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. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programmable_logic_controller).

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.
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Tuesday, March 3, 2015


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

Robert Slass started Rotor Clip Company in 1957 in a small, 2000 square foot facility in Farmingdale, New York.

“It was like a large living room,” he would say with a smile, as he spoke of those days.

He bought used equipment and refurbished it.

He bought broken stamping presses and made one good one, using parts from the other machines.

He experimented with ways to produce retaining rings from a strip of steel with as little waste as possible, which significantly reduced costs to the customer.

Today, the company he founded occupies over 238,000 square feet in Somerset, New Jersey, and services a variety of companies in North America, Europe and Asia with tapered, constant section and spiral retaining rings, wave springs and self-compensating hose clamps.

“There were a lot of guys like me who started businesses in their garages and American corporations would buy from them,” Bob recalled one day. These small spaces were hotbeds of innovation after World War II, where ideas could be tried and perfected with a minimum amount of investment. Eventually, some of these companies, like Rotor Clip, became leaders in their industries.

Some notable examples:
The first Rotor Clip building in Farmingdale, New York, was
like a "large living room" according to Rotor Clip founder and
entrepreneur, Robert Slass.

1. The roots of HP were nurtured in a garage in Palo Alto, California, with Bill Hewlett and David Packard scraping together an initial investment of $538 in 1939. By 1966 HP entered the computer market and is now one of the world’s largest technology corporations. (The one-car garage where it all began is a designated California historic landmark).

2. Bernard Silver and N. Joseph Woodland were graduate students at the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the late 1940’s. They got involved in a project proposed by a local grocer to invent a way to encode product data so supermarket items could be automatically checked out. Woodland spent time on the beach at his grandparent’s home in Miami Beach, Florida, drawing shapes in the sand that would form the basis of a graphic version of the Morse code he had learned as a boy scout. He and Silver patented the idea in the early 1950’s, and sold it eventually for $15,000, not realizing that it would someday evolve into the bar codes that would be used on virtually every product.

        HP’s original garage operation in Palo Alto, California.
 Today, the structure is an historic landmark.
 (Credit: David Paul Morris/Getty Images)
   3. In 1956, Bette Nesmith Graham of Dallas, Texas, was working as a secretary in an office. She wanted to find a better way to correct typing errors, so she invented a liquid that you could use to “paint” over the mistake, then re-type the correct letter(s). The color of the liquid matched the paper, so the error was often undetectable. Demand for the product she called “Liquid Paper” increased to the point where she turned her kitchen into a laboratory, mixing up product with her electric mixer. Graham’s son, Michael Nesmith (later of “The Monkees” fame), and his friends filled bottles for her customers. Years later, she sold her company for $47 Million.

  4. Ruth and Elliot Handler started making picture frames in their California garage. They took the scraps of wood and made furniture for doll houses. That garage experience eventually led to their most successful product under the company name “Mattel”: the famous “Barbie” and “Ken” dolls. http://www.history.com/news/great-american-garage-entrepreneurs

      Entrepreneurs like Bob Slass have always been at the heart of any successful economy. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an entrepreneur as “…one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” This risk-taking characteristic leads to technological breakthroughs that benefit people in the form of improved products and services.

      Entrepreneurial risk taking has its roots in the industrial revolution in both Great Britain and America. Early industrial entrepreneurs dared to believe things could change, that they could improve people’s lives through their ideas and inventions and make the world a better place to live. Prior to this, people were fatalistic; they believed you were stuck with the hand you were dealt and there wasn’t much you could do about it.

      But early entrepreneurs set their sights on problems and through dogged determination solved them. For example, James Watt didn’t invent the steam engine; he solved the problems of these first models. He eliminated the need to cool the piston in order to retract it after the steam drove it forward, greatly saving energy and costs. He also invented the concentric bearing which applied the power of the engine to the shaft in a circular direction. Machinery could now be hooked up to this rotating power source using belts, revolutionizing factory efficiencies and output.

