Santa asked me to close my eyes and make three wishes for the precision machining industry. Here they are.

"Make three wishes" he said
“Close your eyes and make three wishes” he said.

Wish number 1: Have yourself a safe balance of year 2013 and 2014
We take our physical wellbeing for granted. Statistics show that we are safer at work than we are at home. But my wish is that we all  pay attention to those things that could put us in harm’s way and find a way to eliminate them.
Wish Number 2: Raise your standards.
This is not original to me, even though “continuous improvement of the people and processes  under your authority” has been a key tenet of my management practice (and teaching) since the early 1990’s.  Alain Briot, in my mind todays preeminent fine arts landscape photographer, printed that on his business card.
Raise your standards.
Raise your standards.

Raising our standards goes beyond mere improvement of what we can control, to how we improve ourselves as well. Raise your standards.
Wish number 3: Train your people.
The time is now. Look at your bench. Who can move up? Who can’t you afford to take out of production to train on setup? What will you do when you lose them because you didn’t give them the opportunity to grow and train and become even more valuable.? Training is our number one job in the industry today. Our employees add value through the application of their skills and knowledge and talent to our processes. Train them!
When I opened my eyes, Santa was gone. He left a note: it said: Everything that you wished for is up to you. I know you will make sure to get this done. I gotta run and help the folks who the government regulators are trying to close down. Merry Christmas!
Or something like that.
I opened my eyes and I was holding this note...
I opened my eyes and I was holding this note…

PMPA’s Business Trends Index for November 2013 is 116, down 10 points from last month’s value, yet at the highest value we recall for November. November is typically a slow sales month due to seasonal factors. The index is maintaining an average for calendar year 2013 of 122, and for trailing 12 months of 119.  November 2013 shipments are 113% of October 2012.

Strong industry shipments for November
Strong industry shipments for November

We are pleased to see that sales in November were above those in November 2012. While the last calendar quarter is historically weak for our shops, we have a nice tailwind of sales for the year to date at 122 average for the calendar year. With sales this strong in 4th quarter, we think that savvy shops will be lining up sourcing for the even stronger sales likely once we turn the calendar page to 2014. Have you been sharing expectations with your key suppliers?
Biggest surprise- 99% of responding companies expect employment in their shops to remain the same or increase!
Get our November PMPA Business Trends Report Here.

No mention at all of "we're going to post your data on line for the world to see."
No mention at all of “we’re going to post your data on line for the world to see.”

” The proposal does not add any new requirement to keep records; it only modifies an employer’s obligation to transmit these records to OSHA.”- OSHA Director David Michaels
Warning to employers, when Government Officials only give you half the story, you are not getting the full truth.
What is the rest of the story?
Take a look at item II.2. e in the Federal register notice of the  NPRM:
osha nprmsnip
Why does the federal government insist that private industry guard privacy rights, when it is the biggest offender regarding the publication of private data?
As employers, we agree that injuries and illnesses should be tracked and reported to officials for official purposes.
We disagree that the data reported for statistical and enforcement purposes should be broadly disseminated and made accessible for those with no regulatory need.
The president famously said that “If You Can’t Trust Government, We’re Going to Have Some Problems”
OBAMA Can't Trust The Government
Telling employers that “The proposal does not add any new requirement to keep records, it only modifies an employer’s obligation to transmit these records to OSHA” is disingenuous at best.
OSHA will hold an informal  public meeting  on the Improved Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses proposed rule on January 9th, 2014 in Washington DC. 
A Federal Register notice announcing the public meeting will be published shortly. We need to tell them that we object to this proposal.
An agency that says the only thing that changed  is how we transmit the records to OSHA while it intends to publish them online is not telling the whole truth.
We agree with the President.  “If we cannot trust the executive branch with our data, we’re going to have some problems.”
Federal Register
Can’t Trust the Government

The Manufacturing Institute has developed a one-stop, how-to guide on developing and recruiting a skilled workforce.  Written by and for manufacturers, the toolkit on Developing Skilled Workers speaks to chief executives, human resources professionals, and operations managers, with steps to take, partners to build, and templates to use to grow their own talent pipeline.
Toolkit for employers
Toolkit for employers
Here’s the link.

OSHA is now practicing theology with its latest interpretation concerning labeling requirements regarding the revised Hazard Communication standard (HCS 2012), 29 CFR 1910.1200.

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? How much information must you get on your GHS compliant label?
How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? How much information must you get on your GHS compliant label?

