Thanks to you she can enjoy this moment.

All of us have many reasons to be grateful. To be thankful. To consider ourselves blessed.
Here is a link to an article that I wrote for the PMPA pages in  Production Machining Magazine. The article will give you a sense of how our industry contributes to the joy and quality of every day life. I hope that you enjoy it. The photo above is what inspired my column.
Thank you for doing your best at whatever it is that you do that makes our world a better place for someone, somewhere.



 PMPA’s Index of Sales of Precision Machined Products rose to 85, the  highest value for the year. This is an increase of 30.8% in the Sales index compared to the 2009 low of 65 in May for the 96 companies reporting this month.   Our industry  sales  continue to recover.

Five consecutive months of growth in sales. And high for the year.

Reason for optimism:  October marks the fifth month in a row of increasing sales in the precision machining industry. The three month moving average crossed the 12 month moving average. For our industry, this data shows that recovery is underway. Thirty-four percent (34%) of participating shops reported double digit sales increases in October. 
Sales Outlook: The percentage of respondents who felt that sales would decline over the next three months was almost equal to the percentage that thought sales would be up, (25% vs. 26%) with 48% expecting sales to remain about the same. The outlook for sales in the short term has stabilized.
Our report for October 2009  confirms that the sales of the precision machining industry are recovering.  The percentage of respondents showing positive sales growth, the three month  moving average for sales crossing the 12 month moving average for sales,  five consecutive months of improved sales, and the rise of the sales  index by 30.8% over the year’s low  in May are strong and positive indicators of sales recovery.
How can we help you?

While Austenitic Grain Size is a result of chemistry (composition), the changes that it evokes in our process are a result of material structure and properties, not just the chemical ‘ingredients.’
Steel that is fully deoxidized and grain refined is more sound, less susceptible to cracking and distorting, and more easily controlled in heat treat. Well worth it in final performance compared to the machinist’s increased tooling costs.
 Here are 5 Ways Austenitic Fine Grained steels can affect your shop:

  1. Poorer Machinability than Coarse Grained Steels. (The hard oxides and nitrides resulting from deoxidation and grain refinement abrade the edge of tools and coatings- this is one reason that you go through more tooling on Fine Grained Steels.)
  2. Poorer Plastic Forming than Coarse Grained Steels.
  3. Less Distortion in Heat Treating than Coarse Grained Steels
  4. Higher Ductility at the same hardness than Coarse Grained Steels
  5. Shallower Hardenability than Coarse Grained Steels.

This is a look at Austenitic Fine Grain Steel.

Fine Austenitic Grain Size is a result of  DELIBERATELY ADDDING grain refining elements to a heat of steel. Because these grain refining elements have been added, the steel has a “Fine Austenitic Grain Size.”
In order to make steels with this Austenitic Fine Grained Structure, the steel is first deoxidized , (usually with  Silicon) and then Aluminum, or Vanadium or Niobium are added. Aluminum, Vanadium, and Niobium are called grain refiners.
 After  the Silicon has scavenged most of the Oxygen out of the  molten steel, the grain refiner is added. (In this post I’ll stick with Aluminum as the example.) The added Aluminum reacts with Nitrogen in the molten steel to form Aluminum Nitride particles. These tiny particles precipitate along the boundaries of the Austenite as well as with in the Austenite grains. This restricts the  growth of the grains.
Because the deoxidation and grain refinement  create hard abrasive oxide and nitride particles, they machine and process differently than coarse grained steels.
Fine Austenitic Grain Size appears on the material test report as an ASTM value of 5 or greater. Values of 5, 6, 7, 8, or “5 and finer”  indicate that  the material is Austenitic Fine Grained. Typically 7 or 8 was  reported for the Aluminum  Fine Grain steels that I certified.
The methods for determining Austenitic Grain Size are detailed in ASTM Standard E112, Standard Test Methods for determining Average Grain Size.
To get the Coarse Austenitic Grain Size Story, see our post here.

Guest Post By Jeff Wiltsie, Vanamatic Company.
Here is a photo of manufacturing in China.

Proposed USEPA GHG regulations will actually promote this overseas.

The comment period for USEPA proposed Greenhouse Gas (GHG)  Regulations is coming to a close on 28 December 2009.  It is important to understand that GHG emissions are a global problem, and without global solutions, all that  these “US ONLY”  regulations will do is distort  and reduce even further the competititveness of US manufacturers compared to countries that are not held to the same standards.

Unilaterally regulating US GHG emissions will actually make world GHG conditions worse, by creating a vicious cycle: 
  1.  US GHG regulations increase costs for US manufacturers;
  2. Increased  manufacturing costs result in US customers shopping for cheaper goods;
  3. Cheaper goods will be produced by manufacturers in countries where GHG regulatory controls are not enacted;
  4. US manufacturing declines as production is moved overseas;
  5. Jobs are lost;
  6. Imports of High GHG produced goods replace US goods in our market;
  7. US deficit in balance of trade grows;
  8. Increase in Global GHG emissions as regulated US manufacturing is replaced with high emitting Non Regulated GHG production overseas.