      Similarly, Thomas A. Edison didn’t invent the light bulb; he solved the problems of the earlier versions. He was relentless in his pursuit of a filament that would last long enough to make the light bulb practical for consumer use. After countless hours of experimentation, he settled on a tungsten material coated in carbide. He also created a vacuum on the inside of the bulb which added to its life. We can only imagine how mesmerized the crowd was that came to his Menlo Park, New Jersey, lab in December 1879. There they saw light bulbs that could burn for hours and give off light without the smells and dangers associated with other light sources in use at the time like candles and kerosene lamps.

      When others encounter problems and proclaim, “There’s nothing more we can do,” and “That’s just the way it is,” that’s where the entrepreneur’s work begins. They refuse to accept limitations or give up on an idea though it may take years to refine. From perfecting a longer-lasting light bulb, to improving the design and efficiencies of retaining rings, entrepreneurs all over the world apply their skills to the relentless pursuit of solving problems.

      And the rest of us are the chief beneficiaries of their efforts.

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, February 3, 2015


I was visiting my son a few years ago in Los Angeles, California, and was enjoying the limited time I get to spend with him. On this particular day he had some things to do, so I contented myself with visiting a small book store not far from his apartment.

As someone who has worked in manufacturing most of his career, I was naturally attracted to a section that featured books on this subject. To my dismay, the books I browsed contained page after page of once thriving factory buildings lying in various states of ruin.

Robert Slass on the site of Rotor Clip's first building
in 1972. Bob founded the company in 1957 and it is
still a successful U.S. manufacturer supplying 
retaining rings and wave springs to a global market.
I had seen similar books back home particularly those on the steel industry and the theme seemed to be the same: manufacturing in the US is dead and all we can do is mark its demise with grotesque photos of rusted steel and collapsed walls.

That was the last straw.

When I returned home, I vowed to write a book that portrayed Rotor Clip as a U.S. manufacturing company that spanned the very era of demise depicted in these books, yet was not only still standing, but thriving. I wanted it to be a tribute to our founder, Robert Slass, and, to a greater extent, to the very qualities of innovation and entrepreneurship that he exemplified as part of our country’s manufacturing culture.

I was determined not to make this a public relations piece that was more glitz than substance. Many company histories are well-meaning, but they tell a very parochial story that only those close to the company would really care to hear.

Finally, I wanted to call attention to careers that a young person could pursue in manufacturing that involve the same technology and innovation we equate with hi-tech companies. Jobs in manufacturing today are not the boring, monotonous ones that our grandfathers performed. Rather, they are career paths, requiring higher level skills as well as manual dexterity that can be very satisfying and rewarding.

I have been fortunate to work with a group of dedicated folks here at Rotor Clip who are assisting me in this project. With their help we hope to have the book available in e-book form by the summer. If you’d like to receive automatic excerpts over the next few months, click here and e-mail me your request. I'll add you to my mailing list for updates.

One of the books I skimmed while at that LA bookstore was a photo collection depicting the ruins of Detroit. It noted how many developed parts of the city were being overtaken by trees, grass and flowers.

 “Its emptiness is an invitation to wander and reflect upon the new and radical solutions for the Detroit of the future,” noted the author, Andrew Moore. Perhaps this passage is exhorting us to look at the decay of Detroit as a kind of creative destruction. The old must make way for the new. Or, as the motto after the Detroit fire of 1805 put it more aptly,” We hope for better things; it (Detroit) will arise from the ashes.”1

In case you haven’t noticed U.S. manufacturing has begun its rise from the ashes. It won’t be meteoric, but it will be reminiscent of the ambition and drive of entrepreneurs like Bob Slass who through their collective vision made U.S. manufacturing the envy of the world.

It’s time we see American manufacturing in a new light, not one obscured by the images of past decay.

