139 episodes

Swarfcast is for listeners interested in the precision machining world. We interview owners of manufacturing companies, inventors, tooling experts, machine tool builders, robotics experts and whoever else we think our listeners/readers would find interesting..

Swarfcast Today's Machining World

    • Business
    • 4.8 • 20 Ratings

Swarfcast is for listeners interested in the precision machining world. We interview owners of manufacturing companies, inventors, tooling experts, machine tool builders, robotics experts and whoever else we think our listeners/readers would find interesting..

    Sharing What's Working and What Isn't, with Reid Leland

    Sharing What's Working and What Isn't, with Reid Leland

    Our guest on the podcast today is Reid Leland, founder and President of LeanWerks, a precision machining job shop in Ogden, Utah. Lean Works operates using open-book management, which means the company shares its financial information with all its employees on a regular basis.

    Reid says this transparent management style makes its employees aware of how their performance impacts the company’s success. They feel accountable to not only work hard but more intelligently, in a way that benefits the company the most.

    Reid learned about the open-book management approach at his previous company, Setpoint Engineered Systems. It was popularized by entrepreneur Jack Stack, author of the best selling book The Great Game of Business.

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    Main Points

    Employees Must Understand the Company’s Financial Score

    All employees at LeanWerks are required to complete a rigorous training program in which they learn how to understand income statements, balance sheets, and cashflow. 

    The object is to teach employees the ultimate financial score of whether the company is winning or losing. Open-book management is intended to illuminate the strategies and practices that make a company profitable and eliminate waste. For instance, at LeanWerks, shop employees might look at how many parts are being scrapped on a job and then study the balance sheet to understand how much the scrap impacts profitability. After analyzing the data, they might adapt some practices—not because they are told to do so from upper management, but because they understand and believe in what they are doing.

    Flat Organization With No Hierarchy

    Open-book management is based on the tenet that the intelligence of the group is better than the intelligence of any one individual. It also proposes that if everyone at a company shares information, the company will make better decisions. LeanWerks has weekly huddles in which its people discuss what’s going on at the company, what they need to fix, and what will happen if things don’t change. The company’s 35 employees all have the power to influence its decisions. This is advantageous because people working in various departments can contribute valuable perspectives that an upper management team might overlook. 

    Reid says he likes that transparency eliminates hierarchy and makes everybody accountable, including him. He is OK with the fact that if he makes mistakes they are out in the open for people to see and call him on.

    During the interview, I grilled Reid repeatedly about the obstacles open-book management could create. I asked him if he runs into the problem of having too many cooks in the kitchen who have ...

    • 29 min
    Innovation from Playing with Machines, with Mike Taylor

    Innovation from Playing with Machines, with Mike Taylor

    Two weeks ago, Mike Taylor inquired on a Tornos GT26 Swiss lathe Graff-Pinkert had for sale. He told me that for him the machine would be like buying a new motorcycle. If he bought it, he would spend months learning how to use it himself before expecting to make any money with it, and it would be a lot of fun.

    If Mike buys the machine it will be used to make screws that go into a KeyBar, the product he has been selling since 2013. A KeyBar is an organizer for keys and other tools that fold out in a style similar to that of a Swiss Army knife. Some of the tools available include a screw driver, blade, bottle opener, or even a comb. They’re often made of titanium, featuring distinct textures and colorful designs.

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    Before he started KeyBar, Mike had been a chief engineer for several hotels in Georgia. He had a decent sized staff working under him and had to carry around a lot of keys that constantly jangled wherever he walked. The loud keys tipped off his slacking staff as he approached, so he always found them working diligently. His noisy key problem had be solved.

    Mike is a knife guy. He won a pumpkin carving contest by carving a pumpkin under water. He was awarded a prize of $6,000 worth of knives and a trip to BLADE Show, the largest knife show in the world. At the show he was exposed to new machines, processes, materials and tools. When he got home he was inspired to create the first KeyBar—a stealth weapon to solve the problem of his slacking staff.

    Mike started making KeyBars by hand for friends, but eventually they became so popular he started a business selling them. For several years, all of his components were outsourced, but gradually he brought the production process in-house, purchasing equipment such as a laser engraver, waterjet, and Haas VF4.

    Throughout our interview, Mike kept telling me how much he was constantly learning and how learning fueled his business. That day alone, he had experimented with machining carbon fiber composites and learned to use a new printer for making labels.