GHG is a global issue, not just a local issue. US manufacturing jobs are the only thing likely to be reduced under the USEPA’s proposed regulations, and world GHG emissions will continue to rise. 
What am I missing here? Do you see unilateral rules as being in our favor? Or is the plan to eliminate manufacturing here in the US, to Export our pollution? What do you think?
To comment  :
Submit your comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-
OAR-2009-0517 by one of the following methods:
    • Follow the online instructions
for submitting comments. Attention Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0517.
    • E-mail: vog.ape@tekcod-r-dna-a. Attention Docket ID No.
    • Fax: (202) 566-9744. Attention Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0517.
For more information on the differences between US and China Environmental performance:

Tired of innovation? Fed up with other people’s ‘good ideas?’ Here are 6 rules to stifle innovation from one of Americas most readable writers on management, Rosabeth M. Kanter. *

  1. Be suspicious of any new ideas from below.
  2. Make people go through several organizational levels before getting your approval.
  3. Give criticism at every opportunity.
  4. Keep people in the dark about what is going on in the firm.
  5. Manage tightly; control everything to the nth degree.
  6. Have the attitude that top management already knows everything there is to know.

Come to think of it, these sound quite a bit like the PPAP process.
I had the distinct pleasure of working in shops where these were the basis for how management managed.
They were great examples of how I did not want to manage when I got my chance.
How many of these ‘rules’ are alive and well in your shop?
How many would your employees say?

Kanter in book
Into innovation? Here's your book.

*Rosabeth M. Kanter wrote these in 1991.  I found them in The Quest for Competitiveness: Lessons from America’s Productivity and Quality Leaders  Y.K.Shetty Editor, Vernon M Buehler Editor. If you can find this book (try Amazon) buy it!

Now is the time for innovationthroughout our organizations, not just the shop floor. Today we’ll provide you with a free “Tool You Can Use” courtesy of  Knowledge @ Wharton and  Boston Consulting Group.

Beyond lean 007v1
Another piece of the competitiveness puzzle.

“When people think about lean, they often associate it with reducing the workforce. But the cost is not in the line labor, its in the overhead. The most important thing  is the seamless integration of everything that goes into the production.” -Adam Farber, Boston Consulting Group.
Lean had its genesis in post-WWII Japan- facing a world with no capital and few raw materials, innovation at Toyota became a necessity- a process known as the Toyota Production System, or Lean.
Today, like Japan after the war, our organizations face a similar crisis: no capital, few orders, difficult to obtain raw materials, and difficult to find skilled people. Innovating throughout our organizations– NOT JUST IN OUR SHOP OPERATIONS, but  in sales, engineering, administration, in fact all areas- through the use of Lean tools can help us eliminate waste. Less waste means add more value for customers, improving the sustainability of our companies.
Click here for Rethinking Lean, Beyond The Shop Floor, a free .pdf from Wharton Business School and Boston Consulting Group.
In  1957  MIT economist Robert Solow showed capital and labor only accounted for about half of growth. The remaining half he attributed to innovation. For his work on the importance of innovation, Solow received a Nobel Prize in economics. For your work in innovating throughout your organization, you too may earn a grand prize, a more sharply focused, less wasteful, more sustainable enterprise
And that more competitive enterprise, is a prize worth having.

Austenitic Grain Size is a material characteristic that is usually reported on test reports and certification documents for the steel materials that we machine in our shops.
Coarse Austenitic Grain Size is a result of NOT ADDING grain refining elements to a heat of steel. Because these Grain refining elements have not been added, the steel has a “Coarse Austenitic Grain Size.”

Friday, May 16, 2008 (3).max
This is Coarse Grain Austenite. You like it for machining.

Typically this practice is applied to free machining grades such as 11XX and 12XX steels. These steels are sold primarily for their ability to be machined at high production rates.
What does Coarse Austenitic Grain Size imply for the parts that you make?

  1. Better Machinability– Coarse Grained Steels are more machinable and provide longer tool life than Fine Grained Steels. (The elements added to make the Austenitic Grain size fine create small, finely dispersed  hard abrasive particles in the steel)
  2. Better Plastic Forming–  than Fine Grained Steels
  3. More Distortion in Heat Treat- than Fine Grained Steels
  4. Lower Ductility at the same hardness- than Fine Grained Steels
  5. Deeper Hardenability– than Fine Grained Steels 

Coarse Austenitic Grain Size will show up on the test report as an ASTM value of 1-5. Values of 5 and higher are called Fine Grained Steels, and are the result of additions of Aluminum, Vanadium, or Niobium in North American  commercial practice for most Carbon and Alloy steels.
The methods for determining Austenitic Grain Size are detailed in ASTM Standard E112, Standard Test Methods For Determining Average Grain Size.
A nice discussion can also be found HERE.
While  we think that chemistry may be the controlling factor for machining performance of the steel in our machines, the contribution of austenitic grain size is also important. As long as you are ordering your free machining steels (11XX and 12XX series) to Coarse Grain Practice, Austenitic Grain Size should not be an issue in your shop.