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

1DetroitDisassembled, Philip Levine, Andrew Moore, Akron Art Museum and Damiani Editore, Copyright 2010, Page 119

Friday, January 16, 2015

Grow Your Garden First: The Lesson From Xiaomi's Investment In Misfit

The world may not be coming up with the innovation compared to the US, but it is doing a better job of using it.

Xiaomi, the China-based electronics company that also happens to be the 3rd largest distributor of smartphones in the world, has become the latest international giant to reap the benefits of American ingenuity with a contribution to an overall $40 million investment in California tech firm Misfit Wearables.  The firm's very first product- Shine- is apparently a major hit with Mainland Chinese users and the country accounts for a third of Misfit's sales.  It's a figure growing so exponentially fast the company of 130 people is looking into major moves to keep up production.

While wearable technology like Misfit's Shine is not exactly high in demand throughout the United States, much of that is due to lack of awareness of what wearables actually do, rather than customer distaste.  Shine measures a variety of fitness and movement activities to track the users physical well-being (increasingly coming into the American consumer's mindset these days).  In addition, the coin-thick wristlet can track how effective sleeping patterns are as well.

It's not a product with video games, text apps, or entertainment technology, and so it's easy to see how such a practical-minded tool could be ho-hummed by investors in the US.  Hong-Kong-based Horizons Venture, however, saw the potential of this kind of product in the Asian market, and was the first to jump in with a $15 million infusion roundup back in 2012. Now, Xiaomi's plunge on top of that is a clear signal of wearables' momentum with Asian consumers.

Which begs an important question: how out of touch with the Asian customer landscape are US venture firms that none of them have put this type of large chunk into Misfit's operations.  While it's exciting to see a California company get this kind of opportunity to grow and invest into its surrounding business community, it's equally as disheartening to know the start-up's potential was overlooked right here at home. There's nothing wrong with international shareholders bridging the gap across the Pacific, but more American involvement in risky investment would translate to more direct benefits to the nation's job, manufacturing, and construction infrastructure. 

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company (www.rotorclip.com).

Monday, January 5, 2015

A New Target For Tech & Investment: Farming

With the world's population expected in reaching 10 billion by the year 2050, the need for a comprehensive reformation of how we feed people is clear and apparent.  In many studies, global agricultural production would have to increase by a minimum of 70 percent in order to keep up with human growth. And that figure does not take into account the environmental degradation of climate change and water shortages happening on record levels.

As a result, the farming industry has no choice but to improve in efficiency.  The good news is that venture capitalists seem to be collectively understanding this, and are taking action.

New investment in farming has skyrocketed this past year, upwards of $153 million.  While this capital has gone into all sorts of sectors, new technology is clearly drawing attention.  It's not only investors who see the application potential of tech such as drones and automation in agriculture; new forms of tools and robotics was a chief consensus for the next generation of farmers at the recent Young Farmers Conference of Stone Barns Center, NY.  Farmers' Edge Laboratories is one start-up that's gaining traction, specifically around applying drones to the world of farming.  While there are opportunities for drones to take part in actual farming methods, Farmers' Edge is focusing on their potential for gathering sophisticated data, a crucial asset for the farming community moving forward.

In fact, data and information is being valued more than ever by farmers around the world.  One web developer has created Farmhack, an open community site for farmers to trade valuable knowledge about new methods, products, and techniques.  Stone Farms' "Virtual Grange" is a similar type of online portal, and while this kind of sharing is nothing new in the ag world, its expansion online is showing how the internet's unique ability to merge knowledge spheres with focused funding can be the key to improving farming, quite literally improving the future for us all.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company (www.rotorclip.com).

Friday, December 19, 2014

Portable Solar Battery Charges Your iPad, iPhone, Maybe One Day Your Whole Life

Most experts in the field will say the issues holding the solar industry back aren't necessarily about the technology, but more about the lack of national infrastructure.  And while vehicles like hybrids and EV's are enjoying a slowly expanding market, without the kind of fuel availability enjoyed by the oil and gas industry, the solar alternative will always be relegated to just that: an alternative.

