July 2020 meeting of Pueblo Makes

Susan Parker described Project Inspire Cooperative, the brain child of Dave Pump, CEO of PDI. The Project provides job exploration and actual jobs for people with diverse abilities. The grand opening is this Friday, 24 July, 6-9 pm, with early bird specials from 4-6.  The Chambers of Commerce will do a ribbon cutting. There will be drawings, discounts, a BBQ food truck, ice cream, and beer and wine. Six artisans are currently part of the Cooperative, including Ladoris Burton. The event will be completely COVID compliant, including temp check with masks. Enter from Prairie Blvd, near the southside Lowe’s. You can also shop on line at projectinspire.community.

Jen Johnston is the 4-H Youth Development agent with CSU Extension in Pueblo. Originally from Pueblo, Jen joined Extension here in September 2019. She loves what she does. She described 4-H including its positive impacts on youth and then several people (Lois, Elliott, Gregg) talked about their involvement in 4-H and its huge positive effect on their lives. Year-long 4-H projects for each member cover a range of topics, such as gardening, rocketry, clothing, leadership, vet science, dog training, photography, on and on. There is a project for every kid. The 4-H philosophy is “Learning by doing” which fits perfectly with Pueblo Makes. Participants must keep a record and reflect on their learning.  Virtual programming due to COVID has included a live chicken cam to watch chicks hatch and a Youtube channel. They are holding a virtual county fair now. Jen’s contact info is: Jen Johnston, Extension Agent, 4-H Youth Development, Colorado State University – Pueblo County, 701 Court St. Suite C, Pueblo, CO 81003-3064, Work Phone: (719) 583-6566, Email: johnstonje@pueblocounty.us. They are always looking for volunteers.

Emily Gradisar described changes happening at TickTock Pueblo, including moving to 111 Central Plaza (next to Bistoro), eliminating the café, still offering classes, still providing space for makers to rent (with more and bigger spaces at the new location), and the introduction of the opportunity for people to buy art kits for making, either on site or at home. TickTock will purchase kits from local artists (not commission, purchased outright) to support local artists. Talk to Emily if you have an idea for kits; she will be doing bulk buying of common components and wants to avoid duplication in kits. Email Emily at info@ticktockpueblo.com for inquiries about workspaces or kits.

Ina Bernard, the co-owner of Artisan Textile Company, described the company’s roots in the hand weaving sale each winter at the Vail Hotel. ATC, located in the Mesa junction at 121 Broadway Avenue (next to Gypsy Java), has weaving, knitting, felting, lace making, paper making, and more made by artists who sell on consignment. Currently there are two artists in residence. She showed us many products including yarn in various Pueblo colors, hand knitted pullovers, shawls, scarves, jewelry, cards, candles, honey, and soaps, all hand made by local artists.

Gregg White, the department chair of the PCC Advanced Manufacturing program, described his family roots in manufacturing, including a blacksmith ancestor. He came to Pueblo 22 years ago as a machinist and has been at PCC for 18 years. Machinists build everything you touch, or at least had a hand in it. Advanced Manufacturing is a traditional 2-year program open to everyone who wants to work with their hands. The demand for graduates is great all over the country. Students learn how to use hand tools up to lathes, mills, CNC, CAD, and CAM.  It is a wide and diverse field, like the Pueblo Makes group.  Tim described his training in the program, including Gregg’s taking students to Kansas City for a competition. One PCC group (precision machining) placed first in the nation and another group placed second. Gregg recommend the videos at Edge Factor. Gregg can be contacted at Gregg.white@pueblocc.edu.

Drew is now principal at PSAS (cue applause) and is planning for fall during this strange time. They will be doing some education in person and also some offerings online for families. They will continue to provide opportunities for kids to make and to connect kids with experts in the field by remote connection. No parents or volunteers will be allowed in the building. They have maker materials in the school. Drew can be contacted at dhirshon@psas.ws.

Jane described a small group she has pulled together to support makerspaces in Pueblo. They are working on a directory of such spaces. She also suggested that Pueblo Makes can support families in home schooling. Tim announced that Steel City Makers decided, in the current climate and considering financials, to disband. We are exploring other ways to use available resources in makerspaces, including Lane’s excellent woodworking and other equipment. Zach reminded us to use Reddit to connect and share ideas.