5 milliliter vials, 50 milliliter bottles- Doesn’t make a difference to the theologians at OSHA- You MUST GET ALL THE REQUIRED INFORMATION ON THE LABEL ATTACHED TO THE VIAL!
This is a 5 ml bottle. Its label must contain...
This is a 5 ml bottle. Its label must contain…

In a letter of interpretation to the NIST– A division of the United States Department of Commerce- the High Priests at OSHA have made GHS labelling a matter of faith.
You can do it. You must do it. SOMEHOW.
Here’s what needs to be legible on the label on the 5 milliliter vial:
“Paragraph 1910.1200(f)(1) requires the chemical manufacturer, importer, or distributor to ensure that each container of hazardous chemicals leaving the workplace is labeled, tagged or marked with the following information: (1) a product identifier; (2) signal word; (3) hazard statement(s); (4) pictogram(s); (5) precautionary statement(s); and (6) the name, address, and telephone number of the responsible party.”
Here’s OSHA’s Offical Lable Layout. On my screen it measures 150% taller than the vial, and it is basically illegible, and the manufacturer name and address fields have been abridged to two words :
No mention of recognizing the hazards of placing a big long fold out label on a tiny vial of a hazardous substance. No consideration for the fact that perhaps a paper label might in fact react with the contents of the small contqiner in case of contact.
Nope, For the theologians at OSHA it is just DO AS WE SAY TO because that is how it is printed in the SCRIPTURE of  Paragraph 1910.1200(f)(1).
It’s a matter of faith. Not critical thinking.
Blind, authoritarian faith.

We were pleased to see the infographic approach used by Dr. Lisa Lang to summarize  the career opportunities in Precision Machining.
She has posted it on her Velocity Scheduling Blog here
Career infographic LL
Here is what Dr. Lang had to say about her interest in Careers in our field:
“Our interest in this area is because we work with custom job shops and machine shops.  Our Velocity Scheduling System helps these shops get more done with the SAME people and resources.  It’s NOT software, but a manual visual scheduling system for job shop scheduling and machine shop scheduling.
“The shops we work with increase their productivity WITHOUT adding people or machines.  The result is that their customers notice the improvement in lead-time and on-time delivery and give them more business.  Sometimes this additional business is so substantial that they finally do need to add people.  But that’s okay at this point because profits and cash flow have improved.  The problem is that it can be a real struggle to find qualified employees.
“There has been a lot in the news lately about the shortage of skilled manufacturing labor while at the same time, there is a push to reshore manufacturing back to the U.S.
“The dilemma is clear and we need more kids going into manufacturing.
Dr. Lang  has posted the infographic here

Edward Vojcak P.E. was a colleague in the Technical Services Department at Bliss and Laughlin Steel, a cold finisher on Chicago’s South Side.
Ed Vojcak
Today he is a Metallurgist and Professional Engineer with A. Finkl and Sons Co.  in Chicago, as well as  a leading contributor to LinkedIn’s Metallurgy and Material Science Group.
I was impressed with  his response to a  recent request on LinkedIn asking “Why are forged bars better than other bars for a piping application?”
Here is Ed’s reply:

“”Better” is relative.  Best practice is to optimize cost, time and quality of performance.  Forgings are typically more expensive than bar stock or castings because machined dies and furnaces are required – they are generally tougher because the deformation re-aligns the ever present non-metallic inclusions in metals parallel to applied stress – hence the improved quality.  Bar stock can be machined into almost any configuration quickly and has most of the directional strength along its length.”
There are a lot of takeaways from this succinct paragraph, but the one I thought the greatest takeaway was this:
“Better” is relative.  Best practice is to optimize cost, time and quality of performance.
Best practice is

  • Not to optimize only cost.
  • Not to optimize only on quality of performance.
  • Not to optimize only for time.

Ed’s statement gets to the crucial issue in selecting materials for manufacturing- selecting to optimize for several key issues.
Not just raw materials cost.
Thanks  Ed Vojcak for the share.

While we can identify over 13oo “machine shops” in Canada, here is a quick look at the impacts of 60 that we know are in the “Screw Machine Capable” Contract Manufacturing Sector. Here are asome facts we plan to share with the MP’s and Ministers when we join the Canadian Manufacturing association for their Manufacturing Day on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Here's hoping it's warm...
Here’s hoping it’s warm…

Precision Machining IMPACTs:
Companies                         62  *(See note below)
Employment                      1488
Shipments                           $242,524,656 (A quarter of a billion dollars!)
Payroll                                  $67,155,140
Exports markets                 Motor vehicles and parts (34.7%)
Mechanical Equipment (9.2%)
Electrical Machinery (4.0%)
Plastic Products (3.5%)
Precision Machining is an industry that produces large volumes of highly engineered components used in other manufactured goods. Best described as NAICS 332721- Precision Machining, it is often referred to as Screw Machining, based on the historic use of automatic screw cutting machines employed to make high volumes of parts.  The largest part of the industry is involved in contract manufacture of large volumes of customer designed parts. Automotive Industry is the largest industry served, accounting for over 25% of industry shipments, and this fits well with Ontario’s Top International Export  in 2012 being Motor vehicles and parts at 34.7%.
Our parts play a major role in four of Ontario’s five largest international exports-  Motor vehicles and parts (34.7%); Mechanical Equipment (9.2%); Electrical Machinery (4.0%); and Plastic Products (3.5%). (Precision machined components are often molded into many plastic parts and assemblies.)
*(Precision machine shops: In Ontario alone, PMPA has identified 62 Screw Machine capable companies. In addition we know of over 1,371 additional “machine shops.” Figures provided were limited to  the 62 contract manufacturers we have identified. Our figures, therefore, are a lower bound estimate.
Data: ;  U.S. Census  2011 Survey of Manufacturers Data; PMPA

