Making Progress September 30, 2017


If you read this blog regularly, you know that I am in the process of reorganizing the assembly area. We have benches for sub assemblies for both the reel grinders and bed knife grinders. Once the subassembly is done, it is placed in a cart, one cart for each grinder. When all of the subassemblies are done the cart is moved to the final assembly area along with the table. This is where the problems start. Tools are removed from the tool box and end up either on top of the grinder or mixed in with the parts in the cart. Not very organized. So I bought two more portable scaffolds to serve as work benches in final assembly. They will eventually get a tool rack for the specific tools needed for final assembly and bins for small parts and fasteners also specific to the final assembly. This bench can then be moved from grinder to grinder as each is being worked on.

I added LED work lights to all of the other work benches and that has proved to be very effective. The problem with adding lights to these final assembly benches is how to power them. I didn’t want to run extension chords because they get in the way, can be tripped over and limit mobility. Karl wanted to run drop chords from the ceiling. That would work but we have 26 foot high ceilings and no 110 volt up there so we would have to do some major rewiring and mobility would still be somewhat limited. I wanted to try a battery pack but Karl did not like that idea. Since I don’t have to listen to him (at least not yet) I went ahead with my idea.

I had a cheap battery pack with a cigarette lighter socket and a cheap 150 watt inverter. Since the lights only use 42 watts, it should work. I mounted the light and plugged it in. It worked great… for about an hour and a half. Next, I tried the battery pack we use on the Simplex 500 Lift Table. That lasted for almost five hours. Much better but still not enough. A few calculations showed that an inexpensive, deep cycle marine battery should last at least 10 hours. I bought the battery for $90 along with a $10 plastic case from Batteries Plus. Northern Tool had a charger on sale for $30 with a $10 adapter. The scaffold cost $150 with coupon also from Norther Tool and the light from Sam’s Club was $30 each when purchased in 10 packs. I had the inverter but they should cost around $25. Another $20 for miscellaneous items and the total cost is $365. I now have a portable bench with no chord, great light that lasts about 15 hours and fully recharges over night. We will test it for a few weeks and if there are no problems, we will convert the other bench.


Why didn't I think of that? September 23, 2017

When I was about 11, I went with my Dad to the base automotive hobby shop to fix the brakes on our Renault Dauphine. The shop was closed but they had an outside lift you could use after hours. The only problem is that there were no lights. This job took longer than anticipated and my Dad was trying to finish the job in the dark. It didn’t go well and soon he was swearing like a sailor. He knew how because he was one during the depression. Out of fear for my life, I came up with a desperate idea. I told my Dad and his mood immediately changed. We lowered the car down, removed the mirror/kleenex holder from the visor, unlatched the hood and turned the headlights on then raised the car back up again. With the hood open, the headlights pointed straight down. I used the mirror to reflect the headlight beam where my Dad was working. In a few minutes the job was done. I don’t tell this story so you can know what a brilliant child I was. I tell it so you can imagine the pride my Father felt when I came up with my idea. That is the pride I feel about once a week while working with my son in the shop. Oh, and by the way, my daughter’s company softball team won another national championship.


Blessed September 16, 2017


I went to bed Saturday night with the storm track for Hurricane Irma showing the eye would go directly over my house. More worrisome is that the predictions kept moving the storm track west. If it moved another 20 miles west from the predicted path, it would follow the coast, remain a category 4 hurricane and come right up Tampa Bay resulting in a 10-12 foot storm surge. My house would be flooded. I woke up about 2 am and looked outside. It was deadly calm. I thought we were in the eye. I went back to bed resolved for the worst. When I awoke again at 6 and checked the storm path, I found that it had shifted east instead, had significantly weakened and had passed us. The curfew was lifted at 8 so we got in our car and drove home. A fairly large tree had blown over on the street to our house (above) and the house behind ours had a large pine tree fall over landing inches from their house when an oak tree branch caught it. A couple blocks from our house a very large oak fell over and collapsed a 6 foot block wall as well as power lines and pole.



When we finally arrived home, there was no damage and the power was still on. We never lost power at the shop during the hurricane but we did loose one leg of our 3 phase on Tuesday. One of our overhead doors came loose and caused a little damage to the tracks.



Speaking of overhead doors, on our way back from Fort Meyers on Friday, Karl called and said a guy had come by the shop and wanted us to store his helicopter. He was willing to pay so I said yes. When I got to the shop that afternoon, I found out it was not some little Bell helicopter but a Vietnam War veteran Huey. It is huge. They had to let the air out of the tires to fit it through our 14 foot doors and I still had to crawl up on top to pry the flashing of the door over the top of the rotor. Our bays are 60 feet and the Huey is over 57 feet long. It just barely fit. Saturday night he called and asked if we could store a second Huey. The first is going to a museum in Canada and he has plans to make the second airworthy again. I matched the money he paid and gave it to the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Two other organizations which are very effective and efficient are the Salvation Army and Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief.


