Monday, June 29, 2015

Chicago Manufacturing Hub Opens

Back in October, we posted about the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act, a bipartisan bill that allotted $300 million in public funds to combine with private money in creating 15 manufacturing "hubs" around the country. These hubs would be responsible for research and development that could serve in retraining workers and updating the manufacturing sector with needed technology and advancements.

This previous month, the first of those hubs finally made its grand opening. The Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovative Institute (DMII) of Chicago held its opening ceremony on May 11th, with Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and Governor Bruce Rauner on hand to cut the ribbon. DMDII is a 94,000 square foot space, brought to life from the ashes of Republic Windows, a factory that closed in 2008 and took 200 local jobs with it.

With the help of $70 million from the RAMI Act and $200 million in private investment, as well as resources provided by the University of Illinios, DMDII hopes to become a place where the research-heavy world of 21st century digital tech meets the infrastructure of US manufacturing. Multiple projects are slated to use DMDII as a way of finding new ways to integrate new advances in tech, like smart data or personalized software, into existing machinery and roles for employees. Here, UI's vocational program-UI Labs-can also test new methods, gadgets, and products that may move from the student mind to the factory floor much faster than before. Make no mistake, however; DMDII is not serving as an extension of a university, so much as a makerspace for multiple organizations that span different industries. The hope is that by sharing space and resources, people and firms alike can enjoy more industrial cross-pollination. Out of collaboration, successful ideas can be practically implemented faster and on a larger scale. A documented 20 projects have already been submitted and 5 have been approved for funding, with the expectation that they will not only result in success, but success that can be mimicked in other cities and environments.

DMDII will also share its hub space with City Works, a UILabs initiative that will deal specifcally with urban infrastructure renewal. City Works hopes to research and test many smart data pilots in the model of those proven successful in cities like Singapore.

The potential Chicago's "manufacturing hub" holds is promising, and put in the context of 14 other hubs not even finished yet, the 21st century is closer than ever.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company (

Friday, June 12, 2015


(Excerpt from the upcoming book on Robert Slass, Founder of Rotor Clip Company, a successful US manufacturer of retaining rings)

“…Companies should be in business for the long term to compete successfully and provide jobs. To do this, constant improvement is necessary.” Turning Deming’s Points into Action, by Robert Slass, Industry Week, June 20, 1988.

The 1980’s saw the rise of Japan as an economic powerhouse and an innovator of products and services. They perfected methods of production and succeeded in manufacturing quality goods at very competitive prices. This gave Japanese companies a strong advantage in selling everything from automobiles to consumer electronics. Many industries that enjoyed sole domination of their respective markets for many years were suddenly scrambling to stay in business.

Bob watched these events with great concern. He was particularly troubled by companies that had been in business for a lifetime suddenly selling out or dissolving into bankruptcies. If Rotor Clip was to avoid a similar fate, it had to readjust to the changing manufacturing picture.

Of all the quality ideas circulating in the automotive industry at the time, Bob was most drawn to W. Edwards Deming. His view of continuous improvement and Statistical Process Control fit with Bob’s own philosophy that quality should be the number one priority in his manufacturing operation. 

Deming developed his techniques in the US in the 1920’s. But his breakthrough came when he was invited to speak to the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) to help in the reconstruction of that country after World War II. From June through August 1950, he trained hundreds of engineers, managers, and scholars in statistical process control (SPC) and concepts of quality. Deming was so well received by the Japanese that the “Japanese Economic Miracle” that soon followed owed its success in large part to Deming. To show their gratitude the Japanese industrialists instituted the “Deming Prize” for excellence in manufacturing, an honor that is still revered in Japan to this day.

But Deming’s concepts were slow to catch on in the US. After the war, our factories were more concerned with filling orders than struggling to learn the quality techniques espoused by Deming. We were still sorting parts “after the fact,” not developing “in-process” checking techniques like SPC to detect and correct errors before bad parts could be made. This complacency was short lived as Japanese companies (inspired by Deming) introduced products like automobiles that were perceived by American consumers to be of higher quality than their domestic counterparts.

By the 1980’s, American manufacturing responded to the threat. Bob led the retaining ring industry in this effort by re-vamping his Quality Assurance department and adopting some of the principles outlined in Deming’s 14 points:

1     Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service.

