6 Blogs That Manufacturing Companies Should Read

Our machine shop staff receives an average of 5-10 manufacturing periodicals a day. I’ve combed through it all (and I’m sure you have too) and I’ll be frank – manufacturing magazines, newsletters, and blogs could use an upgrade.

Let’s pause the chatter about speeds, feeds and the latest cutting tools for a moment. If you’re looking for some unique, remarkable content focused on manufacturing companies and industry thought leaders, you’re at the right place.

remarkable manufacturingI’ve searched far and wide for blogs written by purple cow (see: Seth Godin) thinkers in manufacturing. Blogs that look at the bigger picture beyond the shop floor. Blogs that explore the human aspects of manufacturing. Blogs that both educate on manufacturing and inspire to manufacture.

I want to offer you some manufacturing blogs that get our imagination going, and remind us why we got involved in manufacturing in the first place. I salute them, and I want to pay it forward by sharing 6 of my favorite blogs here… and lots of helpful links too!

1. Manufacturing Innovation Blog

The Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) publishes this excellent blog written with small to mid-sized manufacturers in mind. Clear mission, well designed, and always written for humans. The MEP features many different writers, and all bring a unique perspective to their posts. This blog does a great job at constantly reminding us all that manufacturing does have a home for everyone.

2. Dream It. Do It. Nebraska Blog

The folks who publish this blog from the American Heartland have a real passion for manufacturing, and it shows. With posts like 5 of America’s Coolest Factory Tours and College Students Rejoice: NASA is Printing Pizza, the Nebraska Advanced Manufacturing Coalition (who runs the blog) does their part to show young people the exciting and quirky opportunities available by pursuing a career in manufacturing. Keep it up guys!

3. Made in Dayton Blog

Main authors, Steve Staub and Gary Weldon, bring their own experience of running a contract manufacturing business to the table. They steer the blog towards the difficult topics for the industry, they never shy away from opinion, and they open dialogue with manufacturers about ways we can ALL work together to make American manufacturing great again. Steve and Gary are relentless in addressing the ever-growing US manufacturing skills gap and redefining the tired image and misconceptions about manufacturing that many outsiders have  today. They are determined to revitalize manufacturing in Dayton, OH and beyond.  I simply love the positive direction that they take this blog.

4. Fabbaloo

Many manufacturing veterans are still figuring out the different ways to apply 3D printing technology, beyond oddball objects and replacement parts. Kerry Stevenson is a purple cow thinker who takes 3D printing head-on on Fabbaloo. He writes helpful reviews about different 3D printers and resins available on the market. He gives virtual factory tours. He features different, amazing 3D printed designs each week. Quite simply, keep up with Kerry, and you’ll better keep up with the ongoing evolution in 3D printing.

5. Stratasys Blog for a 3D World

Stratasys is a BIG company and a global leader in 3D printing technology (they also just acquired MakerBot for $403M). Like me, you might expect to find another sterile corporate blog here. But I have been continuously impressed and enlightened by their very down-to-earth, relevant and helpful blog. The team at Stratasys has personality, for sure. If additive manufacturing piques your interest for mostly industrial applications, Stratasys covers foundry patternmaking, aerospace, and more. If you’re into consumer goods, they have cool shoes and even 3D printed Kryptonite stories to boot.

6. Make:

Let’s not forget about the DIY’ers. If there was a definitive Homebrew Computer Club (of Steve Jobs lore) for manufacturing hackers today, they would surely be active community members on this blog.  Make: offers a phenomenal list of the “makers” who are probably worth connecting with on Twitter (hint hint). Their parent company, Maker Media, hosts an annual Maker Faire that is cool to follow on YouTube, and cooler to attend (it’s in Queens, NY). The content on this blog is fascinating and runs deep — if manufacturing is your passion, Make: is surely the Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory you’ve been looking for.

What Is Soffit and Why Is It Important to a House?

There’s a good chance your building has soffit installed. Just walk outside your door and look up at the roof. The material connecting the roof overhang and the side of your building? That’s soffit.

The word “soffit” is derived from the French language, and literally means “something fixed underneath.”  It’s most commonly used around a building’s main roof, but soffit can also be used under porches, under arches or columns, under a flight of stairs… pretty much anything that has a visible ceiling. It is commonly made in aluminum and vinyl, as well as fiber cement, wood, and steel.

