Industrial Distribution in the Covidian Era, Continued…

For those of you who may not know, I own a HVAC distributor, which is a subset of industrial distribution. I have been writing of the many toils and tribulations of our industry during the Covidian era. What follows is another super exciting update on how it’s going in “my world”, as requested by many (well, actually nobody, but if interested, it is below the fold).

In general, things seem to be getting better. This certainly is not the case for things made “over there” such as ductless mini splits and the like with the never ending shipping delays.

We are hearing that chip availability is still an issue and will be for some time for many manufacturers. The labor situation, however, at some factories is pretty promising.

I have yet to pull my foot off of the accelerator as far as inventory goes, but from talking to many of my largest vendors a few weeks ago at a convention I learned some pretty valuable things.

1) None of them believe that the demand of the last couple of years will keep up. It was almost universally said that the demand for replacement and repair will be back to a more normal status. The vendors fully believe that people will be back to spending money on vacations and other things and leave their HVAC systems for the day they break, as was normal pre-commie crud (tm Sgt. Mom). Most of the sales targets that the higher ups are putting on to my reps are “just cuz” and aren’t really serious.
2) There seems to be a very large “fake demand” bubble right now. The larger and smarter distributors were allocated production during covid and that left the smaller and/or stupider ones to fight for scraps. Those guys never cancelled their orders and they are coming due now. Most of my vendors believe that this fake demand will dry up relatively soon and that they might even see some returns or cancelled orders when people start getting their bills.
3) Many distributors are bursting at the seams with inventory right now (yours truly included) and this will also affect the vendors order books this year, helping get production back to a more normal level. Everyone kept the pedal to the metal and never let up, and now we have to sell all of this stuff. My inventory turns are down well below 4 and pushing 3 at this point. Normally we like to see them well over 4 and pushing 5 (yes, I run it heavy on inventory even in normal times).
4) With all of this in mind, I am planning on winding this thing down at the end of Summer, unless we get another stupid variant, a new war (this current one didn’t really affect my work life too much, at least not at this point) or some other calamity.

It has been a very interesting couple of years, to say the least. Figuring out how to scramble and find new business partners has really shown us what we are made of. I could use some normalcy, however. We are all pretty much out of gas and need a break.

58 thoughts on “Industrial Distribution in the Covidian Era, Continued…”

  1. In my odd little corner of the oil business, other than the first couple of weeks when everybody was in shock, We haven’t seen a lot of difference. Our production related business was off a little when prices were lowest but have quickly recovered with increasing prices. The same with aviation related work that dipped but has now mostly recovered. The rest never seemed to be much different, we’re not a walk-in type business so rarely see our customers anyway.

    Last summer we were informed that oxygen production for hospitals was being increased at the expense of nitrogen and that we might see some shortage. We never had a problem but others might. In the last week or so, we were informed that there is another shortage of helium. This isn’t commie crudâ„¢ so much as government stupidity going back to the ’90’s. We’ll probably be spending around $50,000 to reduce our use as much as possible.

    We’ve had one item on back order for more than a year but I don’t know that it just isn’t a matter of a very limited market and a very narrow supply chain. A few other things here and there have had lead times extended, we’ve always managed to get by one way or another.

    If the present maladministration really wants to curtail oil production, we’ve seen how they can do it. Simply reduce the price of oil to around $20 a barrel.

  2. Interesting on the nitrogen. My guys use it all the time as part of the brazing process and we sell a lot of it. Never saw any supply issues there – however it may be a different type/purity than in your world.

    We are seeing a lot of price increases as well but I left that out of the main post as I assume anyone here just assumes that is a given for pretty much any business.

  3. I’ve really enjoyed these periodic updates from the ground level over the past couple years. Interesting stuff.

  4. Holding high inventory as inflation accelerates may turn out to be the most profitable business decision you have ever made!

    Certainly the CovidScam supply chain interruptions are slowing down (Shanghai excepted — wonder why?), but the US/Euro sanctions on Russia seem likely to have a lot of “unexpected” knock-on effects — reduced aluminum production because of sanctioned magnesium; continuing chip supply problems because of sanctions impact on neon; etc.

    And as inflation hits the general population, we may see a trend towards repair rather than replace for high cost items — whether vehicles or AC units.

    Time will tell!

  5. Interesting about nitrogen. I know nothing about it commercially though I used to (In the Navy in the 60s and 70s) know how to make it.

    It is(?) made by cooling and compressing air to a liquid state. Then the liquid air is boiled off through a distillation column and the nitrogen, oxygen and trace gases are separated.

    Nitrogen is about 78% of air, oxygen about 21%. I would have thought that a lot more N2 would be produced than oxygen in the normal course of events.

    My son’s sister in law works for Messer Gases. I’m gonna have to have a chat with her next time I see her.

  6. @John Henry – that is cool I would be interested in hearing what is going on in the industrial gas world – if you have a moment after you speak with your relative, drop me a line – johnstone185 at gee mail dot com.

    @Gavin – we have benefited from rising prices as that makes our existing inventory more valuable – you are correct, but our vendors aren’t price protecting any orders so it is offset by that extra cost.

  7. I don’t deal with supply chain directly but I do work with a lot of manufacturers across the US and talk to manufacturers around the world.

    I am just a 1 man consultancy and 2 lines of business make up about 90% of my business.

