Where are Future Gear Guys and Gear Gals Coming From?

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

Social media allows us to keep in touch with a much wider range of people than ever before. Recently one of my wife’s cousins posted a copy of her eight-year-old son’s spelling homework. It included the word “hob” — which I thought was somewhat unusual for a third grader. I commented that little Nate might have a future in the gear business like Cousin Charlie. Nate’s father and uncles, both engineers, liked that idea.

Somewhere out there — in our elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and universities — are the future leaders of our industry. A very lucky few of them are growing up in “gear families.” This was not always the case. During my apprentice years at Falk, I was often asked who else from my family worked “in the valley.” It was apparently the same at other large gear companies around the country.

The late Peter Borish, CEO of Milwaukee Gear at the time and a third-generation “gear guy,” once delegated me to work with a group of public school teachers on a curriculum that introduced children to gears at an early age. We had a few meetings, gave tours, kicked around a few ideas, and concluded there just wasn’t enough time in an already packed school day for gears.

Kids once learned about mechanical things through the family’s automobile or household equipment problems. We’ve improved those things so much that a child could graduate from college without a single transmission failure or furnace repair. With shrinking manufacturing jobs, they might never meet a machinist or gear engineer either.

We are in danger of becoming a semi-secret club unless changes are made. Even those newspaper photos of dozens of people standing inside a big gear won’t happen again. In the not-so-distant future young Nate may never read an actual newspaper, and that big gear may no longer be in service.

So how are we going to inform boys and girls about what a cool club we have? Post pictures of llamas pulling carts full of gears on the Internet?

Secret Weapon: Checklists

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

One of the first things I learned in the Boy Scouts was the use of checklists to make sure things weren’t forgotten for camping trips. The Scouts were very big on checklists; every activity and merit badge had a checklist or two associated with it. Following checklists soon became second nature.

So why was I was a bit surprised that a book on checklists became a best seller? Atul Gawande’s, The Checklist Manifesto, recounts his development of checklists for the World Health Organization, which were heralded as the “greatest clinical advance in 30 years.” How can an idea as old as a checklist be such a breakthrough?

We have all heard horror stories of arrogant surgeons cutting off the wrong leg. Gawande’s book has accounts of other fields with checklists to counter “stupid and preventable errors.” As entertaining as it is to hear about the problems others create for themselves, it is more important that we shine a light on our own activities and apply the same sort of discipline.

When I was younger I did not fully appreciate the need to have a checklist in my hand, and to physically check items off as they were completed. Relying on my memory worked well for many years; then — all of a sudden — it didn’t. And the error was very public and very embarrassing.

These days I won’t go to the grocery store without a checklist. I keep a scrap of paper around with my “plan for the day.” Out in the garage the race car has a wipe off board in the cockpit for the tasks that remain to be done. I once chuckled over our ISO 9000 manual’s “List of Lists;” now I “get it.”

If you think about the errors you or your team have made lately you might want to consider developing a few checklists of your own.

Sleeping on It?

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

Do you lose sleep over your work? I have blogged previously about being troubled over employee evaluations but have to admit the real “sleep thief” for me is unresolved design problems. Over the years I have come to appreciate that you can only beat your head against a problem for so long before the design starts to get worse instead of better.

There is scientific evidence to support my own experience of waking up after a night of tossing and turning with a new approach to things that quickly evolves into the “right” answer. They even have a term for it — “The Eureka Moment.” It doesn’t work for everyone, but here are some factors that seem to help me:

  1. The answers are usually “in the mix” of ideas previously considered and discarded.
  2. The answer may be something related to a previous project you had done or a machine you had seen along the way.
  3. The answer is frequently a combination of “ingredients” from past projects.

I am not one of those people who can dream up a killer concept outside of my area of expertise, though. My mind has to be prepared for the task at hand by hours and hours of looking at the requirements and failing to come up with a solution I like. I have been blessed — or cursed — to be involved in an incredible array of projects over the past 44 years, and my hobbies include studying machinery in other fields. I like to think the “Sleep on It” system works best for the “prepared mind.” If I could dream up winning lottery ticket numbers I’d be too busy racing to write this blog.