    Mike has a small but excellent staff at his company, who he trusts to handle most of the production and busy work. This frees him up to learn about new processes and play with the shop’s equipment. Often he enjoys making things other than KeyBars. He showed me a skateboard he fabricated out of a 3/8” thick titanium billet plate. The skateboard has a honeycombed design made with a waterjet. It features knurled and milled textures. It’s laser engraved, flame anodized and electro anodized. Mike plans to bring it trade shows to start conversations with skateboarding...

    • 36 min
    Make Your Employees Want to Stay, with Adam Wiltsie

    Make Your Employees Want to Stay, with Adam Wiltsie

    After Graff-Pinkert sold a second used Lico CNC lathe to Vanamatic, a 3rd generation screw machine shop in Delphos, Ohio, I had a great conversation with Adam Wiltsie, the company’s Director of Operations. At that moment, I was quite envious of Adam—I was sitting at my desk in my office, while he was outside on a beautiful July Friday afternoon, waiting in line his local ice cream institution Dairy Hut.

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    Adam gets out of the office on Friday afternoons. He gets to tailor his work schedule, and contrary to what one might assume, this is not just a perk for members of the company’s leadership team. Vanamatic allows a flexible work schedule for all its 103 employees. Adam says this is a key reason why the company has not been suffering from a shortage of skilled people, that so many other manufacturing companies often complain about. In fact, 103 employees is a record number for the company, which happens to be located in a town of 6,000 people.

    Vanamatic was founded in 1953 by Adam’s grandfather in Delphos, Ohio. Today, the company is run by a leadership team made up of Adam, his brothers Scott and Jared, Steve Schroeder and Dave Ricker. The company makes parts for a variety of sectors including automotive, aerospace, fluid power, agriculture, construction, fittings, and refrigeration. The majority of its machines are 8-Spindle VNA Conomatics— 1-5/8” and 2-5/8” capacity. For those unfamiliar with Conomatics, or “Cones” as they’re often called, think of an ACME-GRIDLEY but heavier and a larger tool zone. Adam says the company loves the machines because “they can push feed rates like no other.” Cones aren’t built anymore so Vanamatic has its own rebuilding program for the machines. The company also has CNC turning centers, a few other brands of multi-spindles, and 10 Lico CNC lathes—picture a sexy, beefed up 11-axis CNC Brown & Sharpe. 

    Adam is 42 years old, with three kids. He says having kids influenced his management style because it made him realize that every person works differently. Vanamatic’s management philosophy takes into account that all of the company’s employees have different requirements to bring out their peak performance and make them happy. Treating every individual employee uniquely bucks the traditional collective style of management in manufacturing companies, which Vanamatic had employed for the majority of the company’s life.

    A while back, Adam and his brother Scott, head of Human Resources, implemented a management strategy called Start, Stop, Improve. Every year, they sit with each individual employee and ask them what they would s...

    • 34 min
    Zak Pashak on Building Bikes in Detroit

    Zak Pashak on Building Bikes in Detroit

    The Today’s Machining World team is on vacation this week. We will be back next week with our regular blog and podcast. We hope you enjoy this edition of Swarfblog from August 7th, 2019!

    Our guest on today’s podcast is Zak Pashak, founder of Detroit Bikes, the largest bike frame manufacturer in the United States. All bikes that the company sells are assembled in Detroit, and its high-end models have frames constructed of high quality American Chromoly steel.

    Zak lamented to us that he couldn’t find many companies in the U.S. to supply parts for wheels and other bike components. We told him we would take on the mission personally to find him some.

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    Zak hales from Calgary, Canada, where he had success in the bar business and organizing one of Canada’s largest music festivals. He eventually developed an interest in politics and urban planning, which would inspire his next venture. In 2011, he sold all of his assets in Canada and moved to Detroit where he started Detroit Bikes in the building of an old sign company.

    Zak said he chose Detroit because he saw the city as a place with rich history. He remarked that it was where cars were first mass produced, where great genres of music were invented, and a place with talent in the manufacturing field. He also said he wanted to go to a challenging place where he could be part of positive change.



    We could feel a real sense of purpose when Zak talked about his company. He takes pride in assembling bicycles in the U.S., a country where most of them are imported. He appreciates boosting the economy of a revitalizing city. But Zak said his primary mission is changing urban landscapes. He really wants to contribute to changing the paradigm of how people get around in cities, making them less congested and more environmentally friendly. He said this ultimately will be decided by governments who invest in new types of transportation infrastructure—including bike lanes.

    Question: Does it make you want to buy a product more if it is made in the U.S.?