Bob continuously improved his die designs to produce parts in high volume and reduce costs. He instilled awareness in all Rotor Clip employees that quality was everyone’s concern.

Eliminate the need for massive inspection by building quality into the product in the first place.

100% inspection was replaced by automated measurement of critical characteristics like thickness and free diameter. Operators monitored production processes with mini computers to detect negative trends and stop production before bad parts could be made.

Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.

Training became an ongoing effort at Rotor Clip especially cross training to ensure knowledge and best practices were shared by all.

Improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.

Wire material needed to coil retaining rings was brought in-house to be annealed and shaped so as to control quality and improve production. Bob also utilized technology purchasing a CNC and an EDI machine in the 1980’s along with three laser machines in the 1990’s to increase productivity while improving quality and decreasing costs.


Bob’s efforts paid off as Rotor Clip became one of the first suppliers to receive a GM SPEAR 2 (SPEAR was an acronym for Supplier Performance and Evaluation Reporting) in 1985. Earning a “Spear 2” rating meant that your company was “self-certified”; i.e., parts were considered of high quality, bypassed inspection and went directly to the GM production line.

Other quality accolades soon followed including the Chrysler QE (Quality Excellence) award in the same year, the “Ford Q1” designation in 1986, and the GM “Mark of Excellence” in 1989.

Bob Slass had firmly established Rotor Clip’s reputation as a quality source for retaining rings that continues today with our current quality designations: ISO/TS 16949: 2009, the worldwide automotive quality standard, and  ISO/AS9100C, the aerospace quality standard.

Joe Cappello is Director of Global Marketing for Rotor Clip Company. If you would like to continue to receive excerpts from his upcoming book on Rotor Clip and American manufacturing, click here  and e-mail him your request. He'll add you to his mailing list for updates.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Rise of The MakerSpace

One interesting and almost counter-intuitive development out of the internet tech world has been a renewed interest in "maker-culture" from younger generations. Maker-culture, which has risen the past decade out of the context of online tech communities sharing key 21st century skills such as code, has come full-circle and manifested itself in real-world outreach communities in the form of shared workrooms called "Makerspaces".

Makerspaces are studio areas that provide tools and tech for different people to create unrelated projects. Usually those projects range from engineering to software, combining elements of lab, shop, chat room, and garage. The collaborative, hybrid nature of makerspaces lend themselves as ideal for programs that supplement education, as well as exposing prospective students to the world of manufacturing and its benefits as a career choice.

The concept has clearly generated interest throughout smaller communities in America. One such community in Nebraska has entered a unique public-private partnership around makerspaces in an effort to make the idea available to enthusiasts of all ages.

Together with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln-affiliated Nebraska Innovation Campus , the Cooper Foundation has provided a $200,000 grant to help facilitate the Nebraska Innovation Studio, a 16,000 foot makerspace studio designed to provide hands-on experience in all fields of manufacturing not merely for UNL students, but other vocational students in the Lincoln area as well:

"Maker spaces are a growing trend, but Nebraska Innovation Studio will be unique. No other maker space features an in-house business accelerator and the close proximity of tenant companies and research labs on Nebraska Innovation Campus.

Once complete, everyone who enters the studio will be greeted by a gallery that celebrates the creative items being made within the space. It will be named the Cooper Foundation Makers Gallery in recognition of the foundation's support for the program."

This unprecedented scale of makerspace size and resources may yield an incredibly successful avenue for the skills training sorely lacking in the US manufacturing world, as has been frequently documented these days. If more hubs like this are developed where collaboration and cross-pollination saturate young minds to develop engineering skills both traditional as well as unorthodox, we might be in better shape for the coming century than we think.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company (

Monday, June 1, 2015

Honda North America Invests In Manufacturing Education In Ohio

The glaring skills gap that plagues America's next generation of labor has garnered much attention as of late. So much so that companies are finally taking the largely unprecedented step of directly investing in labor communities that line up with their interests.

Add Honda to the list of such companies. The auto giant has announced it will devote $1 million to an Ohio-based workforce initiative, called EPIC, aimed at generating interest in manufacturing among youth and students.

Honda North America, based in central Ohio, has mentioned the initiative will include 12 scholarships, worth $2500 each to students earning associate-degrees in manufacturing, as well as software programs designed to teach logic-solving problems to middle and high schools.