Does it work for you too? Or is it a fantasy I delude myself into believing?

Here’s a link to an interesting study on the topic:

http://bigthink.com/insights-of-genius/relaxation-creativity-the-science-of-sleeping-on-it

Why is this Stuff Still so Complicated?

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)


Much of my engineering practice is working with companies that design machines only once in a while. I enjoy working with the people on their staff and coaching them through the design and detailing process. One of their most common complaints is “Why is this stuff still so complicated?”

As a gear industry “lifer” I have to admit that they have a point on some topics. I do remind them of Albert Einstein’s famous comment that “Things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.” There is a huge risk in “dumbing down” some topics; we argue about this frequently in standards work. Many people want the standards stripped of any “educational” content on the grounds that if the reader doesn’t understand the equations presented, they are not qualified to solve them.

I come done on the opposite side of that argument, although I am willing to put the instructional stuff in the appendix or a separate information sheet. In the course of researching the history of gear ratings, for example, the “back story” is as important as the mathematics. It is in the “extraneous” comments that you find out what the authors “didn’t know” at the time and this helps in evaluating what may change in the future.

But back to my clients’ complaints. The most recent example concerned involute splines. One needed help working through the very complex DIN 5480 for metric splines. If ever something needed an “Idiot’s Guide to…” it is DIN 5480! Not a single selection has “standard dimensions” as taught in engineering school. That dastardly “rack offset coefficient” is everywhere. Without a doubt the most pirated standard on the Internet just out of necessity — if you can’t find the right reference chart you will be tearing your hair out for days.

Contrast that to ANSI B92.1; still complicated with multiple fit classes, root fillet configurations, and ways of locating internal to external, but chock full of instructional information. Still tough to use for the novice, however. No rack offset coefficient is needed to confuse them when you have “actual” and “effective” measurements to understand. The reference tables concern pin measures, but people have trouble deciding how to obtain the other “limit” on that value to put on their drawings.

I suppose I should be happy that this complexity fills my e-mail inbox but I have always believed a good standard should be useable without an expert’s assistance. What do you think? What standards need to be improved?

Asset or Liability?

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

In encouraging young people to consider a career in engineering, I think it is important to be honest about the current “status” of engineers in the working world. There was a time when an engineer was as highly respected as a doctor or lawyer. Engineers frequently founded and lead companies from garage start-ups to industry dominance. Movies and TV shows were written about them. For the most part those days have passed.

Our politicians and news media talk a lot about the need for “investment” in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing) programs, but they seldom back it up. They decry the low numbers of Americans seeking advanced degrees and foolishly assume it is because of lack of tuition funding. American engineers still go to graduate school; they just make the very rational decision to invest their money in an MBA or JD degree.

Companies used to consider engineers a tremendous asset; the assumption was a good engineer saved his firm the equivalent of his or her salary every year. Essentially the engineers “paid their own way.” Somewhere along the way that opinion flipped and technology became a commodity you could buy or license instead of developing in-house. Processes were changed to conform to the latest business executive’s best seller. Passion for design excellence was replaced with quarterly profits above all else.

As logical actors, young engineers quickly grasp that high starting salaries are not enough for a satisfying career. They see college classmates who took far less demanding classes start to climb the corporate ladder and get better pay and more influence. They either learn to accept it and go back to enjoying the things that attracted them to engineering in the first place — or they switch career tracks.

Imagine a world where Henry Ford or Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs decided the only way to get ahead was to go to Law School. I don’t want to think about it either. So when advising youngsters on career choices it is important to be honest. As an engineer you’ll have to study hard while others party hard. You’ll get paid well to start and have to fight for every penny after that. You may have to change employers occasionally. In exchange, you’ll get to do really interesting things few people will understand. If that doesn’t sound like a great life plan, maybe an MBA or JD track is right for you. You can always exercise your killer math skills with Sudoko puzzles.