For this article, we’ll focus on soffit for its primary use — the roof overhang.

soffit diagram

Soffit serves both an aesthetic and functional purpose for a building’s roofing system.  It’s the skin that covers your eaves — without it, you would see your rafter beams fully exposed. Cover it up with soffit, in the style and color that you like, and you add some instant and easy character to your building.

Functionally speaking, soffit protects your rafters from the weather elements. If your rafters are exposed in any areas, you’ll likely have mold buildup and rotting beams to replace — which definitely won’t make for a fun (or cheap) Spring. Plus, mold in a home is never healthy.

Also, soffit helps your building breathe.  With vented soffit, air can flow through the vents to provide regular air circulation to your attic. Air flow is tremendously important for your entire home.  If you have lanced style vents (like the vented soffit we offer our customers) you can achieve proper air flow while limiting the moisture that can enter through the vents.

If solid soffit is more of your style, no problem — just make sure you have vents installed to enable proper air circulation through the attic. Or, for every few soffits you install, you could install a vented panel to assure air flow.Soffit-solid-diagram

Imagine if your eaves were sealed tight instead. In the hot summer months, your attic would draw in (and hold) heat. That sweat running off your head? It would definitely be from your attic overheating, but also likely from looking at your high utility bill as well.

In the winter months, snow and rain would ultimately lead to moisture buildup, and you would eventually have rotting and/or mold in your rafters and sheathing.

Bottom line  — you need to let your attic cycle the heat and moisture away from your house. Soffit is the most common and easy way to protect your roof frame and achieve air circulation to keep your building healthy.

If you’re not a candidate for soffit for a given reason — say your building does not have eaves — I suggest you ask a builder to look at your attic and offer custom suggestions to improve your air circulation.

Which Type of Soffit Should I Buy?

Based on sales volume of homes and buildings across the US, aluminum and vinyl soffit are the runaway winners. They are the most cost effective to manufacture, the easiest to install, and they weigh less than the alternatives. Let’s run through the pros and cons for aluminum and vinyl:

Pros of Aluminum Soffit

  • A malleable material, good for fitting into varied spaces.
  • Highly durable. Will not rot, chip or crack.
  • Non-combustible, in case of fire.
  • Easy to keep clean, does not attract dirt.
  • Water-resistant. Ideal for wet regions.

Cons of Aluminum

  • Tends to be more expensive than vinyl. If you’re covering a large area, the aluminum cost will add up.
  • Can dent if enough force is applied.
  • Does not insulate as well as vinyl.

So, how about vinyl?

Pros of Vinyl Soffit

solid soffit for a porch

Solid soffit for a porch ceiling. Photo credit – Siding World

  • Tends to be the most affordable option.
  • Best material for insulating your home.
  • Often available in different textures and grains. More customization over the look you want.
  • Will not rot. Pretty resilient against cracking and chipping.
  • Water resistant. Excellent for high moisture areas.
  • Easy to clean.

Cons of Vinyl

  • More easily affected by heat. Can discolor more quickly over time.
  • Can become brittle if exposed to regular sunlight.
  • Can develop mold in damp climates.
  • Not as malleable as aluminum; more difficult to cut, bend and install into varied spaces.
  • Some feel vinyl is a cheaper looking product.

And what about the other materials?

People who opt for soffit in materials other than aluminum or vinyl typically make their decision based on aesthetics. Why?

Wood is more expensive and will ultimately rot over time. However, I am personally a fan of wood — it looks natural and timeless. It adds tremendous warmth. If you choose to install wood soffit, just be prepared for the time and money to replace the panels over time. Plus, don’t forget to install vents for air circulation!

Steel will be much more durable than any of the alternatives, including aluminum. Some suppliers also carry steel soffit in a variety of colors. Steel will just run about 25-40% higher in cost than aluminum – but overall, steel could be a great option for your soffit.

Fiber cement is less common and among the pricier options in soffit, but there are suppliers that carry panels in varied wood grain textures, vents and colors.

Still have questions? We’re here to help.

