hand pile - ESOP 100% Employee-Owned

Enjoying the Counter-Intuitive

When I was interviewing, and Sierra Pacific Engineering & Products ( told me they were a 100% employee-owned company, I didn’t think much of it.  I smiled, nodded, and tried to reflect their enthusiasm about announcing it.  I had heard about employee-owned companies (also called ESOPs), but wasn’t sure how it worked.  I will say that I was completely intrigued by ownership that would sell the company to its employees. What values would motivate sharing the wealth rather than extracting it (like other companies I had worked for)?  It seemed like a sacrifice of epic proportions.  It was completely counter-intuitive.

And the more I contemplated this, the more I realized, I love the counter-intuitive.   Some of my biggest gains have come from the counter-intuitive. 

As a coach for youth sports (soccer & lacrosse), I learned that I could win games if I didn’t yell my “wisdom” from the sidelines to my players.  I figured out that we developed better as a team when I focused attention on effort rather than results.  I tested and discovered that it was better to ‘sit’ a star player (who needed a break), and give a hero’s opportunity to a low to mid-range player.    All of those concepts were counter-intuitive.

The fact that my wife was attracted to me (a somewhat boring and average, but consistent, engineer) instead of a rock-star or professional athlete.  Counter-intuitive.     

When I was in the Marines bootcamp, our drill instructors taught us to charge gun-fire if we ever found ourselves in an ambush.  Fortunately, I never had to test that counter-intuitive lesson.

All these counter-intuitive lessons make sense, in a peculiar way.  They are counter to what seems obvious, but incredibly effective in their simplicity.          

And we come back to ESOPs (Employee-Owned companies)… what have I seen?  As I’m writing this, I’ve only been with the Sierra Pacific Engineering & Products for about 50 days.  Well past the “honeymoon” phase (it was actually surprisingly short),;  I am deep into a few projects.   There is an energy-level that is on par with start-ups, only we have consistent cash-flow, long standing customer relationships, a tested supply chain, patented custom parts, and a product design team with over 200 years of experience combined. 

Our HR department is relaxed but very competent and effective.  Our sales group chats with engineering even when they don’t need anything.  The bathrooms and the warehouse are continuously clean (not just after they are serviced).  When I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, co-workers help me without exasperation.  When I go to the back shop and submit a work order, it is completed swiftly and with an attention to detail that is above and beyond the expected.   It’s refreshing!

The simple beauty is an employee-owned company has turned co-workers into partners.  As fellow owners, decisions large and small are made using the same values that created the ESOP in the first place;  sacrificing for the benefit of the team. 

Now I understand why my interviewees were so jazzed when they spoke about being an ESOP.   When all employees benefit from the success of the company, every single employee owner is focused on taking care of the customer and exceeding expectations.  And that’s why I’m writing this article.

Looking forward to propagating the counter-intuitive.

Check us out at

Keywords: ESOP, employee-owned, perks

By Jim Lucas

toggle hold-down clamp animation.

Do you need outstanding locking action, a good level of force, and superb holding power that is convenient to use? Toggle Clamps are the wall-mounted light switch of the manufacturing world, and while the variety may be intimidating at first, the selection criteria for these versatile tools is quickly learned.

table mounted toggle clamp
Toggle clamp used on fixture

First, toggle clamps are simple mechanisms that hold things together.  They generally consist of 3 primary components that are of interest:

  1.  a handle: the user-interface to operate the mechanism
  2.  a clamping arm: the contact point with the assembly or workpiece
  3.  a base: the permanent attachment point.  

3 main components of a toggle clamp are handle, base, and clamping arm.

There are also linkages that affect the motion (or stroke), and attributes like the holding capacity and the clamping force.  While applications may vary, I’ve found that most people that need toggle clamps aren’t really concerned with these details because it’s more of a size & function application (and the application generally doesn’t come close to the holding capacity or clamping force).  However, just to be complete:  the “Holding Capacity” is how much force is required to overcome the clamp when it is in the locked position and the “Clamping Force” is how much force the clamp can push down on a work piece.        

holding capacity and clamping force of a toggle clamp.

Toggle Clamps work base on a simple linkage-system.  The system “locks” or “clamps” when it is over-center.  When a clamp is in the “locked” or “over-center” position, it can only be released by pulling the handle or by overcoming the holding capacity. 

toggle clamp in clamped and unclamped positions

There are three basic toggle movements:  vertical-hold down clamps  (force is perpendicular to the base), horizontal-push clamps (force is parallel to the base) and horizontal-pull clamps (force is also parallel to the base, but hooking or pulling something in- also known as a squeeze clamp). 

selection of vertical hold-down clamps, horizontal push clamps and horizontal pull-clamps.

Within each category, there are several variations of handle movements. 

fully extended and fully retracted handle movement.

