Chris Koepfer

Chris Koepfer has been involved in metalworking for 30 years. His first 14 were in the machine tool group at Cincinnati Milacron where he honed his technical writing skills in turning, machining and grinding before joining Modern Machine Shop in 1992 as an associate editor. In 2001, he helped found MMS’ sister publication Production Machining, which speaks to the precision machined parts segment of the industry. Chris is graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati, as are three of his four children, and an XU basketball fan—which can be as daunting as working in metalworking, he says.

Posted by: Chris Koepfer 20. July 2012

Group Think

I’ve lived in greater Cincinnati for almost over 40 years and never have been called for jury duty. That string ended in May when my summons arrived.
That initial summons provided a one-time exemption with the stipulation that I reschedule in a reasonable amount of time. Well, since I was holding a ticket to Switzerland the court excused me. My reschedule was set for July 9.
I show up and on the first day get assigned to a trial. It was a malpractice suit that lasted for an unusual seven days. It was detailed and tedious.
My take-away from the experience has less to do with the doctors, lawyers, expert witnesses and other courtroom trappings and more with my fellow jurors. We met as strangers, yet by the end of deliberations I think it fair to say we were certainly much closer.
I found the process of deliberation particularly interesting because eight people from different backgrounds and circumstances found a way to come together to get the job we were assigned done. Within the stricture of the law, we reviewed the lawyers’ presentations and weighed the preponderance of evidence to reach a verdict.
There was give and take from each of us because the end result was important and necessary. In this room, we discussed, with civility, where we each were coming from on the various points of determination and in the end reached a unanimous decision.
Was everyone in total agreement? Absolutely not. However we managed to put ourselves somewhat into the background in order to accomplish our civic duty.
In many ways, the exercise in that jury room is designed to mimic how we should function in business. My fellow jurors each made contributions to the outcome of the trial. Each was given a voice and listened to with respect.

According to our presiding judge, this is the strength of the justice system, people working together to make the best decision they can based only on the evidence, without ego or prejudice. Perhaps there is a lesson in here for who might be invited to the next meeting you call. In our group, eight out of eight contributed dispassionately to the strength our collective decision. We did right and we did it together.   

Posted by: Chris Koepfer 14. June 2012

Worth the Trip

Getting to Elmira, New York is not the easiest thing to do. Earlier this month, I jumped a plane from Cincinnati to Philadelphia to Elmira. Each plane got smaller and smaller, starting with a 50-passenger CRJ and finally a wing-over, prop-driven 20-seater for the last leg. But it was worth it.
The occasion was a visit to Hardinge for its second HMTS (Hardinge Machine Tool Show). The company welcomed more than 750 visitors to the company’s headquarters in Elmira June 6 and 7. A lineup of turning, grinding, milling, automation, rotary and workholding applications were on display in the 50,000-square-foot showroom.
Also included were more than 40 of Hardinge’s industry partners including tooling, software and accessory providers, which rounded out the trade show atmosphere. Technical people from Hardinge’s varied product lines and its suppliers were on hand to discuss technology and applications with visitors.
A neat thing about having a show in your shop is that it allows for a plant tour. Hardinge’s tour consisted of 11 stops throughout the manufacturing facility with presentations by the team members who actually do the work.

The idea seems to be catching—this year’s event covered four times the floor space of last year’s premier exhibition. Elmira may not be on the beaten path, but it’s a worthy destination for metalworking manufactures to see made in America alive and well.  

Posted by: Chris Koepfer 7. March 2012

Senator Mitch McConnell Visits MAG

On Friday, March 2, Senator Mitch McConnell dropped by the Hebron, Kentucky facility of machine tool builder MAG. We were invited to listen in as company executives explained the nature of the facility’s business, which is primarily aerospace and renewable energy, and sought help from the senator on issues affecting manufacturing.
The list included export control reform, extended R&D tax credit and bonus depreciation, financing support for the EXIM bank, promotion of job training and creation of a “smart force.”  MAG’s Hebron operation relies heavily on exports, with about 60 percent of the machines built there exported, MAG President Dan Janka explained to the senator.
After meeting with the company executives, the senator addressed the assembled employees with brief remarks followed by a Q&A session. Standing on the main assembly floor and surrounded by large machines used to produce composite components for the aerospace and renewable energy industries, he began his remarks by commenting that it is “stunning what you do here.”

He’s right: It is stunning what companies like MAG and shops like yours do everyday to maintain a critical manufacturing base in this country. Perhaps we keep our light under a bushel basket, but if more of our officials would come out and see what vital and successful manufacturing in the United States looks like, the list of needs from companies like MAG and shops like yours might not only be heard but acted upon.       

Posted by: Chris Koepfer 30. December 2011

Stepping Up to the Plate

Home-grown initiatiatives are popping up to help find skilled workers
to replace the aging population already employed.
Well, it’s time to ring out 2011. And barring any last-minute hiccups, according to most information I’m privy to, it’s been a good year for manufacturing.
Shops I talk to are busy and do not see a let-up in the foreseeable future. Even the catastrophe earlier in the year in Japan that lead to critical shortages in many industries seems to be working itself out sooner than was expected.

As we round the corner into 2012, I wanted to mention two bright spots that recently came to my attention. They have to do with home-grown initiatives to help with our industry’s most pressing problem: finding appropriately skilled workers to fill the current demand for jobs and replacing an aging population already employed. Read how two companies are solving this problem.  

Posted by: Chris Koepfer 22. June 2011

Trolls Beware!


I just retuned from a delightful and educational week in Sweden as the guest of Sandvik. Every EMO year they put together a pre-show program for the world press. The idea is for us to get a sneak preview of new stuff they will be showing. Twice a year, the company unveils what it calls a “Coropack,” which is made up of some 1,500 to 2,000 new products. Needless to say, there will be many new things at Hall 5 Stand B20.
This was my third trip to Sweden with the Sandvik folks, and each trip has been a perfect blend of work (new innovations, directions and advancements that keep the company at the forefront of technology) and play (doing things Swedish).
This year, we did a Swedish metalworking exercise. Perhaps it was a little tongue in cheek—you know, metalworking editors actually working metal instead of writing about it. I, for one, loved it. With a foundry background, this was not my first time on an anvil.
Our assignment was to make an amulet that is designed to ward off trolls. Apparently they are common in the wood of Sweden. As we were heading into the woods by canoe for a BBQ dinner, I soon realized that the amulet was as important as the life vest. However, the magic only works if you make your own.

This is my amulet, which is worn around my neck to ward off trolls.

We donned coveralls and the smithy had a forge, anvils, hammers and raw material for the group to make the amulet. The real smithy showed us the design and then walked us through the steps to make it. We were then on our own. It was pretty fun to watch this manufacturing process in all of its various permutations. Beating hot metal with a hammer is science; beating it into what you want is the art. Needless to say, in our group we had many scientists and fewer artists. It was fun.

Our smithy showed us how to make our troll protector.


Here is my colleague, Russ Willcutt, working hard on his amulet.
Unfortunately, he failed to properly close the curls on the ends to keep in the luck.
He was carried off by trolls shortly after this picture was taken.

Look for more about the trip to Sandvik in upcoming article in Production Machining.


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