On the Road Again June 24, 2019
Note: This blog was supposed to be posted last week but I do not have all of the bugs worked out of my ability to post from the road.
We finally finished my demo van and just in the nick of time as I have demos all this week in Tennessee and Kentucky (funny how that always works). The partition with its sliding panels works really well. The front is very quiet and cools down quickly. The ProMaster is also a comfortable ride considering you are riding over the front axle. I am also pleased with the performance. It has the PentaStar V6 gasoline engine with a six speed automatic transmission and front wheel drive. I knew it would not have the torque or fuel economy of the Sprinter diesel but the ProMaster went up a 3% grade with the cruise control on and maintained 60 mph. The fuel economy is running about 17 mpg and is supposed to improve as it breaks in. I averaged 20 mpg with the Sprinter.When you factor in the usual price difference between gas and diesel, the fuel costs are about the same. The new ProMaster will make it a lot easier on me when we travel so expect to see my ugly mug in the near future.
Van Partition June 15, 2019
Off the shelf partitions for cargo vans are flimsy, reduce visibility and don’t insulate against noise or temperature. So we built a custom partition for my demo van. It is made from 2 x 3 tubing welded to make a rectangle with a cross beam for extra protection. Below the cross beam is a plywood panel with some leftover plastic corrugate on the cargo side and carpeting on the passenger side. Above the beam are three Lexan panels that slide in a plastic marine grade w-channel made for that purpose. The panels seal on the ends in foam gasket and pile weatherstripping between the panels. The partition bolts in place with two half inch bolts thru the floor with ⅜ reinforcing pads on top and bottom. It also rests against the front bulkhead also sealed with thick foam gasket. A sheet metal panel bent to fit the top is screwed to the partition and also has carpeting glued to the passenger side. I have to have this done this week because I am heading to Tennessee next week and will probably be traveling every other week until I get caught up. See you soon.
Catching up June 7, 2019
One of the ways we are trying to cope with our backlog of orders is by adding more people. The major bottle neck is making parts, so everyone, including assemblers, are making parts now. This can cause a problem because the machine you need for making parts is being used by someone else. It becomes a major catastrophe when your primary milling machine breaks down. This is the fourth time in twenty years that we have had to repair the variable speed mechanism and now we are told that the manufacturer will no longer support this mill. Panic set in. We can still get the parts we need but when they are gone, they are gone.
I started looking at my options, should I buy a new or used machine? Affordable new machines all come from China and while their quality has improved over the years, their support is obviously lacking. New Bridgeports are going to run about double. I found a 1998 used Bridgeport just 10 miles from the plant. It had low hours and was in excellent condition. It does need a few minor repairs and new digital read out but it is perfect for our application.
I also re-commisioned a multi-head drill. I bought our four head drill at an auction a while back and it is great for drilling and tapping different sized holes in one part. After I finished bidding on it, a two head drill came up with a minimum bid of $100. It was almost brand new and would have cost about $2,000 new. I bid the $100 figuring someone else would raise me. No one did. We haven’t gotten much use out of it although we certainly got our money’s worth. No one likes to use it because you have to move belts to change speeds. I decided to dedicate it to a single use, making the legs for the 7000s and 6000s. It still needs a few modifications but looks like it should work great. More people and more machines, one way or another, we will get caught up.
Van Back on Track June 4, 2019
We have been so busy that I had to put my demo van upfit on the back burner but now it is back on track. Karl and I had to guilt Bob, our retired assembler extraordinaire, into coming in Saturday to help put in the ceiling and walls. It is much easier with three people. The panels are corrugated plastic (think cardboard), insulated, pre-cut and punched with barbed plastic retainers to hold them in place. There was a little trimming involved but, overall, the installation was straight forward. We located the wires for the lights and drilled the hole for wires after the ceiling was located but before it was completely fastened in place. Once all of the lights were installed, we finished the ceiling.
