Lead is added to steels to improve their machinability. But Lead is not considered an alloying element.

An Alloying element is “An element which is added to a metal (and which remains within the metal) to effect changes in properties,” according to my copy of the Metals Handbook Desk Edition.

Arrows point to lead.

While lead is an element that is added to a metal:

  • It does not remain in the metal, it remains separate from and mechanically dispersed in the steel  as ‘inclusions’ when it solidifies. It is the dark material on the ends of the manganese sulfides in the photo above.
  • It does not change mechanical properties of the steel.

“Lead can be added to both carbon and alloy steels to improve machinability…The lead is present as small inclusions that are usually associated with the manganese sulfide inclusions…Lead has no apparent effect on the yield strength, tensile strength, reduction of area, elongation, impact strength, or fatigue strength of steel. “- Cold Finished Steel Bar Handbook
For this reason, the addition to lead to steel is not considered an alloying addition. The addition of lead is a great way to improve the economics of machining and improving the surface finish of  complex parts from steel.
Photo from L.E. Samuels Optical Microscopy of Carbon Steels

Charles Martin Hall discovered the electrolytic process for extracting Aluminum from its oxide, 125 years ago from tomorrow. Hall later went on to co-found ALCOA, and gifted his Alma Mater, Oberlin College, with 1/3 of his estate.
Patent number 400664 was issued to him on 04. 02. 1889. See the patent here.

Better living through electrochemistry...

Paul T. Heroult made the same discovery around the same time, and history credits both men for this accomplishment by calling it the Hall-Heroult process.

Aluminum is a critical material of our modern technologies- airplanes, air conditioning and refrigeration parts, engine blocks, cookware, beverage cans. As copper prices continue to escalate, our customers are finding aluminum parts are becoming viable substitutions. And the price of aluminum seems less variable, too. Thats good news for shops that make parts out of aluminum.
According to the Metal Service Center Industry association:
U.S. aluminum shipments finished 2010 some 25.8 percent higher at 1.3 million tons and rose 7.7 percent in Canada, to 135,200 tons than 2009.
U.S. metal centers shipped 100,300 tons of aluminum products during December, or 26.7 percent more than during December 2009. Aluminum inventories at the end of the year totaled 347,900 tons, 33.5 percent above the stockpiles of a year ago and equal to a 3.5-month supply.
In Canada, service centers shipped 9,000 tons of aluminum during December, up 16.7 percent from the same month last year. Aluminum inventories at year end of 31,300 tons were 7.2 percent above stocks at the end of 2009 and equal to a 3.5-month supply.
Aluminum shipments indicate economic recovery is in process.
We believe that continued demand for copper  in global developing economies will increasingly make aluminum a cost effective substitute. Add demand for lighter weight vehicles and improved fuel mileage and we can see that aluminum will continue to increase in its use in our shops.

And to protect our critical thinking…
Hall and Hall Cell

PMPA’s Index of Sales of Precision Machined Products in January 2011 was 111, its highest level in the thirty-one months since June 2008.

January is up 11% over the 2010 calendar year average.

This is contrary to the U.S Industrial Production 0.1% decrease reported by the Federal Reserve yesterday.
Since our products are largely ‘built into’ the manufactured goods  that the Fed’s Industrial Production number tracks, we believe that our Sales Index is an indicator of  future continued strength in manufacturing. What we ‘sold’ in January will become part of other manufactured goods for February and March.

The Hairstyles! The Ties! The Eyeglasses! The Venues! The People!

We've come a long way, baby!

PMPA staff put together a short video   on Youtube from still photos in our files of various past years National Technical Conferences.
This years’ NTC will be number 50! 
So here’s our video review of the styles of the ‘people who make things’ over the past 50 years.
What were we thinking?
Seriously, the folks in these photos are the people who taught many of us a thing or two about our craft of precision machining.
Take a look- you just may find one of your mentors, too.
We look forward to seeing you at our National Technical Conference April 17-19th, 2011, just ahead of the PMTS in Columbus, Ohio.

Today is the 164th anniversary of the birth of  prolific American inventor, Thomas Edison.

Outlawed in Brazil, Venezuela, Europe, and soon to be in Canada and the United States.

Truly a modern Prometheus, Mr. Edison brought safe, affordable light to the world.
 To the masses.
He illuminated a dark world with the light of his genius.
Officially recognized by the United States Government on January 27, 1880. Patent document.
Sadly this wonderful invention has been officially banned  thanks to environmental scolds who think that less reliable, hazardous mercury containing, much more expensive Compact Fluorescent Bulbs are some how “better.” Starting in Brazil and Venezuela in 2005.
Slavishly followed by the EU in 2009.
Coming soon to Canada and the US.
Mr. Edison, thanks for shedding light in the  darkness.
It was great while it lasted. Apparently 130 years of a good thing is enough.
Now we’ll all go blind to the insipid light of the toxic CFLs that the bureaucrats have declared to be “preferred.”
And to the dingbats that think the world’s changing to these bulbs will shut down up to 270 coal fired plants.
Give me a call when that happens.
Thomas Edison Photo.
Europe link.
Canada link.
Call me when they shut down those 270 power plants because of energy savings, dingbats.