    Consulting on changeover, the process of changing a process from one product to another. For example, Coca-Cola bottling line from 12oz bottles to 20oz. Since these lines 500 or more (some 1500) bottles a minute, and they may change 3-5 times a day, shaving even a couple minutes from the process adds hugely to the output. Each 10 minutes a day I can save them is an additional week of production capacity. (single shift)

    Not many people focus on this and I’ve built up a really good business.

    The other thing I do is install productivity monitors to help track changeover and other downtime, causes and so on (Info at http://www.vorne.com) This started as a sideline to the changeover business but is now about 50% of total.

    I also do some writing, teaching, consulting on packaging machine and packaging line design.

    I’ve been pottering along nicely for 15 years generally working 2, perhaps 3 weeks out of the month. In the sense of being in a client plant on the clock. Plenty of other work to do the rest of the time.

    Last year I had 2 weeks, the entire year, where I didn’t work at least a day or 2. I did more income in 21 than my 2 best previous years combined. 2019 and 2020 were better than normal as well but nothing like 21.

    This year may be better than 21. I’ve kept raising my day rate til I’m charging more than a Philadelphia lawyer and nobody cares. By the end of May, I will have installed over 100 monitors this year.That is about 1/3 of all I’ve installed since 2010 or so.

    And then clients want me to help improve when they see the results.

    There is something going on out there. What I am seeing is a tremendous push to improve manufacturing efficiencies. Everyone has been giving lip service since the 80s. But finally they are doing something about it. And not in any small way.

    I am certainly not complaining. I think it is a great thing. Not just for me but for the country as a whole.

  8. John Henry…”There is something going on out there. What I am seeing is a tremendous push to improve manufacturing efficiencies. Everyone has been giving lip service since the 80s. But finally they are doing something about it.”

    Very interesting. My question is, when did they stop? Focusing on efficiency improvement, that is. ‘Efficiency experts’ were once folk heroes or folk villains…Taylor, the Gilbreths, etc. And isn’t ‘Lean’ supposed to be largely about efficiency improvement?

  9. David,

    Lean manufacturing, along with most of it’s components like just in time, quality as absence of variation, eliminating waste generally, was invented by Henry Ford around 1910. The best book ever on lean manufacturing is Ford’s 1923 My Life and work. It was out of print in English for 75 years until I republished it a dozen years back. It has never been out of print in Japanese.

    The much vaunted Toyota Production System is based directly on Ford’s system.

    In the 30’s, Ford had a stroke, was getting old and Ford Motor company started sliding away for a number of reasons. US industry had a lock on manufacturing and there was no need to be efficient. “Cost of our cars (Tires, steel, beans whatever) are too high? Customers don’t like it? Screw ’em. Where else they gonna go?” Those days are long gone.

    I think Donald Trump, with his emphasis on US manufacturing, made people realize that we CAN manufacture competitively in the US. We need to work at it. But first of all we need to realize that it is possible. I think that realization is something that dawned on a lot of people in the past 4-5 years.

    There is no reason we can’t compete with China. Or Vietnam, guatamala, etc. We can’t do it with hand labor but we are really good at developing automated processes. That is why manufacturing labor/jobs have been declining steadily since 1946 while manufacturing output has been going up.

  10. ‘Efficiency experts’ were once folk heroes or folk villains…Taylor, the Gilbreths, etc.

    My professor of surgery was a fan of people like Taylor and Gilbreth. We were taught principles of efficiency in surgery, which may sound odd. One term is the “Therblig,” which Gilbreth described as the smallest possible amount of effort to accomplish an action. Of course, it is his name backwards.

    Later, I got involved with the “lean” concept in Medicine. I wrote about it here.

  11. When current GE Larry Culp first visited the turbine factory in Greenville (SC), shortly after taking he job, he was evidently pretty appalled by what he saw…production flows that didn’t make sense, obsolete equipment cluttering up the floor, etc. The ‘Six Sigma’ (or even ‘Lean Six Sigma’) initiatives of the Welch and Immelt administrations evidently hadn’t sufficed to fix the place.

    So Culp says the company is now going to be doing *real* Lean…we will see.

    I’m not sure top-down initiatives are really ever the solution in a complex company with multiple product lines and P&L centers. The people running the Greenville plant should have been able to straighten out the problems on their own initiative, and if not, the senior management of GE Power should have been able to do it.

  12. “Lean Manufacturing” is about trimming the fat. To use a steak analogy. It is about reducing waste.

    There is an enormous amount of wasted time, material, effort, money in most manufacturing plants. I could write a book about it, hundreds of people have. I even wrote a book about one small corner of waste, Changeover.

    I tell clients that I am in the business of teaching their employees to be lazy. I think most people work entirely too hard. The problem is that too much of that work is basically just chasing their tails.

    In one of his books Robert Heinlein’s character Lazarous Long says “All progress is made by a lazy man looking for an easier way” I’ve changed man to person since there are a lot of women on the plant floor but that is what I do, show people how to find an easier way. Not a faster way. If you eliminate the waste it will automatically be faster, and easier.

    I have big yellow buttons that say “Be Lazy” that I pass out in my workshops.

    More here http://www.changeover.com/lazy.html

    Scientific management, Taylor, Gilbreth et al often get a bad rap and I have never understood why.

    I am a fan.