They do not make wall panels for window vans so we cut the panels along the window lines then installed them with the barbed fasteners and some self drilling screws. They provide aluminum diamond plate for the transition from ceiling to wall. They are also pre-cut and drilled. We mounted all of our electric and air outlets to these panels so we do not have to reach behind machines to connect or disconnect. We also use an inverter to power the lights from the van's battery when we are not hooked up to external power.
The next step is to place the machines in the van and build a bulkhead behind the passenger area. Those of you who are chomping at the bit for me to start doing demos again, it won’t be long now
The Old Guard May 25, 2019
Every year, just before Memorial Day, soldiers from the 3d US Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) place almost a quarter million US Flags on the graves at Arlington National Cemetery. This year there was a huge thunderstorm in Washington DC that knocked out power and downed trees. That was not enough to stop them from placing their flags to honor those this Memorial Day who made the ultimate sacrifice. Please join me and pause in remembrance of those who died in service at 3 pm local time this Monday.
Wedding Day May 21, 2019
You know about all the mayhem we have been having at work which has been complicated by my Daughter’s wedding. It began with the rehearsal and dinner on Friday which continued with bar hopping until about 10 ( I didn’t go.) I was up the next morning at 6 to make breakfast for the bridesmaids, fresh strawberries and blueberries with a lemon cream sauce and eggs benedict. Melissa came by the day before and decorated the table with the wedding colors, white, blue and green. The girls showed up at 7:30 with three stylist who did their hair and make up. That lasted until about two so I also made them a pasta salad for lunch. Finally the big moment, a beautiful, very traditional ceremony at our church. The reception was at a restaurant with a glass wall over looking Tampa Bay at sunset. The food was good, the bar was open and the band was awesome (who knew Darwin could dance?). We went home at 11 but they all hit the bars again till who knows when, then went back to their hotel for a few hours sleep before starting the party up again at breakfast the next day. That part isn’t very traditional but I guess it is okay since they are not going on their honeymoon until June. She also had two wedding planners and two wedding photographers (yeah, two) who began taking pictures at two in the afternoon during the makeup party and were not done until 11. They did agree with me that they rarely see a bride as beautiful as my daughter. I almost lost it a couple of times, just before our walk down the aisle, the father daughter dance and when I gave my speech. It has taken me a couple of days to recover and clean the house but it is starting to feel like things are getting back to normal.
Forecasting Rain? May 16, 2019
I thought weathermen (weatherpeople?) were terrible forecasters but I have a lot more sympathy for them now. We have been doing a terrible job forecasting shipping dates for our products and that has been the most stressful thing I have had to face. I know how upset I was when our spin grinding wheels were a month late so I totally get how frustrating it is for both our dealers and customers to get bad info on delivery dates.
In all fairness, it has been a crazy year. Orders came pouring in literally overnight. At the end of 2018 we had machines in stock and no back orders. By the end of the first week of January, we were sold out and had a back log of orders. We have been shipping machines at three times the rate we have in any of the last ten years and our back log continues to grow. This problem is compounded by the fact that over half of our production crew has been with us for less than 3 months. A new machinist started last week and we are now trying to hire another. We had never really recovered from the prolonged task of hiring a lead machinist and we just blew through what should have been a years worth of inventory in three months.
We are going the step back and stop giving delivery dates until I can assess what our current inventory situation is and figure out why we have done such a bad job of forecasting. This will take a couple of weeks but I wont start on it until next week. I am a little busy as my daughter is getting married this Saturday.
Reorganizing Redux. May 4, 2019
We are making grinders at three times the rate we have made them in any of the last ten years, only a couple of those are from the former Neary dealers, and we are still booking orders faster than we can ship. The hardest part is staffing up. The last time we had a big surge of orders is when a Japanese company decided to equip all of their courses with our grinders. Then we had about a year’s warning and they ramped their orders up gradually and spread it out over three years. This time is was literally over night. I thought we had the staff we needed but we decided today to add another machinist but that will probably take months to fill.