We actually manufacture soffit and help hundreds of end customers a year walk through building products related questions. If you have more questions for us, just give a call and we’d be happy to help. Our phone number is 1-610-779-1357. Also you can shoot us a quick message if that is easier. We’ll get back to you within 24 hours to offer all the personalized, no-salesey help we can.

Best of luck with your soffit installation. Either way you go, we’re sure you’ll make the best choice for YOU.

Copper Gutters: Cost and How to Choose

half round copper gutterCopper Gutter — it’s the most elegant and prestigious choice for a rain gutter system available. Hands down.

You’re likely here because you’re considering copper gutter for your own home. You may have heard it’s the most expensive option on the market (you’re right). You may also sense that copper gutter would add a truly dramatic look to your home — and possibly even be a good long-term investment.

Copper may be for you, or it may not. I want to help you find out.

Customers walk into our building supply warehouse often and ask themselves this same question. Let’s imagine you walked into our warehouse too. It’s time to talk pros and cons. Here’s the exact checklist we’d walk through together:

dream home with copper gutter

Would copper gutter suit your dream home?

Your home is one of your most valuable assets. It’s your masterpiece, a reflection of your personal taste, it’s your own piece of heaven.

Cost simply has to be one of the last considerations in the equation (ahem.. see the next question below). The conversation has to begin with the sincere, deep-rooted feelings you have for your home. Do you truly want the very best for your home?

To you and your family, your home may be your own, personal Fallingwater. In such cases I almost always recommend using the best materials you can that suit your theme. Your gutter selection is an important material among these, as it’s highly visible from all sides of the house.  So, if copper truly enhances the natural, distinct, thoughtful details of your dream home, then copper might be a winner.

Are you willing to pay for copper vs aluminum?

Okay, let’s get into the meat and potatoes. What does copper gutter cost relative to aluminum?

Let’s use 2 different homes to use as examples. First, we have House A — a popular 2-story, 2,000 sq ft home.  A home this size will require about 200 linear feet of rain gutter — that’s about the national average. Second, we have House B — a 3-story, 6,000 sq ft estate. For kicks, let’s pretend it’s an Italian-style villa overlooking the Pacific Ocean. House B will require about 400 linear feet of gutter.

Quick disclaimer here — keep in mind that a majority of gutter installation cost depends on your general contractor’s rate, ability and zip code. You’re always wise to check with several different contractors for quotes on gutter to find the best value possible.

A standard, aluminum gutter system will run a homeowner approximately $3.50 to $7.00 per linear foot (again, range dependent on contractor rate). For House A, the total cost after material and labor would range between $700 and $1,400 in total. For House B, the total cost would fall between $1,400 and $2,275.

Now, let’s switch to a custom, copper system and run the same numbers. Copper will run $18.50 and $26.00 per linear foot. Installation for House A will cost about $3,700 – $5,200. For House B, about $7,400 – $10,400.

There you have it: the cost to fully install the most desirable gutter system the world can offer. Here’s how it compares visually; this chart is the average of the costs outlined above.  Yes, copper will cost 3x, 4x, and in some cases even 5x more than aluminum gutter. That’s why I defer to that first question — are you able and willing to make your dream home the best it can be?

Average cost comparison for a 200 linear ft system


aluminum gutter to copper gutter comparison

Do you understand why copper is more expensive?

Important to know all the facts. Let’s deconstruct what you’re paying for here:

  • Copper is a much more expensive alloy than aluminum — you probably knew that.
  • You also need copper everything, including accessories and fasteners. Aluminum hangers will react adversely and actually break down the copper. A definite no-no. Always hang copper with either copper itself, brass or stainless steel.
  • Copper requires extra time and care for your contractor to install and prevent pre-mature tarnishing. Copper even requires special gloves for installation.
  • Copper often requires additional soldering around the joints. Extra work = more labor = higher cost.

Are copper gutters a good long-term investment for you?