Pueblo Makes meets the third Tuesday of each month. The August Pueblo Makes meeting will be Tuesday, 18 August, 3:30-5 pm via zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84158525191?pwd=K1lsQWRSQy83Q1NLVXZxQzlBOUw2Zz09

The video recording of this meeting will be available until 18 August at:


All the pieces

“This Norton cutter-grinder which had been specially adapted to grind cams on the motor shaft for the electric dry shaver which this New England plant normally produces, has now been converted to grind permanent magnet rotors for machine tool motors. The conversion was accomplished with new jigs and fixtures and slight changes in the head. This is a tricky job well suited to the skill of this plant’s workers. The metal is alnico and the octagonal shape consists of surfaces which are arcs drawn from the center of the piece.
Schick Inc., Stamford, Connecticut” 1942
Source: Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2017690845/

One of my favorite online magazines, Modern Machine Shop, published its third article since 1990 on the tool and die making company C&A Tool Engineering Inc.

What’s new?

Actually, there is nothing new. The technology is well established. The management principles are not revolutionary. The worker training is standard.

What does it mean?

A tool and die maker makes the tools, dies, fixtures, jigs, molds, and other physical objects that are needed to produce the physical objects sold to customers. For example, plastic buttons are made either by injecting plastic into a mold in the shape of the desired button or by cutting a sheet of plastic into the desired shape which is then polished. In the first case, the process starts by making a mold, into which the plastic will be injected; in the second case, the process starts by making a die, which is the tool used to cut the plastic sheet. A fixture holds an object in place during the manufacturing process. A jig guides an object while it is moved in the manufacturing process.

The objects made by a tool and die maker are thus custom made for the particular production process.  The object may be a variation of previously made object, but its making requires knowledge and skill often built up by years of apprenticeship and experience. Also these objects often must be made to meet exacting specifications.

Tool and die work is highly skilled and such makers require respect and independence in order to do their work. A tool and die maker uses computer controlled machines, but the work cannot be automated because each item is custom made. A tool and die shop is a highly sophisticated job shop, but it is still a job shop, not a mass manufacturing process.

Unusually, C&A is a tool and die company, but also does production work, that is, it also makes products for customers, not just the tools that make the products. Usually companies focus either on tool and die work or on production work.

Over years of growth, C&A has designed its plants and processes well, considering carefully the layout of the buildings, for example, to promote flow of product (as much as possible in a job shop), to promote the useful interaction of people, and to support future expansion.  Machines are selected carefully and upgraded to keep up with developments in the industry; the company C&A has, for example, has moved into additive manufacturing. C&A has also watched its business side carefully, and has moved from producing automotive parts and surgical instruments into producing medical devices and aerospace parts. C&A training is done with the local vocational training school and on-the-job apprenticeship; cross-training is emphasized.

But what really strikes me about this company is its ability to combine principles of efficiency, profit, and decency, as seen in this excerpt from the MMS article, explaining why C&A mixes tool and die work with production work.

“The mix was good for the people in the shop, and what is good for the people in the shop is good for business. Tool and die work builds skills; production jobs build proficiency. Tool and die work can be challenging and a change of pace; production jobs provide continuity and just enough routine.”

One of the earlier MMS articles has this quote from Dick Conrow, the company founder: “If people know their jobs and have the right tools for the job, then all I have to do is get out the way. I don’t have to run the place.”

And a 2012 article in Northeast Manufacturing News outlined the C&A philosophy on upgrading equipment: “C&A’s general philosophy is to purchase equipment before there is necessarily a specific need for it,” enabling the company to learn and be prepared for jobs it otherwise could not take on.

What does it mean for you?

This company doesn’t do anything that any other company can’t do, but C&A puts all the pieces together and has done so successfully for 51 years. In the three MMS articles, author Mark Albert (Editor Emeritus, Modern Machine Shop) attributes C&A’s success to its adherence to principles, such as treating workers with respect rather than trying to control them, organizing the work to support teams,  and using production work to continue to learn about tool and die work.

The founder, Mr Conrow, retired in 2018, but the new manager is continuing to use those principles as the company moves further into “digitalization, globalization and integration.” The leadership vision for C&A involves knowing how to establish and hold onto important principles, while adapting those principles to new realities. Whatever the mission of your organization, the important role of leadership is to identify and follow guiding principles, while knowing when and how to adapt and change.

Some caveats are necessary. I yield to no one in skepticism, so it may be that the workers at C&A would have a different tale to tell about the company’s workplace environment, but I also yield to no one in my optimism that such work places can and do exist. C&A was sold in 2018 to a Japanese company, MinebeaMitsumi Group. Will C&A be able to hold to the principles established by Mr. Conrow?

Where can you learn more?

The three MMS articles about C&A are here:

The company’s web page also has more information.

It’s only a model

Source: author

What’s new?

My colleague Bill Thomas of EJB Partners called my attention to an article published by McKinsey & Company on June 25 titled “Demystifying modeling: How quantitative models can – and can’t – explain the world.” Highlighting the role of modeling during the COVID-19 crisis, the four authors describe the powers of models and the pitfalls to avoid when using models. The article is really excellent and I recommend you go read it before finishing my piece.