I went to the U.S. Government’s  Bureau of Economic Analysis Site the other day looking for some information on imports and exports of manufactured goods.
However, when I saw the data for General Imports of Crude Oil by Country, what I saw stopped me in my tracks. (in the supplement, Exhibit 3,  page 35 of 47 in the .pdf.)

Oil Drums
We use a lot of oil...

Here are the top 10 foreign suppliers of petroleum to the U.S. Figures cited are in thousands of barrels, and are for the month of August 2009 from Supplement Exhibit 3:

Canada               60,714
Venezuela           36,247
Mexico                 32,007
Saudi Arabia        27,675
Nigeria                 26,806
Iraq                      14,579
Algeria                  10,945
Angola                    8,761
Brazil                      8,388
Colombia                7,741

Venezuela is our number 2 supplier?
Nigeria is number 5.
Iraq is 6th, and Angola and Colombia make the top ten?
Quick!  Can you name  any U.S. companies that manufacture solar panels  here in North America? A technology that might just help us replace the need for imported petroleum in our daily lives?
Can you name any North American companies that manufacture lithium-ion batteries?
What do you make of these facts?

Perhaps distance and perspective give them clarity.

It's the value of the dollar...

We follow the ISM Manufacturing Index as an input for our sensemaking as to what is going on in Precision Machining. PMPA’s own Business Trends Report has shown sales in our industry to be recovering.  So as we were considering the latest ISM Manufacturing Report, we came across this story from the Financial Post.

In this post we’ll take a look at the significance of the last 2 digits of the steel grade designation. We will be discussing carbon, not alloy grades.
The first 2 digits give us an idea about whether the grade is a plain carbon or alloy steel. See our post here. So 1018 is a plain carbon grade;  1137 is a resulfurized carbon steel; 4140 is an alloy steel.
So lets look at those last two digits in the 4 digit  AISI/ SAE grade designation, and what they mean in the carbon grades we see in our shops.
The secret to understanding real estate  is location, location, location.
In steel, the secret to understanding is carbon, carbon, carbon.

titanic hull trans21C
This is .21 Carbon steel from the hull of the Titanic.

Carbon is so important in understanding a steel’s characteristics, that in the North American nomenclature system, the last two digits of the grade are the average carbon content expressed as weight  %. Carbon is the most important indicator or predictor of a steel’s properties and response to processing.
So in that 1018 steel, 0.18 weight % carbon (on average) is implied; in 1137, 0.37 wt % carbon (on average) is implied; in 1144, the average carbon content we expect is, you guessed it, 0.44 wt.%.
So what does that mean to us as machinists?
Very low carbon. Grade 1008-1010. The low carbon content makes these steels low strength and very ductile. Typically used for cold heading. Cold forming. The machinist would characterize these as gummy. Chips are stringy, continuous, and soft.
Low carbon. Grade 1018; 1022. Low carbon means low strength. The non alloys in this range are weldable, and all of these grades are cold formable with out  the need for an anneal.  Grades in this carbon range are often carburized to achieve a high surface hardness. Not a good choice for machining, difficult to get chip to break.  Chips are somewhat continuous, and soft to semi-soft. Parts made from these grades tend to have low stock removal, and look like the bar that they were made from- bolts, light duty shafts, tie rods,  pins.
Medium carbon.  1045, 1137, 1144. Medium carbon means medium strength. Usually cold drawn. Can be heat  treated. Not recommended for cold heading. Welding requires special practices and residual control.  (Do not weld 11XX grades due to high sulfur content!)
Chips are continuous and semi hard (1030), continuous and tough (1035), and continuous and start to become springy or hard (1045-1050).  Small shafts, forgings, and kingpins are typical of these grades. Not usually annealed. Heavy draft (cold work) followed by a stress relief operation can get yield strengths into the 100,000 psi minimum. ASTM A 311 class B is one such designation, Stressproof (TM)  is Niagara LaSalle’s trademarked name for a similar product.
High carbon. Above 0.50 carbon, most of us start to describe steels as “high carbon.” Depending on the application, and carbon content, an anneal may be required for processing. My rule of thumb for carbon grades  is at 0.60 and above, an anneal is required prior to cold drawing. ( For alloys, generally annealing is required at 0.40% carbon.)   So a 1060 bar would be annealed prior to cold drawing.   The type of anneal for these steels would be called a lamellar pearlitic anneal. It would help to develop a  predominately coarse lamellar  pearlitic structure in the steel. Chips are continuous and range from hard (1060) to tough (1070) to springy (1080 and above).
Very high carbon. At 0.90  carbon and above, (drill rod and bearing steels) a different kind of anneal is called for. It is called spheroidize annealing, and results in a greater mean free path of ferrite between the hard carbide particles in these steels. Very high carbon steels are most machinable in the spheroidize annealed condition.
Adding sulfur to carbon steels is called resulfurizing. This addition provides a way to break up the chip, thus escaping the continuous chip that we get from 10XX steels. This is why 11XX and 12XX steels are so machinable.
Click here to learn how  steel chemistry might have contributed to the sinking of the Titanic.
Photomicrograph from JOM, 50 (1) (1998), pp. 12-18.