It Isn’t a Job. It’s a Passion

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)


February 22-28, 2015 is the 64th annual National Engineers’ Week — as established by the National Society of Professional Engineers. The week varies a bit from year to year, so as to always include the February 22nd birthday of George Washington, our first president — and one of our first engineers. While many of the stories taught to school children about this founding father are fiction, his enduring interest in engineering was not.

I have blogged before about my efforts to bring engineering into my children’s classrooms and I encourage those of you who can to continue this program. A recent conversation with a lifelong friend about the school system revives my worry that children are not being properly informed about what a career in engineering requires. Far too many boys are being pushed into engineering just because they are “good” at math and science. Sadly, the same pressure is not applied to girls with equal test scores.

Being an engineer requires more than just math and science skills. We have computers today that handle lots of the drudgery formerly involved in number crunching and equation balancing. What a good engineer needs is an insatiable interest in how things work and a desire to make them work better. He or she can’t be above getting their hands dirty.

It isn’t a job, it’s a passion. Over the years I have come to realize that I don’t want to be on a project with people who aren’t passionate about getting the best possible results. What makes engineering so great is that there is more than one right answer to most of the “problems.” Sure the math has to work out, but you get to decide how many cylinders that motor needs, how many teeth should be on that pinion, or what bearings to use. Designing a machine is a many-layered puzzle with lots of factors to consider. You can spend an entire career in one sector of the field and still learn something new each day.

For more information:

http://www.nspe.org/resources/partners-and-state-societies/national-engineers-week

https://www.facebook.com/EngineersWeek

Where is My Flying Car?

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)


It was great fun reading news stories on the Back to the Future anniversary, and which inventions actually happened. Sorry, but a Hover Board just isn’t going to answer my transportation needs. It must be almost 50 years since The Jetsons debuted with flying cars, and we are still stuck in terrestrial traffic for hours.

No mention was made of Spacely Sprockets or Cogswell Cogs making parts for those flying cars, but I chuckle just thinking about two gear companies still being around in such a high-tech world. When I started in the trade, in 1971, people predicted hydraulics and electronics would make mechanical power transmission obsolete. Forty four years later, the gear business is very different — but still very necessary.

The gears we can make today are much better, of course, and there have been big changes in how they are used. The shift to front-wheel drive cars cut hypoid gear product dramatically. Few cars or trucks use worm gears in the steering mechanisms. Commercial gearboxes have leveraged high-capacity, surface-hardened gears to become much smaller and longer lasting.

Other than the occasional prototype or home-built experimental, there are no flying cars in regular use. Judging by the way people handle the expressways around Chicago, this is probably a good thing. It might take all the gear technology we have developed to get the fleet fuel economy numbers in the current regulations. The thought of seven- or eight-speed transmissions in passenger cars would once have seemed as far out as flying cars. No one in the 1970s would have predicted all those gears having ground flanks either.

Hopefully, somewhere in the world, little boys and little girls are still watching The Jetsons and dreaming of a day when they can fly to work or school. I have no doubt that our industry will be ready to make the necessary gears when the kids’ design is ready for prototyping.

Uncertain Times

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)


While the news media is heralding improved job and income growth, people in gear manufacturing are worried about the security of their jobs. Low mineral prices, the drop in oil prices, political opposition to fracking and wind turbines, and gridlock on infrastructure repairs have hurt our biggest customers. One perfect example: A 100+ year tradition of large gear manufacturing is coming to an end in the United States with the sale of Rexnord’s foundry.

It isn’t just in the United States, either. Thanks to the Internet I am able to stay in contact with an engineer who previously worked for a consulting client in Western Australia. He is with his third employer since our original project began four years ago, and has endured several months of unemployment along the way.