We have also decided to increase our batch sizes which means we have to increase our floor space. We had a subassembly cart for each grinder. When the carts were full, we could start the final assembly. The carts take up almost as much space as the grinders and always seemed to be in the way. We are moving those carts to the machine shop to transport machined parts from one station to the next and we are replacing the carts in assembly with rolling shelves on which we can put all of the subassemblies for a batch of grinders. We were a little concerned that they would be unstable but they seem to work fine.
The other space hog we had was the mobile assembly table for final assembly. A good concept but a bad idea. It was awkward moving from assembly to assembly so tools were put into the subassembly carts or on top of the machine. We have replaced the table with a standard tool cart which has plenty of room for the tools needed. The top shelf is kept open for parts or frequently used tools. Since all four wheels swivel, it is easily moved between assemblies.
I appreciate everyone’s patience. It takes a while to hire people, train them, and implement process improvements for both better quality and speed. The one up side is that we are making the best quality machines we have ever made.
I don’t know when to quit. April 29, 2019
I have missed posting my blog for the last two weeks for which I am sorry. It is hard to maintain good habits but it continues to be a kind of crazy year. We are still selling grinders at triple the normal rate which has led to some pretty long lead times and missed shipping dates. When more than half your crew has been working less than three months, it is hard to plan. Since the next three sets of machines were all going to courses in Florida, I decided to deliver them myself. This would get them to the customer 2 to 4 days earlier than if I had shipped them. I had already begun taking the equipment out of my old Sprinter (2004 with 390,000 miles) so I decided to use it one more time to deliver these machines. I had planned on selling the old Sprinter just as soon as I had the new van ready to go, but that has also taken longer than expected. I was even considering keeping the old Sprinter for just such occasions.
Thursday night, I was loaded up to make the first delivery to the keys. I left at 5:30AM and made it there in time for lunch. After lunch, we unloaded the machines and we headed back. We got as far as Homestead when I heard a loud bang and then a pop pop pop. I pulled into a gas station and opened the hood. It only took a minute to realize that one of the glo plugs had popped out of the head. I tried, without tools, to reinstall it, but that was a no go. I searched on my phone and found a truck repair garage less than a mile away. I limped over. They didn’t work on Sprinters but I guess they took pity on me and tried. The threads on the glo plug , which I had just replaced a few months ago, were still good, but they had no luck. So now what do I do?
I could get a tow to a garage that would work on it which would have probably been in Miami, $200. I would then have to rent a car, $100. It would have been too late to leave so a motel room is another $100. They would not have started it until Monday and I know what they would say “The head has to come off, $4,000 minimum”. I did not want some shop 300 miles away to do that kind of job so I would have to have it towed again. So I bit the bullet and decided to go ahead and have the van towed back to Tampa that night. Six hours and $1,700 later, we were back in Tampa. My first reaction was that I wished I had sold the van last week as I had originally planned but then I realized that it would have been worse If this had happened a week after I had sold it.
It would be great if my regular shop can fix it without pulling the head but I am not too optimistic. Since I have been driving it for the last 4 or 5 years with only two glo plugs, I thought that a work around fix would be to tap it with a pipe tap with grease on it to catch the chips and just plug the hole. Any one have any thoughts or experience with this? One way or another, the old Sprinter has got to go.
A Bad Case of Bad Cases April 8, 2019
A few weeks ago, I told you about all of the problems we were having. One of those problems was that the company that made the case for The RHOC discontinued the product. We searched the whole “interweb” and found half a dozen potential replacements. All but one was either not the right size or too expensive. We even looked at making our own wooden case. The one we liked best was almost identical to the original case we used for The RHOC. That original case was expensive and the foam in it was too thick which caused the case to bulge slightly. The new case has a choice of foam inserts that, with a slight modification, seemed to work perfectly. This case was also 40% less than the original case. When I looked at it more closely, I realized it was the same exact case. The original supplier presented themselves as the manufacturer but they were just a middle man. Thus the higher price and only one type of foam insert. One problem down, twenty-three to go.