What does it mean?

Models come in many forms: mental models, physical models, mathematical models, simulation models, and more. A model is a representation of reality that can be analyzed to derive conclusions that improve one’s understanding of reality. I hesitate to make this sweeping statement, but the ability to make and use models, as a type of tool, seems to me to be a definition of human thinking abilities. For 40 years, I taught engineering students the various models that engineers find useful in designing objects and systems to make the world better – from the equation F=ma to the M/M/1 queuing model. One of the most important phrases I taught them was: “It’s only a model.”

The McKinsey & Company is short (go back and read it if you haven’t yet). Given the article’s focus on COVID-19 models, you also might want to look at this tool that my state of Colorado has made available for citizens to explore the effect of different behaviors on spread of the disease.

While short, the McKinsey & Company covers all the important points about models. Models are useful in clarifying which drivers matter, determining how much an input can matter, and facilitating discussions about the future. A model can’t fix bad data, assumptions and simplifications must be examined, and users should not expect too much certainty.

“The purpose of modeling is insight, not numbers” is a quote attributed to many people; I first heard it attributed to cybernetics expert Ross Ashby. Experiments can be performed on a model more easily, more cheaply, and more quickly than on the real world, where you may only get one chance to see, for example, how the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. Insight means an understanding of how the various parameters interact to create the outcome, but insight is not a forecast. As baseball expert Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” The McKinsey & Company authors, in a sidebar, describe how they use scenarios, which are not meant to be forecasts, but are meant to support discussion of the implications.

What does it mean for you?

I would only fault the McKinsey & Company article for omitting the politics and power involved in creating a model, and the fact that people need to trust the modelers, not just the model, if they are not to  reject the model’s findings that don’t agree with their existing beliefs. You need to ask questions about any model: who made it and what assumptions went into it, but also what are the explicit and implicit goals of those who made the model.

The Colorado tool is open source, with the code posted on Github, a repository for software, especially open-source software. The documentation tab provides a link to more information, including the names and qualifications of the people who created the model. Other links point to a more detailed description of the model including assumptions such as: the incubation period is 4.2 days with 1 day before that for presymptomatic infectiousness, 1800 ICU beds are available in Colorado, recovered individuals are assumed to remain immune to infection, and no cases of COVID-19 are imported or migrate from outside Colorado. Changing the parameters of this model quickly convinced me that modest improvements in social distancing (three parameters) and the proportion of population wearing masks (one parameter) could crush the epidemic in Colorado by September. I was very surprised by how small the necessary changes are. “Wear a damn mask,” Governor Polis said recently. The model fits my existing beliefs, but others may not be persuaded. I am not here to debate, only to note the people who make the models are often seeking to make a point, whether in the public arena or in a private company. The creators of this Colorado model certainly want people to practice social distancing and to wear face masks.

One goal in creating a model is always a robust model, that is, a model with conclusions that do not vary much if the key assumptions of the model are tweaked. For example, what happens to the results if the incubation period is 3.2 or 5.2 days instead of the assumed 4.2 days? Also, the Colorado model assumes a single number for that parameter, the same for everyone; more sophisticated models would use probability to model that parameter. A model has to be stressed by using sensitivity analysis: how much in migration of COVID cases would be needed to change the conclusion I reached above that only small changes in social behavior are needed to make us safe?  Unfortunately, I see those cars with Texas license plates, although I also saw them a lot before COVID-19.

The key to the use of a model is to let the modelers argue and make them revise the model again and again. “What if …” should be the starting words in almost every question you ask. This model is overly simple, meant to be used by the public, but more sophisticated models are available.

A model is simply an extended argument, a case made to support conclusions. The argument may be in equations or a computer program, but it is an argument and can be examined and questioned just as one can do with any argument. The strength of a model is that it is explicit, even if sometimes complicated. A model, like Colorado’s COVID-19 model, can also be used to generate scenarios, which in turn can be used for planning. Colorado’s health care system can plan for a worst case scenario.

The problem with any model is that it is only a representation of reality, not reality itself. I taught my students to say “It’s only a model,” said with a shrug. A model is a representation of reality, and thus fails to capture some aspects of reality.

Where can you learn more?

The forecasts of some more sophisticated COVID-19 models are summarized here by the website fivethirtyeight and here by the CDC. The McKinsey & Company article has a sidebar with four suggested articles to learn more about COVID-19 modeling.

An editorial at this link discusses the differences between and potential use of two COVID-19 models. The article makes wise recommendations about the use of models. In particular, the point of analysis is to support decision making about action, and models can recommend different, but reinforcing actions to take.