    “Efficiency experts”, a term I avoid, are often seen as trying to make people work harder/faster. I think that is a very shortsighted approach and why I avoid the term

  13. The good thing about Taylorism was the systematic approach to work study. The bad thing about Taylorism was the rigid separation of Thinking from Doing. (“One mind is ample for a thousand hands,” as Faust says in Goethe’s play)

    Lenin was a big fan of Taylorism, which is perhaps understandable given the very uneducated population of the Soviet Union at the time.

    The present-day Democratic Party seems to want to apply the second part of Taylorism to all aspects of life, but has no interest in the first part.

  14. Mike,

    More properly a therblig is a unit of time. Gilbreth broke complex assembly operations into hundreds of small tasks. For example putting a screw into a circuit breaker might require a

    Reach (to the bin)
    Drop
    Grasp the part
    Lift
    Retract
    Drop
    Place

    These are all standard motions and all have standard times. A reach of 12″, regardless of task will always take, say, 15 therbligs. A grasp 5 and so on. Once the operation has been broken down, an engineer adds up the therbligs and says it should take 175 therbligs to place this screw and thus standard time for the operation should be 2.3 seconds (converting therbligs to seconds)

    It is an extremely useful tool for balancing manual operations and eterming how fast an operator should work.

    It is also useful for leaning out the assembly. Suppose we can cut the reach from 12″ to 3 by relocating the bin and so on. Maybe cut a tenth of a second while saving operator effort.

    That is not much, but suppose it is repeated 30 times a minute, 400 minutes per day, that is 20 minutes per day, 83 hours per year, single shift.

    From the operator’s standpoint, it is also 270 inches less the operator has to move their arm every single minute. 426 miles per year less arm movement.

    OT Rant: My mother in law did this at a GE breaker plant for 35 years, assembling a piece into a breaker shell every 2 seconds. It is GODDAMN hard work. No human should ever need to do that again. Thank God for people like Gilbreth and Taylor at least making it easier.

    Otoh, that job, for her and father in law, starting in 1955 allowed them to build a concrete house and put 5 of 7 children through college. So better than than nothing. Waaaaayy better than nothing as bad as it was.

  15. On the nitrogen thing, John Henry is right about the fractional distillation but it is used to produce nitrogen, oxygen, argon (about 1% of air) and all the other noble gases except helium. What they did, according to our Airgas rep was change the operations to produce more oxygen at the expense of reduced nitrogen production.

    When you see something in a plant that doesn’t seem to make sense, it usually means you don’t understand what’s going on. Almost always, there’s a reason, it may not be a good reason or it may be wrong but often enough it’s a valid reason. Old equipment because the new improved doesn’t really work is common. It’s when you understand what is actually going on and why that you know enough to make real improvements.

  16. Very interesting article on hospitals, Mike. I once was thesis advisor for an industrial engineering student who was looking into lean in operating rooms. It got me to thinking there would be opportunities to apply my concepts to the OR turnover and prep. If it could be shortened by say 30-45 minutes, it could greatly improve capacity without the need to build more.

    Never could get any hospitals interested in it. They were always interested in building more than getting better utilization. The way our hospital system is set up, there is little benefit in efficiency. There seem to be benefits to inefficiency in that, the more a service costs, the more they can get paid for it.

    In 1915 or so a number of citizens approached Ford to help finance a new hospital for Detroit. What is today Detroit general. He agreed but got so frustrated with the process that he said he would either finance, and control, the entire project himself or would not participate at all. He designed and organized the hospital around the same philosophy as in his plants and it was hugely successful.

    There is a chapter about it in My Life and Work.

  17. What they did, according to our Airgas rep was change the operations to produce more oxygen at the expense of reduced nitrogen production.

    That’s the part that I don’t understand. The distillation process, assuming it is the same as I learned, liquifies 100% of the air.

    When you boil it off in the distillation column you will get 78%N2 and 21%O2 (plus the other stuff) there is no way that I can think of to vary that proportion. you would just blow off the excess of the gas you don’t need.

    Unless,

    and this is an idea that just occurred to me so I have no idea if it is right, you distill in reverse.

    That is compress and cool the air until the O2 condenses out at -297 degrees. N2 doesn’t condense until -320 so could remain a gas venting from the top while the oxygen drains out the bottom. That would save some energy from not condensing the N2.

    Now you have me curious, gonna have to go look.

    Maybe a tour of an gas plant is in order. Gonna have to talk to my son’s SIL or maybe just see if I know anyone in the local plant.

  18. Drawback to the above though is that you would get no liquid N2 at all. You would also get argon mixed with the O2since it condenses at a higher temperature. You might still need to fractionally distil to purify the O2.

    And a lot of N2 is sold in gaseous form so you could still capture that off the top of the process.

    OT, but not by much, is CO2

    Bacardi has their main rum distillation plant here. Back in the 80s and before, they used to have these huge fermentation tanks of mash bubbly away putting out huge amounts of CO2. At that time nobody cared from an environmental standpoint. But someone in Bacardi saw a moneymaking opportunity. They closed off the tanks and captured the CO2. They filtered it etc and bottled it and sold it for fire extinguishers and to Coca-Cola (they owned the local bottler) and to restaurants for soft drink machines.

    Turned out to be quite a business.

  19. The train about cryo distillation of gasses is what’s behind the current neon shortage in semiconductor manufacturing. The company that produces the world’s bulk is west of Donetsk in Ukraine, and they were getting their source gas from steel mills to the east in Russia. Seriously. They piped the ‘waste’ gas from the steel process, after a basic intercooler pass, about 400 km to a cryo plant, where they used a liquid helium based chiller unit to liquify everything, and them fractionally boiled off the gasses in controlled step zones, and then rechilled the separate streams with more liquid He to create storable fractions.
    Sort of the John D Rockefeller ‘safety kerosene’ prosess, just 300F deg lower.

