylinder. Second, preassembling the cylinder in the tube is difficult and time consuming. And third, servicing the cylinder means you have to completely remove and disassemble the cylinder/tube assembly.
In the past, I would have come up with a new design and sketched it out. I would probably have discussed it with Darwin, our semi-retired general manager, just to see how we could best make it. Materials would be ordered and a prototype made. It wouldn't be quite right so the process would be repeated maybe several times.
Now, I come up with a concept and before I even sketch it out, I discuss it with my son, Karl. He can conceptualize and visualize in 3D even better than I can. So we can go through a dozen different concepts and see the benefits and draw backs of each one eventually picking what we think is the best. I may or may not do a sketch depending on the complexity and then Karl will make it usually with material we already have. What used to take weeks now takes a few hours. So now we have a design for a two piece cylinder enclosure that solves all of the problems listed above and is less expensive to make. It may also include another surprise or two so stay tuned. The hold up now is that I have to make the drawings, which is what I should be doing instead of writing this blog.
And Again the 1-2-3 Rule April 14, 2017
There was a bit of a rant on one of the forums about our Reel Height of Cut gauge. The complaint was that three reels were set to .090” with their old gauge and when checked with the RHOC, they got a .020” variation between reels. Now it would be just as easy to say the problem is with their old gauge. They could have set all three reels with the RHOC and they would have then found a .020” variation with the old gauge. That is probably a contributing factor but it may not be the whole problem.
The customer blamed the problem on the blade catch not being tapered and catching the top of the blade and not the edge. My position has been that as long as the measurement is consistent and repeatable, it does not matter. The problem with a tapered blade catch can be seen in Figures 1-3. Figure 1 shows the correct way to engage the blade catch on to the bed knife for our competitors’ gauge. The problem is that if you locate the bed knife correctly, the dial indicator stem will drag on the bed knife and may not properly seat on the catch as can be seen in Figure 2. If you back off the dial indicator stem, you get the situation shown if Figure 3 where the edge of the bed knife is up on the taper. Both of these will result in a false reading. When you also consider that the gauge bar itself is not very flat and is flexible, it is easy to see why you might be getting inconsistent results.
Our design (Figure 4) which has the blade catch parallel to the gauge bar, a brass guard that protects the dial indicator stem and a structural gauge bar solves all of these problems and results in more consistent readings. This is fine if the bed knife top face has a negative angle. When it has a positive angle (Figure 5), the blade catch does not catch the edge but rests on the top face. It does this very consistently and would normally give you very reliable readings. This is true as long as your bed knives have the same wear, but if you mix an old bed knife that has been lapped (Figure 6) with a new bed knife, then the gap between the bed knife and the catch can vary by up to .010”. In years past, that would not have been enough to worry about, but today, it is significant. This has not been a big issue for us because most of the folks who buy our gauge are concerned enough about consistency that they do not let their bed knives vary. But wouldn’t it be better if the blade catch always catches the edge of the bed knife? Yes and no. It should give you a more accurate reading but it will be more difficult to calibrate. Figure 8 shows the normal calibration position for the straight blade catch. You allow it to rest on the top of the gauge bar and set the indicator to zero. Figure 9 shows that if the blade catch is tapered, it will engage the gauge bar at a different position on the taper from the bed knife. The problem becomes how do you calibrate and zero the indicator with a tapered blade catch and you have to do this well enough so that you are consistent from one gauge to the next.
The video (also on YouTube) shows calibrating a RHOC with a straight blade stop is straight forward, easy and does not require any special tools. You zero the gauge when the blade stop is resting on the gauge bar. You can also use a round (a drill) or flat bar (keystock) to check the calibration. The RHOC with a tapered blade catch requires a special tool which is hardened steel, ground to a 5° knife edge on one side only. You slide the the tool, ground side up, until it stops against the brass guard. This will set the engagement point of the blade stop on the top of the tool even with the top of the gauge bar on the bottom of the tool. While holding the tool in place, you then set the dial indicator to zero. You then need to use a flat bar seated against the brass guard to check the calibration. As I have said before, there are trade-offs with every design choice. Here we maintain precision but give up a little accuracy in some cases by keeping the blade catch straight. By adding a taper to the blade stop, we get that accuracy in all cases but we significantly increase the complexity of calibrating and setting the gauge to zero.
I am sending a prototype of a gauge to the person who originally posted his complaint on a forum to get his feed back. I would like to remind you that you are more likely to get the outcome you want by contacting us directly with your complaints or comments. The 1-2-3 rule commands that I listen. Tell me what you think, straight or tapered.
Forty Wonderful Years April 7, 2017
Forty years ago this weekend, I married Michele, the smartest thing I have ever done. All of the clichés apply, she is beautiful, smart, a wonderful mother and my best friend. When I say smart, I mean really smart. She was among the first wave of women to graduate with a degree in accounting when it was still over 90% men and she did it with 4.0 GPA in only three years. It took her two tries to pass the CPA exam when most were doing it in four. She started in public accounting and has been the CFO of two different companies. Most importantly, she is the Queen of Cash Flow, keeping those companies and SIP afloat through some pretty lean times. Our daughter followed in her foot steps and now works for PWC, a big four accounting firm. We could never afford Michele at SIP but now that she is retired, we finally get to work together every day. Better yet, we travel together when I go to all the different courses for demos and training.
On our twenty-fifth anniversary, I surprised her with a trip to New York City for a long weekend. That required me to find someone to look after the kids, get approval from her boss and coordinate with her accounting firm because she was in the middle of an audit. It was great but I have not been able to top it since. I had been thinking of what I could do this year but had to nix any plans. I found out we are going to her nieces wedding in Arizona this weekend. So we will be spending our fortieth anniversary flying back from Phoenix, but at least it will be with my best friend.
Now Shipping April 1, 2017
It is really hard to replace a good product that has only been in production for a few years. The first was the Ideal 1100 Bed Knife Grinder. It was a major improvement from the previous model, The Ideal 1000 which had been in production for over 10 years. After only a couple of years, I recognized several areas that needed improvement but to do it right required a major redesign which resulted in the Ideal 6000. I had several iterations of bench top rotary blade grinders that only lasted a few years before I discontinued them, but none of them were very good. I actually decided to not make a rotary blade sharpener until I came up with the right design. I figured it might take a couple of years but it ended up taking almost ten years. The original concept of the Simplex 5000 Rotary Blade Mill was to make a compact, affordable mill specifically designed for sharpening rotary blades. The original machine does that well but was more expensive to build then planned. We looked at using stock mills and found a square column mill from one of our suppliers. We negotiated a good price and are able to sell it for about what we would have needed to charge for our original design. The new mill is only slightly larger with a bigger motor. The spindle has six speeds instead of just one and the table is about 50% bigger. It also includes a manual and power quill feed so it can be used like a drill press. We are shipping it with power table feed and custom tooling standard instead of as an option. We have modified the mill so that it comes prewired for the Vortec Cooling option which now can come on and off with the motor. We have also add a 2 axis digital read out option. All in all, we have a much more capable machine for only a little more money. We just shipped the first ones and you can see a quick video here. We also have a couple of the original models left at deeply discounted pricing. As with all new models, our policy is that if we make any changes in the first year, your machine will be upgraded for free.