Furthermore, there are several items in our catalog that aren’t located in the toggle section that could be used for the “Pull” Toggle functionality (aka- the “Squeeze” Toggle):

group of latches with "pull" toggle functionality

These are generally called “Draw latches” and are considered very close cousins to the toggle switch.  They are used in a similar applications.  If you want to sound like a pro, try using the following terminology:

a draw catch includes the following parts: lever, base, catch and keeper.

Once you have a general idea of what you want, give us a call @ 888-444-6437  or download some parts from our website

CAD of a toggle clamp on a fixture
Toggle clamp used on fixture

If you have any technical questions or comments, or you want to show off your unique toggle application, feel free to send us an email at

Keywords: toggle, clamps, latches, clamping capacity, holding capacity

By Jim Lucas

solidworks logo with jedi lightsaber background

As an engineer at SPEP (a supplier of industrial access hardware- like hinges, latches & handles), I'm fortunate to work in industries spanning everything from controls to medical devices to RVs.  Even though we have more than 3000 items in our catalog, we have more than 3000 additional products that are custom made for per customer request.   As you can imagine, these additional products are a result of working on fast-paced projects.  In order for these projects to be successful, we need to generate and turn-around prototypes, drawings & digital models quickly. 

While I’ve picked-up a few tricks by taking (and teaching) some SolidWorks courses and certifications (like the CSWA & CSWP).   I’ve found a separate methodology based on 2 principles.  The first is to try to get really good at a few moves (instead of knowing every move).  This comes from a Bruce Lee quote: “I don’t fear someone who knows a thousand different kicks.  I fear someone who has practiced a kick a thousand times.”  The second principle is to minimize time clicking in menus, and maximize time designing parts. This is done by working smart and using a variety of hot keys & mouse gestures.

In order to break the habit of clicking in the Command Manager and using the Feature Manager, force yourself to practice by going in “Jedi Training Mode”.  This is done by pressing F9 (hide Feature Manager Tabs) and F10 (hide Command Manager). 

One last tip before getting into the shortcuts. Remember that shortcut keys are almost entirely customizable. If there is a certain feature you like but it’s buried away on a remote menu you can give it its very own shortcut through the options menu.

  1. Before you get started- see if the parts exist already.  We load all our catalog parts on a variety of sites including our website (,  3D Content Central and  There are other places like McMaster-Carr, Grainger and that are also fantastic resources.  If those don’t work perfectly, feel free to kit-bash them (more on that later).  If you need something from our catalog adjusted for your application, let us know and we’ll work on it.  
  2. “s”  (Shortcut-superman key) – this shortcut key is genius and situational.  It will adjust depending on what type of file you are working on AND what you are doing in that files (for example: making a sketch in part mode is different from inserting a part in a drawing).

  3. Mouse gestures – also situational.  I’m better at using this in sketch mode than anywhere else. For those of you who don’t know how to activate this- hold your right mouse button down and drag.  You will see a circle with 4 icons in a ring surrounding your mouse cursor.  Simply sweep the cursor to one of the icons.

  4. Right mouse button (situational)- this opens a good number of commands.  Please note- #2, 3 & 4 are the Trinity of hot keys.   Almost every possible function of SolidWorks is available from these 3.

  5. “f” (fit on screen).  I find myself sometimes looking at a blank screen.  This is an easy way to get a part that is either zoomed-out or zoomed-in way too far quickly centered back on your screen.
  6. Ctrl-Tab (toggle between open files).  This is similar to using “Alt-Tab” to toggle between open applications on your computer but you can use to toggle between different parts that you have open within SolidWorks.  It’s fantastic when you’re working on an assembly.

  7. Enter (repeat previous command).  I find that this comes in most handy when adding rounds & draft.
  8. Ctrl-8 (orient normal to plane)- get away from using the view cube or the heads-up display.  Both of those take multiple clicks.  Ctrl-1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (orientation).  These seem difficult to remember at first BUT it makes sense if you think about it.  Control 1 TOP, Control 2 BOTTOM, Control 3 RIGHT, etc…
  9. “a” – This is great for toggling between an arc and a line in sketch mode OR different “types” in sketch mode (for instance- a center point rectangle vs a corner rectangle)

  10. Other window hotkeys (Ctrl-Z, Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, Ctrl-N, Ctrl-O).   If you use and apply these in SolidWorks, you’ll find that you automatically get faster at using Microsoft Office products as well.  So- as soon as you open SolidWorks, try to hit “Ctrl-O” to open an existing file or “Ctrl-N” to open new file instead clicking.   

If you discipline yourself to use these shortcuts for 30 days, you’ll find yourself spending more time on building and less time digging through menus.  This will make you far more proficient in your classes, give you a higher chance to pass the CSWP but most importantly, the speed you want when you are making your latest creation. 

If you have any recommendations for speed tools you’re using, or for our next article, please let me know at

Keywords: SolidWorks
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