  20. Here’s a couple of, hopefully, not too oversimplified explanations of the air distillation process:
    http://www.dynamicscience.com.au/tester/solutions1/chemistry/gas/fractionaldistilationofair.htm
    https://sciencing.com/fractional-distillation-air-7148479.html

    The flue gasses that Ed talks about must be enriched in Neon for some reason, possibly from the coal burned or the iron ore or even the limestone used in smelting. Even a small increase in concentration over air would dramatically lower the cost of production.

    Helium production in the U.S. came from the Hugoton gas field in southern Kansas. The gas produced had a naturally high concentration of helium, 0.3% to 1.9%. They started producing helium in the ’30’s for blimps and dirigibles. In the early oughts, I serviced the scales at the helium plant ion Gruver, Texas. Helium is a fairly common contaminant of natural gas, the problem is separating it. I had heard that helium was being produced in the Middle East, possibly Dubai.

    The problem with helium started when Congress in their infinite stupidity decided in the ’90’s to sell of the Helium Reserve in Amarillo cheap rather than pay for long needed repairs and upgrades to equipment that had been in service since 1948. This caused the price to crater and discouraged development anywhere else. When the DOE realized that they were going to run out of helium as the stock dwindled and no more came on line, they stopped and caused the first helium panic.

    I think most of the CO2 on the mainland also comes from natural gas wells.

  21. When I read, possibly re-read, Mike’s post, I was struck that he asked a lot of groups that probably don’t get asked about anything very often. This is the opposite of top down. It’s something too many managers just don’t get.

  22. Well, tell you about a little experience I had about trying to find a critical suspension part for my 26-year-old Mercedes Benz.

    Without it, the car was not drivable.

    The part was no longer stocked by Daimler, which from previous experience no longer surprises me.

    Used to be in the old days you could go to a dealer and order a part for your 30 year old Mercedes and they would have it.

    And that has nothing to do with Covid. But CEOs who are bean counters.

    The surprise was in the aftermarket and how bare the shelves are.

    I hate getting made in China stuff, but it’s sometimes unavoidable even with German companies.

    The highest rated third-party part was out of stock and nobody knew when more would be available. I happened to find my second favorite which was still pretty sparse.

    If it gets any worse I’d expect to meet someone in a trenchcoat in an alleyway saying he’s got some primo parts.

    I wonder how the auto parts inventory is globally.

  23. }}} For example, Coca-Cola bottling line from 12oz bottles to 20oz. Since these lines 500 or more (some 1500) bottles a minute, and they may change 3-5 times a day, shaving even a couple minutes from the process adds hugely to the output. Each 10 minutes a day I can save them is an additional week of production capacity. (single shift)

    Since you have an inside track, can you point out to the mother fucking imbeciles at Coke that they have morons arranging their supermarket stock?

    I routinely buy Coke Zero Decaf, as well as Coke Decaf.

    Guess what they have all of two “stacks” of in the supermarket, which are constantly empty, even as they have 20 stacks of regular Coke, many of which are full?

    And, of course, this is exacerbated whenever there is a sale.

    I don’t buy regular Coke “instead”, so it is lost business to them, all the time.

    Just kidding, I know you have no contact with said morons, just venting.

    It’s distribution incompetence (which does tie into the thread topic), but it seems to be across the board, as there is never more than two stacks of those two products, even in areas served by other distributors, which stacks are commonly out (and guaranteed to be when there is a sale), but there are always multiple stacks of the main product, which is never out, or even LOW, which is the primary thing. There should be at least a third or fourth stack of the products, and less of the main product. They would increase sales

  24. }}} If it gets any worse I’d expect to meet someone in a trenchcoat in an alleyway saying he’s got some primo parts.

    I wonder how the auto parts inventory is globally.

    Dunno what part it is, but you might, at this point, actually consider finding it used. Thanks to the interwebs, you have access to used part places across the country. That might be better than resorting to third-rate Yangtech.

  25. My experience is the you can find someone that claims to have the part in usable condition but that’s not the same as finding the part. I am also a watcher of The Car Wizard, he has developed sources over years and he’s having trouble finding parts. Most of us are at the mercy of eBay and trying to judge whether the person offering the part has any idea what he’s selling. Especially with something like car parts, pictures, even good ones, are hit or miss. Then if the part you want is something like a rubber bushing, one that’s been setting on a shelf for 30 years might not be in better shape than the one you’re replacing.

  26. @MCS The trouble with eBay and auto parts is I’ve discovered through experience about half the people don’t even know the proper fitment for that part.

    They’ll say it’ll fit your 96 so and so and you buy it and discover it will not.

    Then many are asking more than retail new.

    I’d view eBay as a last resort.

    Amazon through their third-party affiliates is a little bit better.

    As far as the part in question it was what I call an upper shock mount. It’s a rubber bushing that screws into the top of the fender with a metal stop for the gas pressured Bilstein shocks.

    The shock is always pushing against this metal stop and of course if you hit speed bumps or something it puts added force on it.

    What usually happens is that the rubber cracks. In my case over the years the metal stop actually broke and the Bilstein shock pushed up and actually put a dimple in the hood. The car was literally driving like a buckboard.