The causes of plating difficulties  on parts manufactured from cold drawn steel bars are neither mysterious nor beamed on to the parts from the outer reaches of the galaxy. Plating difficulties invariably are related to three potential contributors: Inadequate cleaning, Insufficient stock removal, and Features of the part being plated.

Your plating problems are not beamed down from here...
Your plating problems are not beamed down from here…

The location of the plating problems on your parts  gives you a key to determining the mechanism of failure

  • If the plating problems are occurring on both original bar surfaces as well as on as machined surfaces, Inadequate Cleaning is likely the cause.
  • If the plating difficulties are only on the portion of your parts that are original bar stock surface, Insufficient Stock Removal is the most likely cause of the problem.
  • If the plating is fine everywhere else on the part except near a particular feature, Retention of contaminating fluid by a feature of the part is the likely cause.

Inadequate Cleaning
I used the term inadequate  to describe the situation where despite efforts to clean, some soil or contaminant remains, interfering with the plating. The cleaning method employed could just be insufficient to the task of cleaning- not enough time, agitation, etc.
Or it could be the incorrect cleaning process being used. Acidic cleaners do not remove oils or greases.  In fact, we oil our metallic products like tools, firearms, and fishing reels to prevent them from being attacked by the acids in our skin and the environment. Alkaline cleaners are needed to remove oils and greasy residues from steel parts. Solvents can be used to remove the bulk of oily residues as well.  If an insufficient or improper preclean is performed prior to plating,  oils or oily residues can remain on the surfaces of the parts and mask or obstruct the deposition  of the metallic plate.
If the plating problems are occurring on both original bar surfaces as well as on as machined surfaces, this is likely the cause.
Insufficient Stock Removal
When I first started out in the industry, most steel bars were acid pickled prior to cold drawing. In pickling, acid “wets” the entire bar surface,  is able to penetrate through the surface scale to react with the acid soluble iron oxide known as Wustite, (FeO) on the innermost bar surface, and thus assures the nearly complete  removal of all scale from the bar surface.  (See scale note  below)
Acid disposal became a significant operational challenge, and the industry moved to  the use of mechanical descaling (shotblasters) to abrade away the hard iron oxide scale from the surface of the bars.
Unlike pickling, shotblasting does not fully remove every bit of scale- the shot stream abrades off most, but not every single bit of scale on a bar’s surface. If the bar surface has many fine depressions or pits, the abrasive shot may not be able to contact the scale at the bottom of these depressions. The presence of this scale could interfere with the subsequent plating of parts by the following mechanisms:

  • It can retain metalworking fluids or cleaner from the precleaning step  and then release these during plating causing localized reactions and staining;
  • Because scale is an insulator,  it will prevent electrical current flow at its location and thus mask  or prevent the deposition and adhesion of the plate;
  • It can create an air bubble by geometry as well as perhaps a hydrogen bubble if the bath is acidic. this bubble could form a mechanical barrier masking its location and preventing deposition/ adhesion of the plate.

If the plating difficulties are only on the portion of your parts that are original bar stock surface, this is the most likely cause of the problem.
Part Geometry Features and Location
Many times the design of the part can be the cause of the plating difficulties.
Features like small diameter holes, blind holes and recesses and grooves which can retain fluids, create bubbles or support a meniscus can result in localized contamination, create staining,  and interference with deposition by providing a fluid or bubble barrier.
If the plating is fine everywhere else on the part except near a particular feature, retention of fluid by a feature of the part is the likely cause. Adding a wetting agent to reduce surface tension in cleaner or rinse can eliminate the problem.
There are other problems that can arise during plating that can be attributed to the plating process itself, but  it has been my experience that these 3 categories  will cover most of the problems  encountered when both the machine shop and the plater claim that “there must be something wrong with the steel.”
If the machined surfaces plate fine- but not the original bar surface nor the inside of a hole- it isn’t the steel. It’s one of the above.
Scale Note: There are two additional iron oxides that could be present- Hematite (Fe2O3) and Magnetite (Fe3O4) – both of these are acid insoluble, but for this discussion, it is sufficient to say that they are removed  by the removal of the underlying Wustite scale during pickling.
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