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 12. November 2010

Too Much of a Good Thing?


An automated beer pouring device amuses this thirsty traveler in the JAL lounge at the Narita airport in Tokyo.

Automation is considered to be a good thing by most people. Even those displaced by it usually find that what they are able to do now is better than what they had to do before. Let the robot load and unload blanks on the turning center. Tool setting, programming and measurement are much more interesting and less mind-numbing than machine load/unload. Today, manufacturing is about value-add. The more value one can add, the more valuable that person is to the organization, which brings me to this video link. 

I came across this in the JAL lounge at the Narita airport in Tokyo as I waited to depart for the States. My colleague, Derek Korn, shot this footage of automated beer pouring. Now, I am not a zealous advocate of spirits, but I must admit that the sheer fascination of watching this device pour a perfect pilsner time after time may have encouraged me to imbibe one or two more beverages than I planned.

To me, this is automation well applied because what results from it is a consistent, high-quality end product that I, for one, would not be able to duplicate over time. That in large part is what automation is supposed to do—make the inconsistent more consistent. At the same time, it allows the human element to pursue more gainful endeavors—like drinking beer. For more examples of well-applied automation, click here, here and here.  

Posted by: Chris Koepfer 21. October 2010

When Time is on your Side, Use It!

I received a story from thread roller maker, C.J. Winter, which talks about how the company used the recession to finally look at some of the easily put-off things that needed to be done with the business. Too often, when business is busy, there simply isn’t time to take a good look at how things are getting done with the idea of how they can get done better. There simply isn’t time to deviate from “normal,” even if normal may not be the most efficient or profitable method of accomplishing the task. Well, nothing focuses the collective mind of a company like when every dime becomes important because recession has reared its ugly head, and survival is now a factor in the game. I think the story of how C.J. Winter used its slack time during the recession to prepare for recovery is compelling because it relates to most shops, suppliers and yes, publishers. It explains the concrete steps the company took to be even better than it was before the recession. It also explains the optimism the company displayed that, indeed, the recession would be over sometime, and their company would be among the survivors.    

Posted by: Chris Koepfer 14. October 2010

Party like it’s 1187!

Sometimes the stars align or the planets do weird things, but this year it’s our current month of October that is causing cosmic vibrations. For those of you set up to run lights-out production, this month could be a bonus for your bottom line. You see, there is a phenomenon occurring this month that only happens every 823 years. The last time was 1187.

Have you noticed that a little more free time available this month? Well, it’s not your imagination. In 2010 our freaky October has five Fridays, five Saturdays and five Sundays—giving us a whole extra weekend more than average. If you couple that with the extra hour we get back from DST, it’s time to celebrate and take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity. Can you imagine how much more productive you could be this month if you ran light-out operations over the extra weekend? Making parts and money while watching football is very cool and a much better deal than the metalworkers had in 1187. After all, they had no choice about lights-out. Imagine trying to hammer iron on an anvil in the dark—ouch. (For more on successful lights-out production in 2K, read the articles here, here and here.)

By the way, enjoy this bonus now, because the next time it happens is 2833, and well, we’ll all be gone.

Posted by: Chris Koepfer 30. September 2010

Machining—There’s an App for That

Move over Texas Instruments. Pitch those trig tables. Today it’s all about portability and ease of use. Optimizing cutting data for metalworking applications has never been more important as shops try to find every scintilla of efficiency and cost savings within their processes.

To help with that quest, Sandvik Coromant has released a free app designed to provide engineers and machinists with a convenient resource for calculating cutting data. Once downloaded and installed, the app helps users optimize performance of their turning, milling and drilling applications by calculating optimal settings based on each job’s unique parameters.
“We’re always looking for exciting new ways to meet the ever-changing needs of our customers,” says Lennart Lindgren, global vice president, marketing and sales. “We developed this app to provide customers with a convenient resource that can be accessed anywhere they take their phone.”
The machining calculator app features a help button that provides additional information on the calculation being executed and the input needed to generate results. Sandvik’s app also contains a process cost comparison that determines how tool optimization can provide cost and time savings. The app works with either metric or inch measurements and is available for both iPhone and Android phones.
Users can get more information about the Sandvik Coromant machining calculator app at its webiste.

Posted by: Chris Koepfer 16. September 2010

Give Me a Show of Hands

It’s accepted pretty universally that metalworkers are tough hombres. While the environment in most shops has changed dramatically from “Dickensonian hell-holes” to include such creature comforts as climate control, ventilation and reduced or eliminated VOC exposure, there is still one area of shop life that remains relatively unchanged from the 19th century.

 What could that be, Chris, you’re asking yourself. Well ladies and gents, I’m talking about—drum roll please—hand soap. And I’m talking about it because debuting at IMTS is a new machinist friendly dude called Uncle Earl, and he has formulated a soap that ends the eczema and dermatitis that machinists have endured forever.

Uncle Earl is a real person and a real machinist (see his likeness in the picture above). Seriously though, this soap from Zebra Skimmers has been formulated specifically to address the problems associated with frequent hand washing in machine shop environments. Drying of the skin, cracking and even bleeding can result from long-term use of conventional soaps. Uncle Earl’s soap begins and maintains the hand-healing process.

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