    Weather the rubber cracks or the metal breaks the result is the same.

    It’s really not that great a design and Daimler stopped doing it.

    As far as buying used I would say that’s a nonstarter for me. Unless there was absolutely no other place to go.

    There’s certain things that a wrecking yard I will not buy like used fuel pumps or anything with rubber. Why replace your broken part with 30 year old rubber that’s on the verge of going?

    It’s a different world out there from the world of 30 years ago.

    Even reputable German companies like Bosch with stellar reputations are subcontracting a lot of their parts out to India and China.

    And the parts are not the same quality.

    My Mercedes shop friend was saying a lot of times the original German made part he takes off is in better condition than the made in China new part he supposed to put in.

  27. As the joke goes — What do you get when Turkish workers assemble Polish parts? A German car!

    The world is changing. Volkswagen reportedly now assembles more cars in China than in Germany. That is another big element in driving the supply chains to China.

  28. Used to be in the old days you could go to a dealer and order a part for your 30 year old Mercedes and they would have it.

    A guy I know was the parts manager for a Porsche dealer in Newport Beach when the dealer decided to thin out the parts in stock. This guy asked the owner if he could have all the excess parts. He took the stock, lots of old parts, and started a business for Porsche owners with older cars. His son went beyond that and began restoring old Porsches. He now has a huge business called Emory Motorsports.

    Some of his clients are collectors and very well known. His nephew, who works for him, was flown to the east coast by a customer to fix something on his classic Porsche.

  29. “It’s a rubber bushing that screws into the top of the fender with a metal stop for the gas pressured Bilstein shocks.”

    Have you consider trying to make your own bushing?

  30. Of course, none of this would faze a Cuban mechanic. He wouldn’t have to waste any time on the internet looking for parts, no internet, no parts. So, he’d probably find a piece of steel from somewhere or something and maybe improvise something from an old unrepairable tire (and you don’t want to know what they consider repairable if you’re touring the sights in one of their picturesque relics) for the bushing. A bit of bashing, banging, filing and sawing and you’d be back on the road.

    According to some of our more pessimistic commenters, that’s where we’re headed. Time to separate the mechanics from the parts changers. If you look around on YouTube, you can find lots of videos from places like Pakistan and Indonesia where both cell phones and the internet is more available. If you plan on visiting those places, you might not want to look too closely either. Especially when you see them repairing a heavy truck (and be advised, the load on a truck there is governed solely by the driver’s inability to find a way to put more on, rather than by any effete abstraction like maximum gross weight) where you will see them substituting mild steel for heat treated alloy and extremely questionable welding for carefully designed bolted and riveted joints. They were bolted or riveted at the factory because the heat of welding weakens the heat treated frame members. An image that would be most unwelcome as your tour bus (Which was repaired where exactly?) meets one of these trucks on a narrow mountain road in the rain.

  31. O bloody hell,

    I doubt that the problem is on the distribution side. Not knowing the specific situation I could be wrong but but I’d bet against it. The Walmarts, Krogers, Circle K et al are way too sophisticated to put up with that.

    If you wanted me to bet, my money would be in the bottling plant and not having enough capacity. My impression is that the bulk, 50-75% of Coca-Cola sales are regular Coke. With the 15 or so other flavors making up the rest.

    I would bet that a Coke zero fan (like you and me), not finding it on shelf might settle for Diet Coke. If neither is on the shelf, then regular coke. Not everyone, of course but a far larger proportion than would settle for diet/zero if their preferred regular Coke is not available.

    This means that the emphasis will always be on keeping regular Coke in stock, even if it means some lost diet/zero sales.

    (cont)

  32. (cont)

    Most bottling make dozens of different products. There are at least 15 Coca-Cola flavors (reg, diet, zero, cherry etc) plus a couple flavors of sprite, Fanta and more. Most of these come in various bottle sizes (12, 16, 20oz,2liter) and each in 6, 12, 24 and perhaps other bundle sizes.

    All often on 1-2 bottling lines 4-5 in a really big plant.

    Then the sequence makes a difference. Not much cleaning is required to go from diet to regular. A slight bit (ounces, not gallons) makes no difference. No, as in zero, cross contamination can be permitted going from regular to diet. That means it takes longer.

    Are you starting to see the complexity of keeping 100 or so products on the shelves? And NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, EVER failing to keep regular Coke fully available.

    And inventory is not a solution. Other than a week or two. Two much inventory can be as bad as too little from the standpoint of supplying stores. Not to mention costs (30% carrying cost)

    (cont)

  33. (cont)

    For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume a bottling line runs only regular and diet and only in the same 20oz bottle and bundle. Only the flavor changes.

    Line speed is 600 bottles /minute, 36,000 bottles per hour. That is not even a particularly high speed line.

    Assume it takes 45 minutes to make a flavor change.

    So going from regular to diet and back stops the line for 90 minutes. That is 54,000 bottles not produced and, more importantly not sold.

    Do this once daily and if “costs” 20mm bottles a year or so.

    If the plant runs 24/7, there is no way to ever make this up.

    Now can you see why they might forgo making as much diet/zero as you and I might like? They just can’t afford the production loss.

    If I can show them how to save 5 minutes/flavor change, 10min/day x 600 bottles/minute x 350 days, that’s an additional 2mm bottles they can sell.

    Or, they can do more, faster, changeovers and keep people like you and me happy with the Coke zero

    And that is just in one extremely oversimplified example.

