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.
View Joe Cappello's profile on LinkedIn

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.