    • 30 min
    Recruiting Long Term Shop Employees, with Bill Cox

    Recruiting Long Term Shop Employees, with Bill Cox

    In part 1 of my interview with Bill Cox, owner of Cox Manufacturing in San Antonio, Texas, Bill talked about the power of his company’s robust apprenticeship program.

    But how does Cox Manufacturing get so many employee candidates, while most machining companies are dying to get any job applicants? Answer—the company has built a strategic recruiting program.



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    Some of the company’s strategies for finding new employees are simple common sense, such as keeping good records of everyone who has applied to the company, which Bill says some companies actually fail to do. Cox Manufacturing also posts a large company sign advertising jobs available, which is visible from the highway to grab the attention of potential employees.

    The company also likes to find new employees via referrals from current employees who often bring in job candidates who fit the company’s culture. It offers bonuses to employees when their referrals remain at the company for one month, six months, and a year.

    Several years ago, Bill became the founding chair of an organization of manufacturers in his area, called the Alliance for Technology Education in Applied Math and Science (ATEAMS). Initially, the organization sponsored tours for students to visit the area’s manufacturing companies with the hope it would attract them to working in the manufacturing industry. After a short time, the organization realized that instead of giving tours to students, it was more effective to give tours to local high school teachers who could then promote careers in manufacturing to the students. Prior to COVID-19, the program had become so popular it had a waiting list. Bill says most of the teachers have never been inside a manufacturing facility before, so they often are amazed when they get tours of state of the art shops like his. I asked Bill if guidance counselors also come on the tours. He said unfortunately most of them have not been receptive to promoting careers in manufacturing but he hopes that will change one day.

    Bill said one of his employees who surprised him the most was a middle-aged woman who prior to working at Cox Manufacturing had spent many years in the health care field. She started at the company deburring and inspecting parts but then applied to its apprenticeship program. He said the company was hesitant to hire her because in the past they have not had the most success hiring people trained in other fields, but she persisted, so the company gave her a shot. As an apprentice she excelled and progressed much faster than a lot of her younger male peers. In 90 days she was setting up CNC machines. 

    Bill remains wary of people already making good money in other...

    • 16 min
    Building a Great Apprenticeship Program, with Bill Cox

    Building a Great Apprenticeship Program, with Bill Cox

    Unlike the majority of machining companies right now, struggling to find enough skilled people to fulfill demand, Cox Manufacturing in San Antonio, Texas, boasts a continuous pipeline of new talent. In fact, Bill Cox, the company’s owner, says right now the company has a stack of applications for shop apprenticeships, of which he will pick an average of one for every 50 candidates.

    Cox Manufacturing specializes in producing high volumes of turned parts. I’ve been to his facility several times and can vouch that it’s a treasure trove of some of the best European multi-spindle screw machines, CNC Swiss, and CNC turning centers. The company churns out 1.5 million parts every week, supplying sectors such as aerospace, firearms, defense, automotive and trucking, medical devices, and electronics.

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    Bill’s father, William Cox Sr., started Cox Manufacturing 65 years ago. When he suffered a fatal heart attack when Bill was 12 years old, Bill’s mother took the lead of the company. After Bill attended college for a few years he came back to run the company with his mother. At that time the company had 18 employees, today, 45 years later, it has 185. 

    Twelve years ago, Cox Manufacturing put together an apprenticeship program that it registered with the Department of Labor. The program is made up of an education curriculum, much of it taken from the online platform Tooling U-SME, along with some proprietary content created by Cox Manufacturing.

    The other component of the apprenticeship program is “on the job training,” which today people prefer to call “on the job learning” or OJL. Cox Manufacturing’s apprenticeship program spans over three years. Each year the company maps out requirements for the OJL and academic components it chooses from courses offered by Tooling U-SME. The company has implemented software to closely track the apprentices’ skillset progress. Training coordinators and supervisors facilitate the training.

    Every time employees graduate from a year in the apprenticeship program they get a pay bump and a bonus week of vacation. Apprentices training to run CNC machines start at a wage of $15 per hour, while those training on cam multi-spindles start at $16 an hour. Bill says the company pays apprentices more money to learn cam multi-spindles because the machines are more complicated and less “sexy” than CNC machines. Even with the higher starting wage, it is a challenge for Cox Manufacturing to get people to choose the path of training on the cam machines. Bill says some people try to learn the cam machines but can’t get get the hang of them, yet then they try to work on CNC machines and excel. I asked Bill if the company likes to cross train people to run both cam and CNC machines.

    • 27 min

Customer Reviews

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