New shoes

Source: History of the Incorporation of Cordiners in Glasgow by William Campbell, 1883

What’s new?

In a 1 July 2020 article in the magazine Additive Manufacturing, Senior Editor Stephanie Hendrixson describes how Flowbuilt Manufacturing makes customized shoes for various brands, using biometric scanning, pressure plates, 3D printing, and injection molding.  

What does it mean?

A technological idea may be around for a while, waiting for the actual technology to catch up, making the idea real. The fax machine was invented in 1843 but had to wait for advances in scanning and transmission speed to become useful in the 1980s (and to be superseded by the Internet in just a few decades). My father (a systems engineer at Bell Labs) was part of a team that developed the first useful multiplexing system for sending multiple conversations on one channel (TASI, used in the first transatlantic telephone cable); it was based on ideas that had been around for decades, but could only be implemented at the speed of conversation when transistors were invented.

Similarly, the idea of mass customization has been around for a long time. Dell was, I think, in 1984 the first personal computer manufacturer to offer the consumer the option of customizing the components of the computer, and consumers now routinely expect to be able to do that (although Dell has moved away from allowing customization on some models). Mass production keeps costs low by manufacturing identical products at a low cost, while customization of a product for the particular needs of the customer is usually done at a higher cost. The phrase “mass customization” was an oxymoron, not a real possibility, in which customization is done at a low cost.

Shoe manufacturing was originally a customized process (my fourth great grandfather John Gentle was a shoemaker in Glasgow, Scotland, and deacon of the Incorporation of Cordiners in 1808-1809). The industrial revolution changed shoe making into a mass production process. However, shoe manufacturing still involves hand work and thus most shoes sold in the US are made overseas to take advantage of lower labor costs.

Mass customization has now become more widespread. Eyewear, clothing, face masks, hearing aids, motorcycle helmets, baby ultrasounds, wedding cake toppers and horse saddles, are now made with some combination of scanning and customization. The trend is likely to continue as the component technologies and the associated processes are improving and are increasingly integrated.

For mass customization to become reality, the technology and the processes for the supply chain, manufacturing, and sales all had to evolve to the point where mass customization can be profitable for the companies and attractive for consumers. The technology includes sensors (scanners and pressure sensors in the case of shoes), software to process and integrate the resulting data into the individualized product design, and 3D printing of molds or of the product itself.

Those technologies have to be integrated with business practices. Mass customization means usually means supply chains are shortened so manufacturing may be reshored. Chuck Sanson, Flowbuilt Manufacturing’s director of business development, is quoted in the Additive Manufacturing article as saying “Personalized products are not something that you can effectively manage from 6,000 miles away.” The market must be analyzed for the potential for customization; at the same time, the product must be analyzed into modules that that will be customized or not customized (for example, will the box for shipping the item be standard or customized?). New materials may be appropriate.   Inventory management must be rethought, including relationships with suppliers, management of the inventory of customizable and noncustomizable components and handling of consumer returns. Production must be rethought as a pull system for the customized parts, which usually means a tightly integrated information system for tracking parts and products. The relationship with the final customer may be rethought to involved selling through intermediaries or direct to the customer.

What does it mean for you?

The focus has to be on what customization can add for your customers. What are the features of your product that your customers will want to design or have designed for them? At the same time, you need to consider which features can be manufactured at low cost.

The path to mass customization can be to slowly transition or to reimagine the entire process at once. Flowbuilt took the second path, being established in 2018 by its parent company Superfeet, a specialty shoe and insole manufacturer, with the task “to come up with a better way of making shoes within the United States,” but it evolved from a Superfeet project with HP that created custom-made 3D printed insoles. The customization drove the need to reshore the manufacturing to shorten the supply chain.  Flowbuilt also thought carefully about what parts of the manufacturing process could be automated and yet still remain flexible to allow small run production for diverse customers.

While I have described mass customization for consumer products such as shoes, similar changes have affected the manufacturing of other products, such as custom gears.

Where can you learn more?

An Internet search for the phrase mass customization will turn up many resources. An influential 1997 article from Harvard Business Review describes four ways to think about mass customization. One of the authors of that article, B. Joseph Pine II, wrote a 1993 book on Mass Customization, and cowrote (with James H. Gilmore) the 2000 book Markets of One, although Mr. Pine now focuses on what he calls the experience economy. A large amount of research on mass customization has been complied in the two-volume Handbook of Research in Mass Customization and Personalization.

The customer side of mass customization is related to the concept of long tail marketing, in which a company seeks to supply many diverse customer markets. The manufacturing side of mass customization is related to Industry 4.0, or smart manufacturing.