Moving the Goal Posts

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)

under-construction

Our area has been “under construction,” or, more accurately — “re-construction” — for the past year or so. Every road in town has been ripped up; the old blacktop recycled; and the surface renewed with a fresh layer of asphalt; new handicap access curbs; and reflective striping. In less than 100 years, our expectations of what a “good road” is have gone from a graveled cow path to the well-lit, ultra-smooth secondary roads of suburban America.

 

The same thing has occurred in the gear trade. I had occasion recently to look at the “charts” of a never-used 1969 vintage turbo-compressor pinion. The client had to decide whether to use this precious spare part “as-built” or to spend time and money bringing it up to current standards. For those unfamiliar with turbo-compressor pinions, they run at speeds up to 60,000 rpm on very expensive oil film bearings, and have always represented the pinnacle of gear quality.

 

This particular pinion was certified to AGMA Q10 at the time of manufacture. In 1969, gear grinding was not yet widely used — especially on through-hardened parts. New charts, run on a state-of-the-art CMM verified that 45 year old claim, but the client wisely chose to have the pinion ground to current AGMA Q13 (A4) tolerances.

 

As much as we old guys revere the “good old days,” we must recognize that expectations are much higher today. Resurfacing a mile of four-lane highway once took a month of detours; we were complaining about a week of inconvenience (the road never actually closed to traffic). The improvements in machinery and method these days are incredible. The same is true of our gear shops; new equipment out-produces the old in both quality and cycle time.

 

The challenge for gear makers is to know when to invest in new equipment and when you can get by with the old stuff. Your customer isn’t going to settle for anything but high- quality end results. No one travels by cow path anymore.

 

History Lessons

warren1-5

 

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)

My trip to the AGMA Fall Technical Meeting was preceded by a one-day visit to the Gettysburg National Military Park. As a boy I loved Civil War history, and at one time probably knew most of the major elements of the Gettysburg encounter by heart. Other passions have clouded those boyhood memories, so it was great to have them refreshed with an open-top bus tour and a walk through the fabulous visitors center.

 

After watching a sunset from the top of Little Round Top, it struck me that the battle was won before it even started. The Union’s chief engineer, General G.K. Warren, had been dispatched to survey the area and found the “high ground” defended only by a signal corps unit. He quickly rectified that error and, despite all the movements and bravery of those three days, that decision to better defend the high ground resulted in victory.

 

As engineers we, too, can be distracted by all the excitement and activity around us. Our employers and customers count on us to make sure the fundamental “rules” are followed. Somebody has to know the standards, write the procedures, and see that they are followed. It isn’t always “fun” but few people consider engineering to be “fun” anyway. (I know; let’s keep it our secret lest we be overrun by accountants looking for a more fulfilling career.)

 

While the fundamentals of our trade don’t change often, modern analysis tools and machine tools are changing some of the design rules. If you haven’t reviewed the standards for your products recently, it is time to download the latest version and make sure you comply. Similarly, if you have manufacturing responsibilities you need to meet regularly with tool suppliers to ensure you are getting the productivity you are paying for.

 

Gear Technology prides itself on helping you stay current with both the design and manufacturing sides of the gear industry. As General Warren showed: good problem anticipation, early correction and “win the day” — no matter what troubles come your way.

Preserving Gear History

starly_differential_gear_1877_sewalot_1 

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 initiatives now in progress since the close of the American Gear Manufacturers Association (AGMA) 2014 Fall FTM was building a detailed timeline of the organization’s history since its founding in 1916. The goal is complete it in time for the 2015 FTM — and Gear Expo — in Detroit next October. Sadly, many people who could have contributed to this effort are no longer available for interviews.

 

I have previously commented on how rapidly I have gone from new guy at AGMA meetings in 1979 to old geezer today. So many questions I should have asked the great engineers I met at those meetings are now moot. We, as an industry, never valued our history; and so countless important papers, products and artifacts have been lost to careless archiving and the trash man.

