Miles Free

As Director of Technology and Industry Research for PMPA, Miles brings 38 years of hands-on experience in areas of manufacturing, quality and steelmaking. He helps answer "HOW?","WITH WHAT?" and "REALLY?"

Posted by: Miles Free 13. January 2015

Ancient Metal Ingots Recovered from Shipwreck


According to "Discovery News" this week, in an article titled "Atlantis' Legendary Metal Found in Shipwreck," cast metal called orichalucum, which was said by Ancient Greeks to be found in Atlantis, has been recovered from a ship that sunk 2,600 years ago off the coast of Sicily. The article says, "The 39 ingots found on the sandy sea floor represent a unique finding."

In continues, “Today, most scholars agree that orichalucum is a brass-like alloy, which was made in antiquity by cementation. This process was achieved with the reaction of zinc ore, charcoal and copper metal in a crucible.

“Analyzed with X-ray fluorescence by Dario Panetta, of TQ – Tecnologies for Quality, the 39 ingots turned to be an alloy made with 75-80 percent copper, 15-20 percent zinc and small percentages of nickel, lead and iron.”

An Ancient Origins article reports, “The name orichalucum derives from the Greek word oreikhalkos, meaning literally ‘mountain copper’ or ‘copper mountain.’ According to Plato’s 5th century B.C. Critias dialogue, orichalucum was considered second only to gold in value and was found and mined in many parts of the legendary Atlantis in ancient times.”

Maybe the greenhouse gasses emitted by Atlantis’ cementation industries producing orichalucum caused the seas to rise, covering Atlantis.


Originally posted on blog. 

Posted by: Miles Free 6. January 2015

OSHA Reporting Requirements for Employers Now in Effect


Employers, the requirements below are now in effect. A new wallet card issued by OSHA will help your supervisors understand the changes to Injury and Illness Reporting Requirements that are now in effect, as of January 1.

What are the new requirements? Under the final rule, employers must report the following events:

  1. Each fatality resulting from a work-related incident, within 8 hours of the death. This requirement applies to all fatalities occurring within 30 days of a work-related incident. See Sec. 1904.39(a)(1) and (b)(6). 
  2. Each in-patient hospitalization resulting from a work-related incident, within 24 hours of the hospitalization. This requirement applies to all in-patient hospitalizations occurring within 24 hours of a work-related incident. See Sec.  1904.39(a)(2) and (b)(6).
  3. Each amputation resulting from a work-related incident, within 24 hours of the amputation. This requirement applies to all amputations occurring within 24 hours of a work-related incident. See Sec.1904.39(a)(2) and (b)(6).
  4. Each loss of an eye resulting from a work-related incident, within 24 hours of the loss of an eye. This requirement applies to all losses of an eye occurring within 24 hours of a work-related incident. See Sec.  1904.39(a)(2) and (b)(6).

- Federal Register

Get the wallet card and review the upcoming changes with your team. 


Originally posted on blog. 

Posted by: Miles Free 2. January 2015

Recognize and Challenge Assumptions


Yes, the tool is more expensive, but it might be worth it.

I remember the first time I sat down to work on quadratic equations and discovered there was more than one possible solution to the equation.

How many of us realize that every day in our businesses, we are solving equations that have more than one solution? How many of us realize that we have a choice between solutions, and that lowest price doesn’t necessarily mean lowest cost to us?

At Horn Technology Days, I attended a session on Customer Specific Tool Solutions presented by Todd Hayes. Todd started his presentation with a challenge to the assumption that ROI is only about dollars.

As Todd put it, “ROI is not just about dollars. Increase my tool life. Increase my machine operating time, increase my accuracy (especially on features tied to another), reduce my time in cut by simultaneous machining. Give me my weekend back. Let me run lights out.”

This rang true with me. When I produced steel for machine shops, the purchasing agent was always looking at lowest price per pound for the steel.

I told him that what he should be looking at is the lowest cost to produce the part. Steel price was just one part of that cost. The cost to machine it was another. Todd was talking about creating special tools to solve problems in production.

For short runs, the cost of a special tool is prohibitive. Even though not all of us are quoting short runs, how many of us are still using short run thinking? How many of us are solving for lowest tool price rather than optimum output? Ask yourself:

  • What if the custom tool (or special steel grade) saved me several changes per day on several machines?
  • How much more machine operating time will I gain?
  • How much utilities will I save by not needing all the CFM of compressed air that we all overuse when we change a tool?
  • How much will I save because I have eliminated variability and/or have better control over the chip so I do not have to inspect for chip weld and out of spec surface finishes?