Like other investments in life, your decision to purchase a copper gutter system will depend on a variety of factors, your end goal, and ultimately, what makes you happy. Some more questions to consider:

  • Is the home or building in an exclusive, high-end neighborhood? Will copper help your home stay consistent with your neighbors’ homes?
  • Do you want your home to truly pop out among other homes in your neighborhood? How will the extra curb appeal help increase the value of your home?
  • What is your time horizon? If you plan to live in your home for 30+ years, your copper gutter should hold strong and hopefully satisfy your aesthetic tastes for decades. Likewise, if you plan to sell in the short-term, a copper gutter system could be one of the extra fine details that has your prospects swooning.
  • Are you replacing pre-existing copper spouting? If it was good enough to impress you to purchase, it will likely achieve the same effect when you go to sell. Is it worth the risk to “cut corners”? That’s for you to decide.
  • How important a factor is durability to you? If you want the most durable and lost-lasting material for gutters, copper is it. It’s a more solid alloy than aluminum, it never rusts and it never needs painting.

copper gutter on wood home

Do you love the look of copper?

Ultimately, this perhaps the most important question. We’re passionate about gutters here, but it’s not too often we hear customers say that gutter warms their soul like, say, the look of a terra-cotta roof.

Not to be dramatic, but seeing copper gutter should warm your soul. That’s the clincher. You need to love it.

Brick, stone, stucco, wood, slate — all these materials tend to look GREAT with copper gutter. Also, do you truly like the look of tarnished copper? If you live in the Pacific Northwest USA, you will likely see your copper gutter turn green within a year or two. If you live in sunny San Diego, then your copper gutter will likely keep its original color for years.

It depends on the climate where you live. It’s important to know if you would truly love your home with copper-colored OR time-weathered green gutter. Both looks can work, but again, it’s your personal preference.

Still have questions? We’re here to help.

We actually manufacture rain gutter products and help hundreds of end customers a year walk through these questions. If you have more questions for us, just give a call and we’d be happy to help. Our phone number is 1-610-779-1357. Also you can shoot us a quick message if that is easier. We’ll get back to you within 24 hours to offer all the personalized, no-salesey help we can.

Best of luck with your gutter installation. Either way you go, we’re sure you’ll make the best choice for YOU.

Extreme Makeover Home Edition: A Supplier’s View

It was just another day at Specialty, but definitely not just another phone call.

This one was from a long-time roofing customer. “Would you be interested in supplying the gutter system for… an Extreme Makeover: Home Edition house?”

“Wow,” we paused. Our general contracting and roofing customers occasionally call in to create order lists to outfit quirky or extraordinary home builds.  But this?

A chance to install our gutter products on a fairy tale home? A chance to help a family in need? A chance to be part of a week-long community-wide construction blitz? A chance to participate in a popular national television phenomenon?

“Of course!” we said. “Where do we sign up?!” And one more added: “Do we get to meet Ty?!”

Many of us at Specialty Building Products had already been fans of the popular TV show and its celebrity construction crew for a long time. And here the Extreme Makeover bus was rolling into OUR town. It was coming to Hamburg, PA – just a 20 minute drive from our plant.

We were thrilled to have the opportunity to donate our products to this exciting project. As any Extreme Makeover viewer would know, the homes are always, always constructed using the best materials available. Premium landscaping, premium lighting, premium everything.

We’ve been manufacturing premium rain gutter since 1978… and now was time for our products to shine, on the local and national stage, and for a truly deserving family who would soon inhabit this new home.

The groundbreaking at this point was about 2 weeks away. We sell 21 different colors of aluminum gutters, as well as premium copper gutters. Our crew was making friendly wagers on what this particular gutter pick-list would look like. Most of us guessed the producers would request our most high-end copper products. There were some guesses that the home might boast unusual bold colors, and thus look good with our bold Grecian Green or Scotch Red. Or perhaps the family was into the nautical life, and thus our Heritage Blue color would suit?

A few days later, our roofing customer called to confirm they would need our “Eggshell” colored aluminum.

copper flashing and rain gutter

Specialty Design aluminum rain gutter and copper flashing on the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition house in Hamburg, PA

Eggshell is a light, cream-like color, and looks great on a home with a stone and/or stucco exterior. Turns out this home would have both.

We packaged up our Eggshell custom length downspout, elbows, mitres, trim coil, soffit and more for our truck. And there was some copper ordered after all – our beautiful copper flashing would soon line the valleys of the new home’s steeply pitched roof.

Fast forward to August 4 – it was Day 7 of 9 of the re-build of Trisha and Cora Urban’s soon-to-be-home.