 

Just one example: as an apprentice in 1971, I physically moved the huge tooth used to develop AGMA’s gear bending strength formula from storage to the foundry scrap pile. I only know it was an historic artifact because Walter Schmitter’s son Bob was my foreman that day and he gave the orders for it to be melted down. There simply was no “value” in old test pieces back then, and no repository to park them in until interest renewed.

 

Many of you work, or worked, with industry icons and didn’t know it. Your company may have been the first to make a particular product, or to have used a particular manufacturing technique. Perhaps you have an old cut-a-way model gathering dust in a store room or a scrapbook of company activities floating around.

 

Now is the ideal time to ask questions of those old-timers. Put aside false modesty and tout your firm’s contribution to our industry. It was great to see the founding of Gear Technology magazine prominently featured on the initial draft of the Timeline. We’ll be doing our part to search the archives and add milestones when we uncover them. If you uncover an interesting “gear story,” let us know and we’ll feature it here in the blog.

Fall Technical Meeting Report

agma

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)

Since 1980 the American Gear Manufacturers Association (AGMA) has hosted a Fall Technical Meeting (FTM), where the industry gathers to listen to papers presented by leading engineers and researchers. Since its start in 1984, Gear Technology magazine has been publishing some of those papers — and giving them an even wider audience.

 

This year’s FTM was held in Arlington, Virginia, close to the association’s headquarters and our country’s beautiful capitol city. Once again the AGMA technical staff organized a great slate of papers, and the meeting room was full of familiar faces — plus many new ones. The FTM has become a “must attend” event for many people in the industry.

 

It was my privilege to present a paper on high contact ratio gearing, recounting my conversion from skeptic to advocate over the course of 30 years. Hopefully the paper will find its way into GT in 2015; if not, you’ll be able to find it on my website in a few weeks.

 

The 2015 FTM call for papers has already gone out. Starting this year, the entire process will be electronic; details are at the AGMA website. Papers need not be groundbreaking research; my paper hinges upon a tooth form first published in 1935! For those of you who are interested in writing a paper, but wonder if your idea is “good enough,” I will be happy to correspond with you and offer editing and technical support.

 

Of particular interest to me are papers on selecting the best material for a part; on fixing parts with grind steps or grind temper; and on techniques to improve tooth flank surface finish. If you have a water jet cutting machine or a modern CNC gear grinder, you are well positioned to help “solve” these problems.

 

We can no longer count on large corporate members to carry the bulk of the research load. But even small companies like mine can make an important contribution to the gear arts.

 

Why not get your outfit known on the international radar as a place for cutting-edge gears?

 

 

Publish or Perish

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)


My very first posting in this space was a call for papers for the 2013 AGMA Fall Technical Meeting. I had just gotten home from Arlington, Virginia, where my paper was one of over 20 added to the canon. Over the next year, many of those papers were published in Gear Technology and made available to online users via the magazine’s fully searchable archives. Unfortunately, not all AGMA papers from previous FTMs are available on-line, and some that are scanned in are not searchable. We, as an industry, owe a debt of gratitude to this magazine’s publisher and staff for going that extra mile to make the archives more user- and reader-friendly.

But my topic today is “Publish or Perish.” This phrase may be familiar to you in an academic setting, but if you are an engineer working today, it applies to you as well. Occasionally people will write to me seeking advice on becoming a consulting engineer. They aren’t very happy when I recommend a 20- or 30-year-long preparation period that involves public speaking and writing papers. Their eagerness to get started does not change the facts on the ground: you won’t be successful as a consultant without a demonstrated history of accomplishment and name recognition.

In other words, you have to build your “personal brand.” I got started on this in 1987, when my boss decided I should write a book on gears to hand out to customers. He pulled the funding about the time he laid me off, but I was able to get 20 job interviews from the 24 copies of the self-published book that my wife and I mailed out. Said book has been revised and expanded over the years, and it still helps me get work; you can get a free copy at the Beyta Gear Service web site (www.beytagear.com). Would I have preferred spending that “writing time” doing other things? Definitely; but I now consider it one of the best investments I ever made.