    I think I may have just inadvertently written a publishable article! Thanks for your patience.

  34. “he’d probably find a piece of steel from somewhere or something and maybe improvise something from an old unrepairable tire”

    Perhaps a reconfigured laboratory stopper might work. See Amazon. I don’t know what the bushing looks like. I do know that bushings are not complicated in design..

  35. “If you plan on visiting those places, you might not want to look too closely either.”

    America used to be like that. Now it is perverts grooming your children and Karens screaming “SAFETY FOR ALL YOU RACIST”!!11!!

  36. “Perhaps a reconfigured laboratory stopper might work. See Amazon. I don’t know what the bushing looks like. I do know that bushings are not complicated in design..”

    You’d be surprised, there are far more sorts of rubber and rubber like substances than there are steel. The original German engineers did a pretty good job if it lasted nearly 30 years in that sort of application. The rule of thumb is that soft suspension parts should probably be replaced after 50,000 miles or no more than ten years.

    You’d probably be surprised at the amount of work and testing that went into that design. Probably a good many thousand Marks and months just for that simple seeming part, a lot of expertise and experience too. The things I design I call oneies and twosies. If I get something not all the way right, going back to fix it isn’t that big a deal. If I intended to make thousands or millions, the stakes are much higher. That not happening used to be a big part of the Mercedes reputation. That seems not to be the case so much anymore.

    Our 3rd world mechanic can probably get the car back on the road but it probably won’t drive or handle nearly as well. I would expect the improvised bushing to be far noisier, far rougher and wear out much faster.

  37. Once upon a time, I was a passenger on a long tail boat in the jungle. A shaft bearing gave out, so we drifted to the riverbank where the boatman tied up and disappeared. He came back a few minutes later with a bamboo stalk of the right diameter, whittled a bearing and put it in. The bearing lasted the two hours it took to get out of the jungle. Supply chains vary.

  38. They did. In 1957 with William Holden, Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins. It was about the Japanese supply chain to Rangoon.

    I was there in the 1960s and the Japanese had gone home. We were a long way upriver from the railhead when the shaft bearing blew.

  39. Houska – perhaps calling the rubber a “bushing” isn’t doing it justice. That rubber is holding the force of that gas pressured shock from punching though and denting or puncturing the hood.

    It surrounds the steel “cone” actually holds the top of the shock absorber rod and keeps it from pushing though.

    No way would I try to make that myself.

    https://cdn4.pelicanparts.com/techarticles/Mercedes-W129/53-SUSPEN-Front_Shock_Absorber_Removal/images_med/pic06.jpg

  40. That would be a challenge but something could be improvised, at least to the extent of allowing the car to be driven. On the other hand, the shock itself would be nearly impossible. Cars drive around without shocks, not well or safely, but they do. Not so where the shock and spring are combined or, especially, where the spring is pressurized gas. Improvising even something like that would be dead simple compared to the ECU module.

    In theory, it would even be possible to build something that would work for the ECU if you had access to fairly sophisticated electronic components, there are after market ECU’s. But the chain ends there, Building even a crude CPU is not something you can do in a garage.

  41. The ‘make do’ mechanics in Pakistan will:
    -weld a broken crankshaft in a six cylinder diesel
    -weld the block of same where the rod decided to make an exit
    -weld stub axles that have broken off
    -weld and straighten I-beam front axles that have gotten broken and twisted
    -re-line brake shoes in a back-yard operation, starting with throwing them in a fire
    -cast diesel pistons using molten aluminum mixed from whatever they have on hand
    -add ‘sister’ u-beams to bent frames, stuffing them inside the original
    -rebuild an engine in a dirt-floor room
    -manufacture small pumps from scrap to finished pump in a small shop
    -weld onto the nose of a manual transmission input shaft and then turn it to the pilot bearing diameter
    -attach cylinder heads to lathes and re-surface in place of a fly-cutter
    Amazing. Industrious. Apparently accepting that this is how things are done when your industrial base is not developed, and replacement parts must be sourced from across an ocean.
    Reminds me of ancestor farmers who could fix anything with whatever was at hand. We don’t have near enough farmers, or farmer-trained people any more.
    The wise manager of a plant will learn why things are the way they are before throwing the baby out with the bath water. The rum distiller is a good example of ‘found’ product where it would have been disposed of without consideration. Dad, the engineer, asked why the bearing cap that held the bearing shell was made of two different pieces. He suggested making both pieces the same so they could be used interchangeably. Savings in: design, documantation, part number tracking, warehousing of spares, installation, prevention of incorrect installation as just a few gains. Multiply that by the number of B-52 engines being produced, and he likely saved millions with one change.

  42. Tommy…”Reminds me of ancestor farmers who could fix anything with whatever was at hand. We don’t have near enough farmers, or farmer-trained people any more.”

    Tom Wolfe remarked that a considerable % of astronauts…and space program engineers as well, IIRC…has grown up on farms and learned how to understand and fix things.

  43. I think you guys are kinda missing a source.

    https://www.usedpart.us/

    https://www.uneedapart.com/used-car-parts/

    These are from salvage yards, and I suspect they are much better than many individual sellers, simply because of the fact that reputation matters a lot. They aren’t there to sell just one or two parts, they’re doing it all the time.

    Granted, you still have issues, but that ought to be a lot better.