I am not exhorting you to go out and buy specialty tools for every job, just like I was not asking my customers to buy the premium machining grades of steel for every job. But I am asking you to recognize and challenge your assumptions about how you decide to purchase, just as I had to recognize and challenge my assumptions that there was only a single “solution” to those equations I faced in class that day.

Lowest price on purchases or lowest cost of production? Two solutions—you get to choose one.


Originally posted on blog

Posted by: Miles Free 22. December 2014

U.S. Should Consider German Apprenticeship Model

Machinists are in high demand.

The need for talent is a universal concern. The German apprenticeship model is effective in Germany. But can it be successfully transplanted here? “The Atlantic” recently posted an article discussing the German Apprenticeship model. 

The article gives three key differences between German and U.S. ideas of apprenticeships:

The first thing you notice about German apprenticeships is that the employer and the employee still respect practical work. German firms don’t view dual training as something for struggling students or at-risk youth. “This has nothing to do with corporate social responsibility,” an HR manager at Deutsche Bank told the group I was with, organized by an offshoot of the Goethe Institute. “I do this because I need talent.”

The second thing you notice is that both employers and employees want more from an apprenticeship than short-term training. Our group heard the same thing in plant after plant: We’re teaching more than skills. “In the future, there will be robots to turn the screws,” one educator told us. “We don’t need workers for that. What we need are people who can solve problems,” skilled, thoughtful, self-reliant employees who understand the company’s goals and methods and can improvise when things go wrong or when they see an opportunity to make something work better.

A final virtue of the German system is its surprising flexibility. Skeptical Americans worry that the European model requires tracking, and it’s true. German children choose at age 10 an academic high school, a vocational track, or something in between. But it turns out there’s a lot of opportunity for trainees to switch tracks later. They can go back to school to specialize further, earn a master craftsman’s certificate or train as a trainer in the company’s apprenticeship program—and many do.

The question that most North American businessmen have when discussing this issue is ROI, return on investment. In Germany, according to the article, the state pays the training expense for each apprentice. In the U.S., companies will have to foot the bill for almost all expenses themselves.

Trained and credentialed employees will have the freedom to leave the employer, arguably before that employer can get any return on their training investment. We think that the cost problem and the ROI problem can be solved, with work, here in North America. But the problem that we need to solve first is what The Atlantic piece calls “the biggest obstacle:”

American attitudes toward practical skills and what Germans still unabashedly call “blue-collar” work. In America… we’re suspicious of anything that smacks of training.

I know as a parent, there is a lot of social pride at having one’s children attend university. But I am starting to see that the real pride is not about the university that one’s child attends. It is rather the fact that they got a job capable of offering a return on the investment of all those college expenses.

The real pride for parents these days is being able to say their child in fact has a full-time job, is living independently and is not overburdened with debt.

In North America, the way to accomplish this is by “earn as you learn” to pursue a degree after getting a well-paying career started. Often, the employer provides tuition assistance.

Getting started in a well-paying career in advanced manufacturing can be as simple as a one semester training program at a local community college. Not years and years of loans and expenses and fees with no immediate ROI. Earn as you learn makes ROI simultaneous with your efforts, not some dreamed for, long in the distant future hoped for outcome.

What is going to be the key for adopting apprenticeships here in North America? I think it will be the realization by all affected businesses, potential employees, parents of students, educators, government officials, that there truly exists a critical need for talent.


Originally posted on blog. 

Posted by: Miles Free 18. December 2014

NLRB Action Will Hurt Manufacturing Employees and Employers


The Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA) last week strongly criticized the release by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) of a rule that restricts the rights of employees and drives a wedge between employers and employees.

On Friday, December 12, the NLRB released the “Ambush Election” rule, which limits the amount of time employees have to consider whether or not to join a union to as little as 10-14 days, down from an average of 56 days. The new rule, which takes effect April 14, also requires businesses to supply unions with the phone numbers and email addresses of employees ahead of an election, exposing workers and their families to unwanted calls at all hours. In a legal challenge supported by PMPA, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia previously struck down an almost identical version of the rule.

“While we are disappointed with the NLRB’s actions, we are not surprised,” says Miles Free, co-Interim executive director of the PMPA. “This rule continues a disturbing trend by the NLRB to drive a wedge between employers and employees. The current system is already working, and employees need time to weigh their options and understand what is at stake."

Regardless of a company’s size, actions like this sends a ripple effect throughout the manufacturing supply chain. Prior to the courts rejecting the NLRB’s earlier attempt, the U.S. Congress, whether under control of republicans or democrats, repeatedly refused to act on this proposal in legislative form.

Opponents of the most recent Ambush Election rule are exploring their legal options and expect to take action in the courts in the near future to challenge the NLRB’s authority to take this restrictive action.


Originally posted on blog

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