This gentleman has my admiration for the positive attitude he has maintained throughout this experience. From the family photos and comments online, you never would have guessed he was stressed out. Perhaps it is a better social safety net or just having his priorities right.

When people talk about the 1950s as a Golden Age for the American worker, I can’t help but wonder what data they are looking at. My father was a factory worker who never missed a day of work — when he wasn’t laid off. He took whatever work was available to keep a roof over our heads, and often worked two jobs. It took a toll on a young father; sapped him of his strength and took away his hopes for the future.

There are a few employment gaps in my resume. I remember the sleepless nights, the worry, fear of the neighbors finding out. For those of you going through this now, or facing the possibility of unemployment in the near future, I pray that you’ll maintain your dedication to family and friends. Don’t try to be Superman. Talk to your spouse and family and friends. Network when you can. Develop a plan. Our industry will recover, and reliable people will always be in demand.

Most of all — put those worries aside when you interact with your kids — they are only this age once. To quote one of my favorite musicians, Paul Thorn: “Don’t let nobody rob you of your joy.”

Alumni Groups

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)


I wrote last time about how the Internet has made it easier to reconnect with people you used to know. It has also been a boon to the formation of alumni groups for both schools and companies. Given the downsizing our industry has experienced, there are frequently more former employees than current employees.

Traditionally, alumni groups have preserved the traditions and “culture” of a school or military organization by holding reunions, attending “homecoming,” and connecting other alums with employment opportunities. Universities have long recognized the value of an enthusiastic alumni group.

Active companies might not see the value of former employees being part of a group. This is understandable but, in my view, rather shortsighted. I am eligible for several employer alumni groups and try to follow the University model on behavior, i.e. — if you can’t say something nice about the place/person, don’t say anything at all. When asked, I try to assist fellow alums make good career moves, but I don’t “recruit” the alumni ranks for third parties. When possible, it is my pleasure to send business opportunities to former employers.

A slightly different set of “rules” applies for alumni groups of companies that are no longer operating. I think it is a duty to keep these companies from being forgotten; just because they are no longer in business does not mean their ideas and products are without value. We lost some great organizations because of poor trade policies or financial fluctuations that were in no way their “fault.”

If you are an alum of one of those “ghost companies” you need to tout the things they did well, assist former customers in maintaining the legacy equipment, if you can, and, above all, celebrate the lessons you learned while working there. None of us became the people we are in a vacuum.

The Sage of the Sales Department

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)


One of the great things about our Internet Age is the ability to reconnect with old friends and associates.  Apparently I have left quite a trail along the way, because my telephone and e-mail boxes frequently are contacted for information on past projects. Just this past week a customer from 26 years and three employers ago called looking for ideas on where his patterns and fixtures wound up. What followed was an enjoyable five or six minutes trying to remember the people and parts involved. No miracle revelation on the fate of his tooling, but I think he got pointed in the right direction.

Unfortunately, the guy who would literally have had the answer at his fingertips has long since left this earth. Andy Riccardi, our salesman for government accounts, had encyclopedic recall of every project he had ever bid on, and backed up by the most detailed 3 x 5 index card record system I ever saw outside of a public library. I sometimes teased him that the Russians might kidnap him for his ability to predict when the Department of Defense would next requisition certain spare parts. He was the rare salesman who tracked the projects he didn’t book, and was ballsy enough to call competitors to try to sell them leftover parts or raw material.

The advent of personal computers and the decline of analog instruments made Andy a dinosaur in 1989. Economic turbulence prevented proper recognition of his many contributions to the company’s previous success. Sales is a “what have you done for me lately” activity, and before we knew it, the markets Andy served so well disappeared. I appreciate the things I learned from him — particularly the importance of treating everyone, including competitors, with respect. Although his record keeping system was almost indecipherable, I admired his dedication to knowing every nuance of his field.

If your organization is fortunate enough to have an “Andy,” I recommend getting them to record a few stories for posterity. A Rosetta stone for their filing system would be nice too.