    The other option to consider is forums for that specific brand — including facebook subforum — which often have a lot of people who are either expert at things and/or have experience dealing with parts suppliers, both new and used, and thus can probably recommend you to multiple good sources for what you need. Some of them are regional (particularly FB), so you can even drive to wherever and get the part in person rather than having it shipped sight unseen.

  44. “The ‘make do’ mechanics in Pakistan will:
    -weld a broken crankshaft in a six cylinder diesel
    -weld the block of same where the rod decided to make an exit
    -weld stub axles that have broken off
    -weld and straighten I-beam front axles that have gotten broken and twisted
    -re-line brake shoes in a back-yard operation, starting with throwing them in a fire
    -cast diesel pistons using molten aluminum mixed from whatever they have on hand
    -add ‘sister’ u-beams to bent frames, stuffing them inside the original
    -rebuild an engine in a dirt-floor room
    -manufacture small pumps from scrap to finished pump in a small shop
    -weld onto the nose of a manual transmission input shaft and then turn it to the pilot bearing diameter

    You have to do whatever you can do it that is all that’s available, but I don’t see how some of those repairs could even be considered permanent, much less make the machine as good as it was before.

    Welding a broken crankshaft? I don’t see how that engine would have a long life, with the stress put on that shaft against a common weld. Not to mention the balance issues.

    I’ll bet you most of those Havana 50s cars run like…crap.

    But if that is all that’s available…

    Interesting though, I had a late friend who was what I’d call a classically trained mechanic, getting his apprenticeship in post-war London. And among the things he had to do to learn the trade was reline a brake shoe. Although I am sure he started with the lining material that he would cut to fit on the shoe – then rivit.

    He did take pride in his ability to fix components rather than just replace them. Case in point: The solder in 80s-era Mercedes would crack over time, rendering components broken. He would take a magnifying glass and carefully look for cracks in that solder, and apply a soldering gun to seal the crack.

    I was thinking of something along these lines the other day. On at least older Bosch alternators, when the brushes are worn, you don’t have to open the thing up and solder in new brushes. Bosch makes a brush/regulator assembly that you just, with 2 screws, install on the back of the alternator. For about $50.

    With some models you don’t even have to remove the alternator. A brush set is good for 150,000 miles, so with this swap you can get 300,000 miles out of an alternator before you have to replace it because of other components worn.

    But this – and the things I mentioned about my friend, would probably not be done in a regular shop because of labor rates. It is usually cost-effective to just replace it.

    Well, sorry about the rambling, and veering off a bit from the topic…

  45. In the early ’70’s, Ford starters left a lot to be desired. I got a lot more practice replacing the brushes than I liked. If I recall, the kit cost around $10 and required soldering and a little light work on the commutator. The reason the brushes wore so quickly was they were very soft which saved the commutator. Since it was such a low duty cycle motor, you didn’t need to undercut it.

    I’m sure I’ve watched the same Pakistan videos. My feelings are usually akin to watching a disaster documentary. Far from admiring the “skill” of the workers, I consider them more as con men. You’re right, a welded to together crankshaft won’t last for long. Judging from the stack of similarly broken cranks in the video, it’s most likely there is a fundamental flaw in the engine itself. If you look at the companion video where they are making crank shafts from rough castings, it’s more clear. Here, heavy duty crankshafts are made from steel alloy forgings and no amount of street smarts will make up for poor metallurgy. These guys are taking money that could have gone toward a real repair and returning a part that will waste even more of the money of the presumably poor person that depends on that machine to make a living.

    There are two reasons you won’t see something like that here and the biggest one isn’t that no competent person would consider doing it. It’s that it would be very unusual for a crankshaft to fail this way. If you hear about welding a crankshaft here, it’s to build up the worn journal surfaces before they are reground not to join broken segments. I believe that that is getting rare because it’s very hard to do without affecting the strength on the part.

    When that welded crank breaks, most probably the engine will stop, possibly taking the transmission and drive line with it. But when one of the equally sketchy chassis or suspension repairs fails, it not rarely kills somebody. That rainy mountain road scenario isn’t a fantasy.

    None of this is because these parts are too cheap here to be worth fixing.

  46. }}} The Walmarts, Krogers, Circle K et al are way too sophisticated to put up with that.

    I’ve not dealt with Circle K in this context, convenience stores are overpriced and thus a place of last resort. The only thing I ever buy at CK is Monster teas, which, for about 6-9 months, were literally the only place I could find that stocked them.

    I’m not sure about the Krogers, but Walmart literally doesn’t care, it’s not in their business model**. Publix is certainly limited, as they don’t stock those shelves, the local distributor does.Complaining to management does little (trust me, I’ve done it on a regular basis, at least a half dozen different times at different stores AND different zones — i.e., south-central FL and north-central FL). They can do nothing whatsoever but pass it on to the person/company doing the distributing. I’d expect Krogers, et al, all work the same way, though I don’t know that. I do know for a fact that that is how Publix works.

    ** As to Walmart, you realize they pretty much don’t actually control what goes onto their shelves, they just rent shelf-space? Literally, that IS the Walmart model, and has been that way from the start — Walmart completely changed retail by upending the classic “store buyer” model… stores no longer have buyers, they have people who make deals with distributors for shelf-space, usually done by volume. They accept “X items” for sale on their shelves for a given time period. If the items sell, they pay the distributor for, say, 80% of the items, less any returns (unsold or “customer unsatisfied” returns). They, of course, get their 20% off the top, while the distributor gets the rest after. As long as they get that 20%, they don’t particularly give a damn if any sales are lost, and someone would have to really, truly mess up and not be able to sell 50% of whatever they are trying to sell. It’s no doubt a bit more sophisticated than I’m saying, hence price drops and clearances, etc., but that’s the basic way Walmart works, and it’s how they’ve always worked — they essentially rent shelf space to anyone with anything to sell (well, not porn, but you get the overall idea). And it’s a bidding kind of thing, with every manufacturer-distributor getting offers so as to maximize Walmart’s income from shelf space. Beyond that, they don’t care too much what they stock.