Younger students will also have events where they learn the design process of typical manufacturing plants via "mobile labs" that Honda will build to travel from location to location. In addition, Honda will supplement and help to expand an existing work-study program at Columbus State Community College.

With 33 years in the region, Honda North America has the credibility and history to work with local public officials towards a partnership such as this. While it may not look like much when compared to your typical corporate seed money, considering the existing infrastructure Ohio has from its rich auto industry and the overall consensus among public and private communities, it looks likely Honda will see a major return of long-term labor talent well worth more than a million bucks.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company (

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Tesla's First Acquisition Is In A State That Bars Tesla

This week, Tesla announced its first acquisition, that of Michigan-based tool company, Riviera Tool LLC. Based in Cascade Township, Riviera Tool specializes in machinery for metal stamping. Its welcome into the new Tesla umbrella indicates the electric car giant is prioritizing time-sensitive efforts to meet its promise of 55,000 2015 sales for the much-anticipated Model X.

Ironically, Tesla has been barred by legislation to sell in Michigan, as well as other states such as New Jersey. That may have informed Tesla CEO Elon Musk's decision to acquire Riviera Tools, as a role of funding and possibly expanding a regional manufacturing company in the state that could woo legislators in loosening restrictions. Of course Tesla has a long way to go if it's going
to assure Michigan its innovative model and 21st century technology process won't undermine the traditional auto infrastructure that have propped up the state's employment figures for almost a century.

Yet many in the industry feel it's only a matter of time before Tesla becomes the template for other car companies to follow if they have a chance of adapting to the conditions of a post-globalized manufacturing landscape. Aside from the now seemingly inevitable transition from gas to electric, Apple's recent effort to peel engineering talent from Tesla as part of its top secret automated vehicle project- known as Titan- signals even more innovations explored on a mass level that could turn the industry even more unrecognizable to its current iteration.

In the coming months, Tesla may take more actions like this to generate production power. Look to see where the next acquisition is based, as it could mean a cultural and industry shift for that region ripe for the benefits of a new era in the auto world.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

1950’s: The Decade of Innovation, Inspiration and Elvis Presley

(Excerpt from the upcoming book on Robert Slass, Founder of Rotor Clip Company, a successful US manufacturer of retaining rings)

It was the 1950’s, the decade of optimism, and Bob Slass was swept up in the fervor, no doubt responding to the innovation of American companies taking place all around him.

In 1950 Xerox produced the first copy machine and RCA demonstrated the first single electron color television tube.

In 1952 General Motors earned $558 million and in 1953 Boeing expanded production of the B-52 bomber.

In 1953 Bob took a job with a company with a long history in the U.S. called Waldes Kohinoor. Waldes had been a European company who pioneered the use of snap fasteners for dresses in the early 1900’s. Prior to this product, buttons, and hooks and eyes, were considered the only satisfactory apparel closures at the time. The company was established by Jindrich Waldes, a talented businessman and entrepreneur.Together with his partner, Hydec Puk, he established Waldes & Company in Prague (Czech Republic) to make the new snap fasteners.

The group established factories in Paris, Dresden, Barcelona and the U.S. The American company was established in Long Island City, New York, in 1919 with 25 employees and incorporated as Waldes Koh-I-Noor, which came from a trademark Jindrich had adopted in 1902 from the famous diamond of the same name. The Company’s corporate name was changed to Waldes Kohinoor, Inc., minus the hyphens in 1958.
Robert Slass at his first engineering job  at
Waldes Truarc (circa 1953)

How Waldes made the transition from producing garment fasteners to retaining rings began with a field exercise carried out by the US military during World War II. According to the industry story passed down by word of mouth, the military captured a German tank on the battlefield. They dismantled it and noticed that many components were held together by retaining rings. Retaining rings were a German innovation with the first patent filed by Hugo Heiermann in 1930, but the devices were never fully embraced by US manufacturers.

Fascinated by the technology and eager to apply it to their own equipment, the military persuaded the company to take on the project and in the 1940’s it successfully produced the tooling needed to manufacture a line of retaining rings under the Waldes Truarc brand.