The companies that are still here today have already made the adjustments needed to be sustainable.
Since these businesses have a sustainable foundation, they will further improve productivity and profitability as their managers focus on operational issues.
It is also much easier to deal with customer pushback on price when the order at hand is not a make or break the company issue.
Not being as distracted by ‘existential issues’ should unleash a lot of management ideas for improvement of operations.
And give sales the courage to not accept orders that fail to reward companies for their invested capital.
Why are you optimistic about the outlook for precision machining?

Our shops pride themselves on using their technology to produce parts just-in-time. But there can be found in all of our shops some A,B,C,D Technology that is there for us just-in-case…
Guest post by James Pryor, ASH,Inc.
What DOES A,B,C.D  have to do with making parts?  The answer is Fire Extinguishers and the general principles of fire extinguisher use. In our world of production, that red bottle hanging on a post does not command a lot of attention.

Hanging up, not on the floor. Inspected too.

Do your folks  even know how to use it? Has anyone ever done it for practice or training or demonstration purposes?
If not, how would they know?
OSHA 29 CFR 1910. 157(g)(2): Where the employer has provided portable fire extinguishers for employee use in the workplace, the employer shall also provide an educational program to familiarize employees with the general principles of fire extinguisher use and the hazards involved with incipient stage fire fighting.”
 An educational program in part means training your employees in the location and use of the fire extinguishers. In fact this training is required upon initial hiring and annually. Like all OSHA Training requirements, the training needs to be documented.
 Key elements to be covered in your training:

  1. Establish a written fire safety policy
  2. Mount, locate and identify the fire extinguishers and make them readily accessible
  3. Use only approved fire extinguishers for your areas
  4. Review the classes of fires
  5. Review the locations of the fire extinguishers
  6. Review the mechanics of the fire extinguisher
  7. Demonstrate the safe use of the fire extinguisher
  8. Review what to do in case of fire

 No one is ever really prepared for a workplace fire- but annual training on the tools available is a key your people being able to safely deal with the situation. And perhaps to save lives. 
Fire Extinguisher 101 for training info.

It is difficult to make money making small metallic parts. Just ask the folks who make money over at the US mint. (And they have a monopoly!)

1.79 cents for your thoughts...

The unit cost of producing and distributing the penny: $0.0179
Back in the day, these were over 90% copper, today they would cost about 2.5 cents.
According to the 2010 US Mint Annual Report, the penny, nickel and dime made up 87.7 % of total shipments- 5,399,000,00 circulating coins produced in 2010.
You think you have raw material price increases?
The per unit cost of the blanks for nickel rose 2.3 cents over 2009, increasing total nickel cost by 52.9 %.
Cost up 52.9%, but its still just a nickel.

 So what did it cost the mint to make that 2010 nickel in your pocket?
Thats 9.2 cents
Fortunately, they make it up with volume, on the dime and quarter, which cost $0.0569 and $0.1278 to produce and distribute respectively.
If there is a lesson in all this, it just might be that “nobody, not even a government monopoly, makes any money producing the cheap metallic parts. Even in high volumes.”
P.S.: And hats off to the production and management team at the U.S.Mint. They did it while experiencing a 15 year low in injuries and illnesses- a record year for safety.
Penny Photo Credit.
Nickel photo credit.

Copper prices have tripled since 2008, and thefts are skyrocketing as measured by news reports.
Guest post by Mark J. Perry
When this line rises, so do thefts…

Paul Kedrosky reported yesterday that copper thefts are rising again, due to the all-time record high prices in recent months.  The chart above displays monthly copper prices back to 1980, and shows that copper prices have tripled from $1.40 per pound at the end of 2008 to recent highs this month approaching $4.50 per pound.  
According to a Google News search, there have been 545 news stories in just the last week containing the phrase “copper theft,” and that compares to 665 stories during the entire year of 2009 when copper prices were between $1.50-$3.00 per pound, and 1,750 stories last year as prices rose above $4 per pound by the end of the year.
Originally posted  Monday January 24, 2011: Carpe Diem

Forgive us if our schizophrenia is showing. Precision Machined Products shops serve Manufacturing and Construction markets.

Good News - Bad News.

According to the latest ISM Purchasing Managers Report, the US manufacturing sector grew at its fastest pace in almost seven years in January.
The ISM Manufacturing rose to 60.8, the highest reading we can recall  since we started paying attentionto this index. It hasn’t been this high since May 2004. With success comes a new set of problems-according to the ISM report, “No commodities are reported down in price.”
Aluminum, Brass,  Copper, Stainless Steel, Steel, and Steel Surcharges all reported “Up in Price.”
Now for the not so good news.
On Tuesday, the US Commerce Department posted its latest figures on construction spending.
"We are here..."

According to the report, US construction spending dropped to an annual rate of approximately $787.9 Billion- the lowest since July 2000.
Another data point confirming the “lost decade.”
Good News Bad News Photo Credit
Abandoned Construction Photo credit