A little choked up Jan 20, 2018

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Those of you who know me know that I am not an outgoing person unless you get me talking about my family or my grinders, then you can’t shut me up. I am very proud of both. So when John Patterson of The Atlanta Athletic Club made this video, I got a little choked up. Thank you John.

John is also featured in this John Deere video and I suspect that there are some Deere engineers with a little tear in their eye too.

I love Canadians Jan 13, 2018

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I have used Filemaker as my relational database software for over twenty years. Prior to that, I used several other databases including FoxPro, Omnis 3, d-Base and 4th Dimension. I have been using Filemaker to develop our MRP (Materials Requirement Planning) database and am currently on version 5 in which I added all General Ledger Functions and Payroll. This eliminated a lot of double entry. Filemaker used to have a neat feature which let you share databases over the internet. About 10 years ago, I developed an SIP Store database that allowed our vendors to go online and order parts and check pricing. This saved a lot of phone calls. Unfortunately, Filemaker deprecated that feature from the standard software and created a Filemaker Server which costs about $1,000 per year. I also had a database of sales calls that I made on the server in my office that I could connect to with my iPhone. It was not real reliable because it depended on a good 3G cellular connection for me to log in while I was at the customer’s shop. When I lost web sharing, I kept the database on my phone where it didn’t require any internet connection but made it more difficult to analyze the data.

I want to do more work with this data and add Larry’s sales calls as well. I found a program that would store the Filemaker database locally on the iPhone and then sync the data with the computer once you had a good internet connection. It was free for the server and first device and then about $100 for each additional device. What was not explained very well is that you need the $1,000 per year Filemaker Server to make it work. What’s the point?

I had tried Tap Forms, a different relational database for MacOS ($50) and iOS ($17) and the software can be loaded on to multiple devices. It is a fairly lightweight relational data base with one very important and unique feature. It has sync capability built in. So I can develop and have the data base on my main computer at work then copy that database on to my iPhone and my computer at home. Any changes I make on any one of the platforms will automatically be updated on the other two as long as I have an internet connection. If I don’t, it just waits until I do to sync the databases.

My problem was that I have thousands of records in different tables I needed to import into the Tap Forms database I created. Then I needed to link the records from one table to another. For instance, I have one table with all of the golf course records, another table with all the different contacts at that golf course and a third table with a record of each time I visited that course. Each table has a link field used to create the link between the tables. Normally that is created automatically when the record is created but since I was importing so much data, I did not want to go into each golf course and manually create the links for each record. I needed a way to create a unique value in each record to use as the link field. I could automatically create a sequential field but that could be duplicated if I were creating records off-line on two different platforms and then the links would be corrupted. I needed what is called a UUID (universally unique identifier) to be automatically created.

I emailed tech support at Tap Forms and explained my problem. The owner and programmer emailed me back and asked if a function that created a UUID would help. I emailed back that that would solve my problem. The next morning, he emailed me back and said he had added that function and it would be available when the next maintenance version is released. That is pretty amazing customer support. Maybe not so amazing when you consider he is from Calgary, Canada.

This is the kind of customer support that I really value. We have several vendors including Norton and MSC, that give us very good customer support. It is also the kind of support we strive to provide. Any customer who has a set of our grinders should have either my or Larry’s cell phone number with the knowledge that they can call or text any time they need help. I hope that your feelings on SIP support are the same as mine are for Tap Forms. If not, email me and chew me out.

Revolving Door Jan 7, 2018

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Well we just finished a pretty good year, the first in almost a decade. We were slammed in the beginning of 2017 and could not keep up. Prior to 2017, we would normally ship machines within one week of the order but our lead times then were 3-4 weeks. Then we lost our lead machinist, Ken, who had been with us for about five years. He was probably the best machinist we had ever employed and that is not just my opinion but Darwin’s as well. Darwin is our semi-retired general manager/machinist who had previously held that honor. Ken had not been looking for a job but was approached by a company he had applied to at the same time he had applied with us. The problem was the new job was only a 15 minute drive instead of the hour it took him to get to our plant. We tried to change his mind but I knew it was a lost cause.

Summer is usually slower for us so I thought we could get caught up, even with a new machinist, but it did not slow down much. Our lead times stretched to 6-7 weeks as we began to run out of key components. And trying to find a machinist is not easy. We have since hired and fired eight different machinists in as many months. If you did the math, you figured out that we still do not have the position filled. We are also adding a new assembler position which requires much more training.

As a result, we have gone the whole year without being able to ship machines within a week. We also have several interesting R&D projects that have been on the back burner. Our number one priority is increasing our production capacity and that starts with hiring the right people. Please bear with us as we continue our quest.