We met at the local Cabela’s that morning to wait for a bus (not THE Extreme Makeover bus… but a nice bus nonetheless!) to take us to the construction site. Our customer provided us with our special vendor access tickets.

Which prompted us to ask ourselves – after all our years in this business, have we ever received VIP tickets to see a… construction site? We all had most definitely not… but, either way, with all the excitement and anticipation in the air, we felt like we had back stage passes to a rock concert… or the Field of Dreams!

About 10 minutes later we arrived at the site, then weaved through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd in the Urban’s front lawn, and then we caught our first glimpse of the new home, about 95% done:

copper flashing and rain gutter

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition home in Hamburg, PA – Justin, Donna & Butch representing Specialty Building Products

There it was: a beautiful, fairy tale home. It was so exciting being there. And we felt extra proud to be part of the home construction industry that day.

Extreme Makeover Home Edition crowd

Local Extreme Makeover: Home Edition fans at the home construction site

Seeing hundreds of volunteer contractors wearing blue shirts and working together… feeling the excitement in the air… seeing the faces on people from ages 7 to 77 as they admired this dream home built right here in our home town… it reminded us all of the MAGIC that home construction really can be.

It was such a joy to be a part of it. And it’s such a joy to provide products for new homes – and the families that will inhabit them – each and every day.

For more photos of the entire homebuild, check out the Reading Eagle’s ongoing coverage. And for photos on the big reveal that happened the next day, check out ABC’s page.

5 Key Benefits of Outsourcing Manufacturing in USA

You have a great product to take to market, and you’re considering outsourcing your manufacturing… in the USA.

NOW is the moment to make your products here in the USA. We are enjoying an undisputed renaissance in Made in America manufacturing today. MadeInUSAWe believe so strongly in the movement that we make US-based contract manufacturing our own business.

However, don’t just take it from us. American icons such as General Electric, Apple and Whirlpool are making headlines as they shift their product manufacturing back to the United States. Likewise, international companies like Beijing-based Lenovo are utilizing American manufacturing to deliver products to American consumers more quickly and add the “Made-in-the-USA” stamp along the way.

Here are 5 key benefits that make outsourcing manufacturing in USA the best decision for your business right now:

1. USA-made will give you fast, reliable, cheaper delivery.

Having your precious cargo cross the Pacific, in many cases, is no longer worth the headache. Plus, it’s expensive. One of our customers experimented with sourcing parts to Taiwan about 5 years ago.  Today, after enough delayed (or lost) ocean freight shipment, our company – not Taiwan – is manufacturing their higher-volume parts again.

“Companies perform better when they are located near many other firms than when they are more geographically isolated,” notes the Brookings Institute.  “When a manufacturing establishment relocates offshore, the related companies in the region suffer disproportionately.”

2. Outsourcing Manufacturing in USA vs China to be even again by 2015.

Cost savings of outsourcing – particularly to Asia – is eroding and making American manufacturing a more attractive option. Add the costs of shipping (see #1 above), rising value of the Chinese Yuan and higher Chinese labor wages, and your decision to manufacture in the USA just makes good financial sense. Just ask Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric – this outstanding Atlantic cover story tells his and GE’s story.

“I don’t [manufacture in America] because I run a charity,” Immelt said at a public event in September 2012. “I do that because I think we can do it here and make more money.”

3. Embrace the American tradition of ingenuity and productivity.

For one California-based startup, ET Water Systems, declining working capital and innovation soon following after they joined the exodus to Asia in 2005. According to The Economist special report on reshoring manufacturing, ET Water Systems improved their innovation processes by shortening the distance between manufacturing and design and working with a San Jose-based manufacturing partner instead.

Specialty Design’s central location between the major US metropolitan areas of Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York enables our customers to work closely with our engineering and CAD design staff. MadeInUSA2Some customers even visit with our CNC machining crew on their commute to work to review current orders. Keeping your manufacturing and engineering closely tied together – geographically – will help tremendously in the long-run.

4. “Made in the USA” will protect your PR and your business.

According to BCG and the USA Today, 80% of Americans are willing to pay more for American made products, and 93% of whom buy USA-made because they want to support domestic jobs.