Hunker Down September 9, 2017


A few hours after the picture from last weeks blog was taken, we learned that we may be in the path of hurricane Irma. I spent the rest of the week worrying about what to do. Not very relaxing. We had to evacuate Friday, a week early. We got back to Tampa Friday night and learned that we would have to evacuate our home. We loaded up the van with all of our personal files and family photos. We originally planned to leave Sunday morning but they projected tropical force winds could arrive as early as 8 am Sunday. We drove out to SIP Saturday night which is in the last evacuation zone. A couple of years ago, Karl remodeled one of the bathrooms to include a shower. We kept a couple of mattresses to sleep on. That, a refrigerator and a couple of microwaves and we have (for the time being) all the comforts of home.

Stress Relief September 5, 2017


We make the Reel Height Of Cut gauge bar out of thin wall tubing. This keeps it reasonably light yet very stiff to prevent it from flexing while taking measurements. The process of making the tube leaves internal stresses. If you machine a thin layer from the surface, the stresses are released and can distort the tube. To prevent this, we stress relieve the tube before we machine the top surface. But obviously I am not thinking about that kind of stress relief.

Wotan Down - The Prequel August 27, 2017


Last week, I you told about our boring mill and how important it is in our shop. It is a very good machine but like any piece of equipment that old, the electrical components are starting to go. Every couple of years we have an issue that we have to track down and fix. The photo on the top is the wiring diagram that we had to work from. It is literally falling apart and fading into oblivion. About five years ago, I decided I needed to do something. I took digital photos and used Photoshop to enhance them. From these photos, I drew a new wiring diagram using color tracings which I can print on Mylar and take it to the machine while I trouble shoot.


About six months ago, we were having a problem with the main motor start circuit which had always been temperamental. When you hit the button, it energizes half the motor so it starts at half speed. It also closes a time delay circuit for the other half of the motor that brings it to full speed. This makes a gentler start up of all of the gears and shafts that run off the motor. Using my new wiring diagram, I located the time delay relay and removed it from the machine. Electrical components this old were not meant to be thrown away if they stopped working. They are assembled with screws instead of glue or rivets and were designed to be repaired. This relay used a bellows and small bleed hole to create the time delay. When you activated the relay, it had to squeeze the air out of the bellows before the contacts would close. We had always thought this was the reason it was so temperamental. When I took it apart it appeared to be almost new, nothing to repair, just a couple of screws that weren’t tight. When I reinstalled the relay, the starter circuit worked perfectly, better than perfectly. It turns out the circuit is a three stage starter with two time delays. It starts at one third speed, then goes to two thirds speed and finally to full speed, which is even easier on all of the components. One of the screws that was loose held the microswitch that was activated by the bellows. Now the Wotan works better than it has in thirty years. People often accuse me of having a loose screw. I don’t think that can be fixed.

Wotan Down August 18, 2017


The Wotan horizontal boring mill built in West Germany in 1963 is the heart of our machine shop. It is what we use to precision machine the 7000 and 6000 tables. So when it breaks down, a little bit of panic sets in. We determined that it was a problem with the feed nut which requires a complete removal of the table which weighs several thousand pounds. We had this same problem about 12 years ago. The main company in Germany moved to South America and eventually went out of business. A company out of Illinois with former employees of Wotan continued to supply parts but it would take 4-6 weeks so we made the parts ourselves. This time an internet search shows that the company in Illinois was acquired by a company in Canada called and they had the part we needed in stock. Even though it would cost a little more than if we made it ourselves, we could get it overnight instead of a week or two. I ordered it Next Day Air and put it on my business MasterCard. And the nice lady from Canada called to tell me my card had been declined probably because of fraud prevention. I called MasterCard and got put on hold for 15 minutes. Obviously their call center isn’t in Canada. So I called the nice lady in Canada back and put it on my personal Visa card. An hour later, the nice lady from Canada called and said that card had been declined too. I panicked and called Visa. I go right through and they redirected me to their fraud division. There the problem was quickly corrected. I called the nice lady in Canada back again to tell her to resubmit the charge in about 30 minutes. She must have sensed the panic in my voice because she told me the part had already shipped. They hadn’t waited for the charge to go through. Canadians are really nice (full disclosure, my Mother was Canadian and if it hadn’t been for the Korean War, I would be Canadian).

How do you get 100 rough, rowdy Canadians out of the pool? You say “Will you please get out of the Pool.”

Making the Fastest even Faster August 11, 2017

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

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

New Computer August 5, 2017


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

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

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

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


Idiot Proof July 29, 2017


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

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

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

All Fixed July 22, 2017


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



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

Wedding Bells July 15, 2017


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



Screwed July 8, 2017


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



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


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










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Let there be light July 1, 2017



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

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


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