The Beast is Back Jan 2, 2018

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With apologies to Sir Elton John but I try to keep this blog family friendly. The beast of which I speak is my 2004 Dodge Sprinter by Mercedes Benz. Last year, I replaced Larry’s Sprinter, which had 470,000 miles on it, with a Ram ProMaster. While my Sprinter only has 370,000 miles on it, there were a number of problems that made it a prime candidate for replacement. Three of the five glow plugs did not work, the rear brake sensors were not replaced correctly and did not work, and the front end was chewing through tires. The first two. I could ignore as long as I don’t drive it in freezing weather. The last was fixed by spending $200 on new tires which was a whole lot better than spending several thousand dollars to repair the front end according to Mercedes-Benz. They also recommended against replacing the glow plugs because they would always break off due to dissimilar metals corrosion (steel screwed into aluminum). Again, according to M-B, once the glow plug is broken off, the head has to be removed, costing about three grand. The cost of those two repairs alone are close to the value of the van.

In order to maximize my financing potential, I do not want to buy another vehicle until next spring, so I took the Sprinter across the street to the tire shop to see about buying a couple new tires. He said the wear was not due to front end problems but that the tires were probably under inflated. I told him that I was very careful to maintain the factory specs of 50 psi in the front and 90 in the rear. He told me that was the problem. Truck tires like these need to be kept at 90 psi. He said he would rotate the tires and check the front end anyway. I then asked him if he could troubleshoot the rear brake sensors. He said no problem. Two out of three problems solved for very little money so I decided to go for broke and ask him if they worked on diesel engines. He replied only the external stuff like turbos and water pumps. I asked about glow plugs. He said yes but you have to be careful not to break them off. He also told me that he worked closely with the local FedEx fleet manager who had about 60 of these older Sprinters to maintain. As it was then Friday afternoon, I took the Sprinter back to the shop, removed the plastic cover on top of the head, let the engine run until it was warm, then sprayed all of the glow plugs withProBlaster and let them soak over the weekend.

I brought it back in Monday to get an estimate to replace the glow plugs, repair the rear brakes and front end. Turns out the front struts needed to be replaced but the whole bill would be a little over $1,200. I gave him the okay and told him there was no rush as I did not need the van until the new year. A week and a half later, the Van was still in his shop, so we gave him a call. Three of the five glow plugs had broken off. Instead of removing the head they found a tool for $350 just for removing broken glow plugs from M-B Sprinters and it had taken a week to get it shipped to them.

A few days later, the van was done. The tool had worked although it took about four hours to remove the first one. Once they knew what they were doing, the other two took two hours a piece. Eight hours and the cost of the tool instead of one and a half hours to replace three of the glo-plugs, still a lot better than removing the head. They replaced the rear brake pads and replaced them with the correct ones and replaced the sensors. Finally they replaced the front struts, repaired and rotated the tires. Total bill was a little over $1,500. This vehicle is still averaging less than $1,000 per year for repairs and maintenance including tires and still gets 21 mpg. I can’t complain.

Dave, the mechanic who replaced the glow plugs, did not enjoy the job and that is putting it mildly. The top of that Sprinter engine is not easy to access. He had to use mirrors, flashlights and a right angle drill but I am very grateful that he got the job done. It just so happened that the FedEx fleet manager came by while they were working on my Sprinter. He naturally asked about it. When he found out that they were replacing broken glow plugs, he told them that you had to remove the head. They told him that they were using a kit that let them fix the glow plugs without removing the head. Long story short, they now have 35 FedEx vans with bad glow plugs that they are going to fix, one a week until they are done. Sorry Dave.

So now my big decision is do I replace the beast this spring or do I put a paint job on it and drive it a couple more years. What do you think?

Merry Christmas Dec 24, 2017

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A few weeks ago, I opened the holiday season with my Christmas Card from last year. Now, on Christmas Eve, I would like to share this year’s card. Those of you who know my family recognize an addition, Mike, Anne’s fiancé. We at SIP want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a Joyous Holiday Season with a special wish to all in our military especially those serving away from their families and in harms way.

Shaken, not stirred Dec 16, 2017

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Lyford Cay is probably the most exclusive gated community in the world, boasting being home to more of the worlds billionaires. This gated community also has its own golf course on what hast to be some of the most expensive real estate. The problem was that one of the members of this community complained that he was paying exorbitant dues only to be playing on a third world course. They would send all of their cutting units stateside once a year to be spun ground only. The rest of the year, it was backlapping only. Aeration and top dressing were not routinely done so it is no surprise that course conditions were less than favorable. A new superintendent and mechanic were hired and the first thing they did was to buy a set of our grinders. I got to go over and do the training. It was a day trip because I couldn’t afford to stay overnight. And whom do I have to thank for this particular sale? Who called his home course “third world”? Non other than Sir Thomas Sean Connery.