  47. More winning for the Greens.
    https://gcaptain.com/east-coast-jet-fuel-prices-continue-ascent-reinforcements-out-at-sea/

    East Coast jet fuel prices are around $7.60 a gallon. Something to remember the next time somebody takes credit for stopping pipeline construction. The whole NE is dependent on one pipeline that has to carry gasoline, diesel, heating oil and jet. Otherwise, they depend on tankers and that market is getting tight. And just for good measure, the Jones Act means that they had been getting a lot from Europe, that’s not going to happen.

    And tis winter when they are moaning about natural gas, remember it’s the politicians there that have blocked more gas pipelines, making them dependent on LNG from Europe also thanks to the Jones Act. Not likely that Europe will be re-exporting much this winter.

  48. If you live in California, you might want to buy and fill a few freezers if you eat meat.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0u5OGFuVVw

    I’m actually hoping California will win this. The wailing as the prices skyrocket on what little meat is left will be wondrous to behold from a safe distance. I’ll bet the geniuses didn’t think to regulate long pig.

  49. You have to wonder at the spectacle of California, and consider when and apparently, if, there will ever be a breaking point and their long love affair with progressive activism will end. My guess is, probably not until they turn the whole place into a replica of Mexico’s worst features.

    The parallels between the Mexican oligarchy and the Californian one are interesting and telling. It’ll be interesting to watch the denouement, from a suitable distance. Like, maybe Montana…?

    Probably not far enough to avoid the fallout.

  50. If you watch the video, there’s a pretty good chance the reactionary Supreme Court will save them from their folly by failing to let the Constitution grow to accommodate their lunacy. I wonder how many Californians realize that they not only pay the highest gas prices but they pay thousand more, every time they buy a car.

    As an aside, saw gas prices in DFW below $3.50 today. It wasn’t long ago I paid $3.90 and thought I might not see prices below $4.00 again for a long time. Diesel is still through the roof, more than a dollar higher when there’s no refinery based reason for a difference of more than a few cents. That’s going to drive inflation, truckers simply won’t take loads that won’t pay for astronomical equipment and maintenance costs and fuel.

  51. So we’re going to move to E15 gas. That is 15% ethanol from 10%. This is supposed to save us all money.

    Three things to know. First, E10 was arrived at because it is the highest level of ethanol that the fuel system in a car can tolerate without replacing all the rubber parts with ethanol resistant parts. The problems won’t be catastrophic but will build up the longer the higher percentage fuel is in use. Eventually requiring expensive repairs.

    Second, gas mileage will go down, that’s just a natural consequence of substituting lower energy ethanol for gasoline.

    Third, ethanol is more or less just repackaged diesel fuel and natural gas. Corn production is largely linear with the amount of nitrogen fertilizer (made from natural gas) and water (often pumped with diesel powered pumps) and is, of course cultivated with diesel powered machinery. Natural gas is also used to convert the corn to ethanol. And we all know what the cost of both natural gas and diesel has done and where it’s headed. There is a lot of evidence that it takes more energy to produce ethanol than burning the ethanol produces. Remember, it was put in originally to supposedly add oxygen to the fuel and was supposed to reduce emissions. This is also questionable.

    So it looks like the Biden maladministration is continuing its streak of piling stupidity on stupidity.

  52. Oh, and you do know the reason that E85 costs less at the pump is because the cost of the ethanol is subsidized. Ethanol on the open market costs more than gasoline before taxes.

  53. ObloodyHell
    s to Walmart, you realize they pretty much don’t actually control what goes onto their shelves, they just rent shelf-space? Literally, that IS the Walmart model, and has been that way from the start — Walmart completely changed retail by upending the classic “store buyer” model… stores no longer have buyers, they have people who make deals with distributors for shelf-space, usually done by volume

    I remember watching a documentary about Walmart practices when dealing with suppliers. In this case, it was a purveyor of pickles. The long and short was that Walmart was pushing for a purchase price from the pickle producer(in this case a long-time family-owned-run business), and the vendor was being pushed to sell at a price below their production cost. If they demurred, they’d be off the shelf of the largest retailer(at least in their market) and if they agreed, they’d lose, and never ‘make it up in volume…’ At that point, Walmart was doing the negotiations, from their HQ, I guess, in Bentonville, AR. It was a demonstration/story of how the large corps can push around their suppliers. My feeling at the end was that Walmart was being a bully, and as a pickel-packer, I’d be da–ed if I would supply them with any pickels at all. I’d sooner feed them to the pigs. Different pigs, if you get the drift..

  54. I doubt that is much different than any of the other big chains. They make their money turning over that limited shelf space, they aren’t in the museum business. National brands with major national marketing operations have a little more leverage but not much. If it doesn’t sell they will replace it with something that will. Walmart figures they know how much people will pay, and again, have no shortage of stuff they can put in that space. They were willing to talk to a smallish producer at least.

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