Laying down the groundwork for a nation-wide solar energy grid of charging infrastructure is going to take awhile, as well as legislative efforts and private investment risk-taking.  In the meantime, however, investors may want to look at products in the field that don't necessarily need a grid to create sustained solar energy.  One such product? The SunJack (From Gear Review):

"Both the 14-Watt solar panel and the 20-Watt solar panel have dual 5V/2A output USB charging ports. That’s more than enough power to charge two iPhones, two iPads, or one of each (if you have direct, bright sunlight that is). Luckily, SunJack happens to also include one high capacity 8,000mAh lithium-polymer battery with the 14-Watt panel."

Portable solar cells are nothing new, but portable solar cells that are versatile with enough capacity to power the notorious energy-eating Apple devices?  That's a step forward.

SunJack's kickstarter campaign was a resounding success, signaling how much interest is out there to escape the traditional restrictions of energy consumption.  Or maybe, people just don't like wall outlets; either way, if there's any product with the potential to quickly generate momentum in the consumer market, this could be it.  Mobility has always been valued by Americans, and SunJack fits right in with that narrative.

And just think what more refined versions in the future could do?  What if the SunJack 2.0 could power a whole laptop?  The next version, a travel heater?  Or a motorcycle?  The prospects of independence from the grid may not be at the forefront of the American consumer's mind, but the SunJack could change that quickly, and permanently.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company (www.rotorclip.com).

Friday, December 12, 2014

Maryland Invests In The Future of Manufacturing

By 2011, Baltimore's once vibrant manufacturing port was reduced to five percent of its peak level in 1950.  All hope of a vibrant factory community seemed lost.

Nowadays, that diagnosis seems a bit premature.

Perhaps more than any other state, Maryland has been the most pro-active when it comes to long-term manufacturing investment.  Two developments are at the forefront of this surge:

Firstly, the Land of Pleasant Living is going all in on additive manufacturing, or 3D Printing.  State initiatives like 3DMaryland along with the Howard County Economic Development Authority are cooperating to foster engagement and community building among 3D printing start-ups and potential investors.  One such success story the state can already point to is M3D, a Howard County-based plant that produces desktop-sized 3D printers for consumer use.  The printers, called "Micros", don't need to be assembled and are versatile in application; as founders Michael Armani and David Jones tell the Baltimore Sun:

M3D's signature product: The Micro
"Jones and Armani see potential customers everywhere: children, school teachers, hobbyists, home cooks, engineers, home maintenance do-it-yourselfers.

A video on their website shows a woman using a Micro at her kitchen counter to create cookie cutters, and children playing with Lego-like interlocking plastic blocks that can be made on the Micro.
'The list of applications is as long as the number of users,' said Armani, adding that he imagines children will be quick to embrace the Micro, which runs on game-like software designed to be easy to use.
'Think of it as your Lego factory,' said Armani, adding that the printer is ideal for making figurines, including toy solders. "Kids — they'll want to lock their door and print an entire army."

While the product side of Maryland manufacturing is grown, the future of its labor class has renewed interest from local business leaders.  Carver Vocational-Technical High School now offers a Computer Numerical Control Manufacturing class track designed to prepare students for the transition from a factory floor job to operating computer-based robotics, a skill more and more mandatory in any industry.  The program was designed by local manufacturing businesses like Maritime Applied Physics and Chesapeake Machine and reflects the Maryland industrial community's desire to directly invest in "farming" competent machinist labor of the future and retain them with high-wage, benefit-included employment.    

Carver Vocational students enrolled in its new CNC program visit Maritime Applied
The formula may not produce results immediately, but no one seems to be under any illusions it should.  If anything, Maryland's strategy should be pursued by more states; imagine what the US could look like in ten years if this was a true, national campaign. 

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company (www.rotorclip.com).