8/24/2010 | 3 MINUTE READ

Show Your Cool Factor

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 I know it, and you know it: Manufacturing in the 21st century is really cool.


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I know it, and you know it: Manufacturing in the 21st century is really cool. And with the unstoppable progression of technology in the form of productivity-enhancing mechanicals, electronics, materials and tools, it’s only getting cooler. The problem is, we’re just about the only ones who know it.

As we go about the everyday routine of doing our respective jobs, it’s easy to lull ourselves into a sort of forest and trees myopia sometimes failing to really stop and smell the cutting oil. Sometimes, as I recently experienced, it takes an “outlander” to remind us how very cool our industry is and just how interesting metalworking shops actually are.

I bring this up because a couple of weeks ago, I visited a company named Wilson Bohannan in Marion, Ohio, for the cover story in this month’s issue. This company manufactures padlocks as it has done since its founding in 1860. That’s right, 150 years of continuous operation, and it is still learning and progressing as you will read in the article on page 28.

Typically when I visit shops, there is something of a routine that I have developed for myself through the years. I usually travel solo with a tape recorder for my interviews and a camera for photographs to accompany the story I hope to write. However, for this visit I deviated from my routine by bringing along my art director, Jeff Norgord. I had several reasons for doing this. One, Jeff is a professional photographer along with his design and creative talents. I was hoping to get a good cover shot, and my humble photographic skills are sometimes not up to the task.

Another reason was since we are based in Cincinnati, Marion is a day trip, so Jeff’s time out of the office was minimal. Lastly, Jeff has been with the company just a couple of years, and this would be his first field trip to a metalworking shop. My company believes that visits to our reader’s businesses are good for our employees because it gives them a feel for what they do in order to better serve them. I agree with this philosophy.

So Jeff and I headed North on I-71. During the drive, I prepped Jeff on what to expect in a shop environment like hustle and bustle, machinery whirling, materials moving around — generally a beehive of activity. Sometimes, a busy shop can be a little intimidating to a “civilian,” but that was not the case with Jeff. His reaction was one of wonder, for lack of a better word.

But let’s hear it from him. “The first thing that struck me as Chris was interviewing Howard Smith, WB’s president and member of the 6th generation ownership, was this man’s passion and commitment not only to his company, but to the U.S. manufacturing industry as a whole,” Jeff says. “I listened to his belief that without a strong manufacturing base, this country’s economy will not be sustainable. And as he told us about WB’s long history, I thought to myself, if Howard is typical of people in this industry who really believe in its importance, how do marketing people like me help get the word out, at large?”

After the interview, the fun part for me, and it turns out Jeff as well, began with our shop tour. Howard took us through the manufacturing processes for making padlocks, which is very interesting, especially to see what 150 years of refinement looks like.

As Howard explained his operation, and I took notes, Jeff was shooting pictures of the machines performing their various operations. “I couldn’t get enough of it,” he told me on the ride home. I especially enjoyed his joy at seeing something that I sometimes take a little for granted.

And that’s my point here. It’s easy to under appreciate how unique metalworking manufacturing is, and sometimes it takes fresh eyes to remind us of that fact. Perhaps your shop might consider bringing in some visitors that can provide a different perspective for you and your people. 

Jeff is already pestering me about our next shop visit, and when I see his enthusiasm, I, too, am looking forward to the next trip. Cool can be contagious. Spread the disease.