 

Fixtures Dec 9, 2017

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Darwin has been a fixture at SIP for 22 years. He retired in 2014 but still comes in two mornings a week. He is supposed to do special projects but this last year he has been in production as well as training the revolving door of machinists, a total of eight including temps. Many of you have talked with him on the phone and know he is very knowledgeable and helpful.

The most important thing he has done is be a mentor to Karl. He first trained him to be a machine operator when he was 17. When he was 19, I had to fire Karl because he would show up late or not at all. He always had a good excuse, school, but he did not understand that he had to let Darwin know if he needed time off. A few months later, Darwin wanted to hire him back because he had become a pretty good machinist. I agreed on the condition that he would have to get approval for any time off and that he had to show up on time.

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Darwin continued to train Karl to become a first class machinist so when it came time for him to retire, I proposed Karl as his replacement. He thought it was a good idea and began training him for that job. One of the last lessons is designing and building machining fixtures. There is an art to it. You have to be able to accommodate variations in the piece to be machined. It needs to be easy and repeatable to load and unload. Chips have to be easily removed so they do not effect the location of the piece being machined. If properly done, a good fixture will rival CNC machining for both speed and precision with lower development costs and can be used by lower skilled labor especially with lower volume production. So now Karl is designing and building one of his first fixtures. Good job Darwin, thanks.

The Christmas Season is Upon Us Dec 4, 2017

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I was given the advice to slow down for Christmas to reflect on the season. So we put up our tree yesterday and decorated it. Actually, the kids decorated it while I made dinner. While they were decorating it, I made them pause and pose for a Christmas card photo. I try to do something unique each year for the card. The one I did last year was a huge hit, I still have people raving about it. The photo on top was our Christmas Card from 1993 and below our attempt to recreate that magical moment. It would mean more if you had been getting our cards all along but I still think it is pretty neat. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Wedding Bell Blues November 24, 2017

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I never understood why somebody would spend enough money for a down payment on a house for a wedding. When we got married 40 years ago, we spent less than $200. Michele was out of school less than a year and I had run out of money several months before graduating. I never understood, that is until it is my daughter’s wedding. She started looking at inexpensive venues and I realized that was not good enough for her, so Michele and I decided to kick in and share the expenses. This week we went with her to a couple of venues that were much nicer than the first ones she looked at. Begin with the cost of the meal then add an open bar, hors d’oeuvres, gratuity and taxes and you are over budget. That is before the entertainment, wedding cake, centerpieces and the wedding itself. My daughter has several spreadsheets calculating total costs of the different options as well as her budget and she is one heck of a shopper so I know she is going to get the best deal she can but I still need your help. I need to sell a bunch more grinders so get those leads and forward them to me. Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving.

TETAC Seminar November 18, 2017

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Last week I was in Myrtle Beach at the Carolina Turf Grass Show in the TSP Booth. TETAC asked all of the grinder manufacturers to make a presentation on their grinders. You can go to the video here. Many thanks to the folks at TSP and TETAC for their hospitality.

Too Careful November 11, 2017

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About six months ago, I got caught by a phishing scam. I received an official looking email from Apple that said there was a problem with my account. I clicked on the link and logged in with my password. Once logged in, it asked me for my account information. When I got to the field asking for my social security number, I looked at the URL and realized I had been scammed. I immediately changed my account password and reported the scam to Apple. Fortunately for me, the scammer only had a good password for a few minutes before I was able to change it.

Yesterday, I got a message on my computer saying a new phone had access to my account. That sometimes happens when my wife switches between her account and mine so I did not think anything of it. This morning, when I tried to use my phone, it asked for my Apple password. It did not recognize any of the passwords I remembered. I had already packed up my home computer for the Carolina show, so I rushed to work to see if I could find the correct password. Nothing worked so I changed it again. Once logged in, I saw that a device that I did not recognize had access to my account. The web site gave me the option of talking to someone at Apple if I had a problem so I submitted my phone number. It said they would call me within two minutes. Thirty seconds later, I got the call. An automated voice asked me to press 1 if I was ready for the call or 2 if I wanted to reschedule. I pressed 1 and the voice continued by asking me what kind of music I wanted to listen to while I waited: rock, classical or…then a real person came on the line. I explained what had happened and that I had changed my password. He reassured me that if I had been able to change my password, that I would be okay. He verified my account and checked for any breaches. He recommended that I use Two-Factor Authentication for my account and then walked me through the set up. This validates a device by sending me a 6 digit code that I have to enter in for that device. I presume that whenever I log in with my password, it also uses the device serial number to make sure that I am using a trusted device. I had known about Two-Factor Authentication but had been too lazy to implement it. Turns out it was a lot less hassle than I thought and certainly a lot less hassle than trying to cancel credit cards.