In other words, “Made in the USA” gives you FREE, built-in branding. Your customers will be more likely to trust your product. Trust that their purchase generates American jobs. Trust that your workers received a fair, American-level wage. Trust that their purchase was manufactured in a safe, OSHA-regulated plant. Trust that they are not receiving a pirated product.

Investing your manufacturing outsourcing with an American vendor might be one of the soundest marketing, safety and intellectual property decisions you ever make for your business. We’ll take a 3-for-1 deal any day.

5. Do your part to “re-manufacture” the American economy again.

For every $1 spent on US-manufactured goods, $1.48 goes back into the economy (Time). That is the type of ROI that we need to rebuild the American economy the right way.  Time Magazine Made in the USASince manufacturing represents a huge 67% of R&D spending in the private-sector, as well as 30% of the United States’ productivity growth, the payoff could be enormous.

There is a high-road to take in manufacturing after all. Take it from Carolyn Rafaelian, who built a $100 million jewelry company that only sources from domestic partners and has brought hundreds of jobs back to the US in the process. Or find inspiration from the success of the Made Collection website – an flash sales site selling solely USA manufactured products.

Your reasons to pick American manufacturing outsourcing are as clear as our colors are red, white and blue.
American plants are (once again) proudly open and ready to support your business.

75+ Manufacturing Industries Served: How We Did It

When you visit our plant here in Reading, PA, you’ll see our walls lined with parts and photos from the wide range of manufacturing industries we’ve served.


It’s like a “Hall of Fame” of sorts. Hundreds of parts representing a sample of the 20,000+ successfully completed custom orders are displayed (with customer permission). Altogether, we’ve served over 75 industries since we opened our doors in 1967.

These parts represent more to us than “souvenirs” from past orders. They represent manufacturing solutions, manufacturing improvements, and manufacturing feats for our many customers. We are immensely proud of our history.

So, given the challenge of meeting customer needs in even 1 industry, how does a company like Specialty Design effectively serve 75+ industries?

How can we build special fixtures for a highway construction equipment manufacturer on one side of the plant, a special machine for an aerospace manufacturer on another, and simultaneously machine components for a food processor?

It’s all about process.

It’s also very much about having a world-class approach, team, communication, culture, new technologies and more. However, in order to adapt to the specialized needs of many different industries, it’s our relentless focus on process that has allowed us to consistently design excellent solutions for our customers for decades.

Let’s walk through the key steps of Specialty Design’s process for specialty manufacturing applications:

Blank Notebook1. Concept Definition

Understanding the concept for your unique application – whether it’s for 1 machined part or 5 automated machines – is a critical first step. We aim to sit on the same side of your table starting on Day 1. We partner with you to define project responsibilities, actions, deadlines and milestones. The more we work together to understand your operation and the required functions and outputs of your application… the better we can serve you the RIGHT way from the beginning.

Construction Hat2. Production Analysis and Consultation

The more we understand the layout of your facilities and production, the better we can design and build a solution. We best serve customers when we can schedule periodic walk-throughs of your facility. Your floor space, headcount, and pre-existing equipment are all essential considerations for your project. Plus, in the process, our experienced team of value engineers often uncover latent opportunities to help your bottom line!

ComputerChip3. Mechanical and Electrical Design

We design with durability and user-experience in mind. Building equipment that runs well in your plant 15+ years from now is our goal. The best design achieves the required function and is simple, easy-to-use, scalable, networked and built with components that are industry-standard.

cnc-machined-part4. Manufacturing

Specialty Design’s in-house machine shop is well equipped, allowing us to keep most – if not all – your mechanical components under one roof. Less vendors, quicker lead time, and lower cost. Quality assurance, paint, surface finishing and product testing is done here too. Working with Specialty Design is an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of vertically integrated manufacturing, without the overhead and headaches.

Wrench5. Installation, Testing and Training

We provide the certifications, manuals and in-person training required to get you up and running quick. You can leave the installation up to us. We will stay at your plant until your parts, your fixture and/or your equipment are functioning as you intended. Even years after we complete your project, we are just a phone call away.

From concept to installation, Specialty Design can serve as your manufacturing partner each step of the way.

One day, we hope to add your custom part or photo to our Hall of Fame too.