As industry took off in the US in the 1950’s, so did the use of retaining rings when Bob landed his first job at Waldes. Initially, his job was to check the accuracy of engineering drawings from which the tooling was made to produce the retaining rings. As he progressed, he began to design the actual tooling needed to stamp out the specialized shapes and sizes of the many retaining rings the company produced. In this capacity, he joined a distinguished stable of mechanical engineers and together they became experts in the new product line and were instrumental in setting standards and adding new designs to the standard line. He learned everything he could from these experts.

“I made dies according to the 1950’s advances available,” Bob later recalled. This critical knowledge provided the inspiration for Rotor Clip as Bob later improved on these early designs and made his mark on retaining ring technology that would set new industry standards.

The Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants left New York in 1957 for greener and more open pastures in California,

Elvis Presley left young girls swaying in the aisles with songs like “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

It was also the year Bob Slass opened Rotor Clip, an enterprise he created with his own hands in the true spirit of American capitalism.

Joe Cappello is Director of Global Marketing for Rotor Clip Company. If you would like to continue to receive excerpts from his upcoming book on Rotor Clip and American manufacturing, click here and e-mail him your request. He'll add you to his mailing list for updates.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Manufacturing Careers: From Modified Paint Cans to Electrical design

(Excerpt from the upcoming book on Robert Slass, Founder of Rotor Clip Company, a successful US manufacturer of retaining rings)

In September 1957 Bob Slass opened a small company on Allen Boulevard in Farmingdale, New York, with the intent of making retaining rings. He called his company “RotorClip.”

The company consisted of one, 2,000 square foot building, but that didn’t discourage the young entrepreneur. He knew that he was not only starting a business, but establishing a career whose skills and talents he would call upon to make Rotor Clip the successful company it would someday become.

As manufacturing lost its dominant place in our society, it was easy to find fault with it. Factory jobs were dirty, boring and uninspiring. The work was back breaking and you didn’t use your mind. Many people (especially young people) concluded that a factory wasn’t the place to pursue a challenging career.

PLC's played a key role in one of Rotor Clip's most important
innovations: Rings on Wire.

But innovation and ingenuity were always a part of factory work as Bob demonstrated during the early days of Rotor Clip. For example, he used his knowledge of tools and engineering to refurbish machines and make them productive with very little investment.

Instead of purchasing new plating equipment, he modified empty paint cans and placed them on a cam mechanism he designed and built to mechanically plate rings for corrosion protection.

Bob experimented with stamping “rings within rings” as a way to reduce scrap and get the most efficient yield from a strip of steel. These experiments led to Bob’s design of several generations of progressive dies, concepts that would revolutionize retaining ring production and eventually become his signature work.

Today, manufacturers like Rotor Clip have seen these roles evolve into more complex, technology-based careers like those involving Electrical Design/PLC.

Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC)  play a key role 
in many systems and machines like this security control system.

PLC’s or Programmable Logic Controllers are digital computers used for automation of industrial electromechanical processes. They range from assembly lines, to amusement rides, to light fixtures. PLC’s are used in severe environmental conditions, (for example dust, moisture, heat, or cold), as opposed to a normal computer that wouldn’t work in these conditions. (

PLC systems are inside many things in Rotor Clip’s plant, from security systems to machines used to package retaining rings (See “rings on wire” picture). Machine automation is the future and Rotor Clip relies on Electrical Design Engineers to utilize PLC systems to design and troubleshoot new equipment. 

When they speak of the “skills gap” in manufacturing, they are eluding to the lack of qualifications needed for many of today’s factory jobs. This is due to the failure of young people to see factory work as technology driven requiring more than the ability to turn a machine on and off. But there has been a positive trend recently as educational institutions and corporations partner to provide the skills factories need (like Electrical designers) to improve and thrive in today’s competitive global world.

Whether you’re modifying paint cans as Bob did in the early days of Rotor Clip or programming a machine to automatically shut down in the event of a problem, innovation is the key. There can be no better place to apply that innovation and discover a successful and rewarding career in the process than in today’s modern factory.

Joe Cappello is Director of Global Marketing for Rotor Clip Company. If you would like to continue to receive excerpts from his upcoming book on Rotor Clip and American manufacturing, click here and e-mail him your request. He'll add you to his mailing list for updates.
View Joe Cappello's profile on LinkedIn