A real shout out to Apple for their extraordinary customer service. He was very patient and reassuring. I love using the fingerprint ID on my iPhone for added security. I just ordered an iPhone X for Karl with facial ID. I will let you know how that works. Lesson learned: You can’t be too careful with internet security.Turns out the unrecognized iPhone was Larry's.

Turf Equipment Technicians Association of the Carolinas November 4, 2017

I will be attending the Carolina Turf Grass Show in a couple of weeks and will be making a short presentation to the members of TETAC. TETAC is one of the oldest and most active technicians association and was one of the inspirations for IGCEMA (International Golf Course Equipment Association) which is now part of GCSAA. These organizations are key to elevating the professionalism of an ever increasingly complex job. I am proud to support these organizations any way I can. The video above is a short exert from my presentation.

I Like New Cars Too October 30, 2017

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What do you do when you are in Bowling Green Kentucky and have a free afternoon? You go to the Fruit of the Loom Factory Store and buy cheap underwear. Well, you might also go to the National Corvette Museum. It was interesting to see the evolution of the design and engineering of the Corvette.

 

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They also had prototypes and race cars but standing on top of a sink hole with five of its unrecoverable cars was a little worrisome. I really wanted to go on a tour of the factory but did not have time to do both. As it turns out, they shut down the tours about six months ago and they won’t return for another year. It looks like the rumors that the Corvette will become mid engine are true.

 

I Like Old Cars October 21, 2017

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I am passionate about my family and my grinders but I do have a couple of other interests. I like to cook and I like old cars. We just got back from the Lakeland Auto Show and Lake Mirror Concours with around 800 cars on display including over 100 cars being judged at the Concours. That included the $20 million car above.

“A 1939 Alfa Romeo 2900B Lungo Spider. The BC 2900 was not a mere sports car, but the most advanced, modern and compelling sports car that money could buy in the 1930s. This Alfa is one of only seven long-chassis Touring Spiders produced. It has a history of amateur racing during the 1950s in Brazil. The car debuted at the 1999 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it was awarded the Gwenn Graham Trophy for Most Elegant Convertible. More recently, it won Best in Show at the 2017 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. It has a180 bhp, 2905 cc DOHC inline eight-cylinder engine with dual overhead cams and dual Roots-type superchargers, four-speed manual transmission, double-wishbone independent front suspension with coil springs over dampers, swing axle rear suspension with radius arms, transverse semi-elliptical leaf spring, and hydraulic friction dampers, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes.” It was one of the sweetest sounding engines I have ever heard.

 

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The were cars there from an unrestored Model T one ton truck to a heavily customized 2017 Camaro. One I particularly liked was this Lincoln though, I can’t figure out why a car that is the same age as me looks so much better than I do.

 

Ultimatum October 14, 2017

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A few weeks ago I was at a customer’s shop. He had just purchased a set of our grinders. He had used them before at other places he had worked. As we chatted, he describe the process of getting the grinder purchase approved. His superintendent wanted him to buy a competitor’s grinders. They were buying a big package and the dealer was giving him a great price. Now my reaction would have been to explain to the superintendent that they were not comparing apples to apples and the conversation would have gone something like this:

Me: “The SIP grinders are faster.”
Super: “The dealer says his grinders are faster.”
Me: “But the SIP grinders are much more precise.”
Super: “The dealer says his grinders are just as precise.”
Me: “But the SIP grinders do relief grinding.”
Super: “The dealer says we can get a kit for doing relief grinding."
Me: “But I like the SIP better.”
Super: “Too bad, the others are cheaper. We are getting them.”

So why did they end up buying our grinders? Instead of arguing the facts with his superintendent, he made a simple statement:

“Let me know if that is what you are going to do so I can start looking for another job.”

Now I am not telling you to threaten your boss if he doesn’t buy SIP…well yes maybe I am. Just don’t blame me if it backfires.

Just to clarify. If you buy a base 7000 Peerless Reel Grinder and an Ideal 650 Bed Knife Grinder with the auto travel option, it would be significantly less money than the “cheaper” competitor’s grinders mentioned above, and it would still be better, faster, and more precise.

Driving back from this visit, I thought about how passionate this equipment manager was about our grinders. He was replacing a set of Foleys he had used for several years and he also had extensive experience with Bernhard grinders. I have met people who are passionate about Foley and those who are passionate about Bernhard. Obviously I know plenty of people who are passionate about SIP. I don’t really know anybody who loves Neary. What struck me about this revelation is that the people who are passionate about the competitors’ grinders have never used SIP while those who are passionate about SIP have used the competitors’.

Best Seller October 7, 2017

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I received this email the other day. The Turf Addict web site sells our Simplex branded products, including the RHOC line of gauges, as well as dozens of other products from other manufacturers. What is unique about this web site is that they use and endorse all of the products they sell. That means that they will only sell top quality products. Which, in my humble opinion, means that the RHOC is the best of the best. That feels good! Thank you.

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