This was my fourth AGMA FTM paper, and they don’t get easier as you go along. It has been many years since member companies presented papers on their in-house research, so individual engineers must pick up the educational torch and advance our trade. If you make the effort you won’t regret it. Encouragement, advice, and even topic ideas are available if you ask around. Self-select as a technology leader.

The dividends will come to you over the years.

Not a Boys Club

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)


This is a belated post in support of the International Day of the Girl. Around the world girls have to risk abuse, sexual assault, and even death just to get an education. Here in the “civilized world,” they face additional roadblocks if they seek entry to scientific or engineering fields. This is illogical and wasteful of an incredible amount of human potential.

It has been my pleasure to work with some great engineers over the years who just happened to be women. One of the most prominent consulting engineers in the wind turbine gearbox field is a woman. The AGMA delegate to ISO is a woman. For many, many years, the primary, day-to-day technical contact for a large bevel gear company was a woman. We have some extremely talented women working in the “trenches” of the gear trade these days, and if we make a little bit more effort there will be more in the future.

I have written previously in this space about making an outreach to young people via internships for college students and classroom presentations to school children. Today I encourage you to think carefully before speaking to the young ladies in your life. Don’t chase them out of your garage or workshop. Let them get dirty alongside of you while you repair, tinker, remodel, or build. Let them know first-hand that engineering and mechanics have nothing to do with gender. Let’s stop discouraging half the brains on the planet from considering a career in technology.

In closing, I’d like to thank all the wonderful female engineers who put up with the hazing, pranks, and discouragement to join our ranks. We are lucky to have your often unique insights into this work. Hopefully the day is coming when ability and interest will be the primary factors in the selection of one’s life work.

Bad Career Moves

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)


My e-mail correspondent was worried about making a bad career move. Since it is unlikely that people starting out in the gear trade today will work for one company their entire career, worrying about making a “bad move” is valid. If you change jobs or employers to advance yourself, you will occasionally have regrets.

In 43 years I have worked for eight different companies, including my own. There were days when each and every one of them seemed like a career mistake, and there were days when each seemed like a dream job. Each assignment taught me something that I have applied elsewhere, so none of those jobs was a complete waste of time.

My biggest regret in moving around was the toll it took on my family. Fortunately my wife came from a family that relocated frequently and my now adult children considered the moves good preparation for “modern life.” All of us learned to adapt to new surroundings and make new friends quickly.

Coming back to my correspondent’s question of, “How can I tell if it’s going to be a bad career move?” the worst moves I made were made under the pressure of “needing” a new job. When you have bills to pay you can sometimes overlook warning signs. Leaving a “leaking ship” for a “sinking ship” is understandable when the situation is not clear.

My young friend pretty much answered his own question though. The way to avoid bad career moves is networking. Whether you need a new opportunity, are stagnant where you are, or aren’t sure if an opportunity is worth pursuing, the “answer” starts with networking.

Alumni groups, LinkedIn contacts, and friends in the industry are all good sources of opinions on your situation. Be careful to protect yourself from “word” getting back to your current company. I once learned my boss was trying to trade me to a customer for a “favor to be named later” and wasn’t sure what to do. It was awkward to discuss my career goals with him under those circumstances but eventually my work responsibilities were rearranged to better use my skill set.

The worst career move is leaving a job you enjoyed because you were afraid to ask your employer for a job you could love. Be the best gear guy or gear gal you can be and you might be amazed at what doors open up for you.

Spamsters be Damned — We’re Bloggin’ Here

 

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)


The anticipated, two-way dialog for this blog has been hampered by persistent spammers trying to scam their way onto the contact list. We wish there were a way to prevent this, but given the inability of even large corporations to prevent such shenanigans, it may become necessary to  simply consider these gadfly goofs the equivalent of moronic hecklers at a stand-up comedy show and ignore them.

Just keep in mind that if you have a comment to express, or a topic you would like addressed, the very best way to contact us is by e-mail. We’ll print questions and comments here if they are of general interest. Private details or requests will be omitted.

For instance, a young engineer e-mailed this past week looking for information on making his next career move. The details are not important, but the man’s question was exactly the sort of thing I’d like to discuss in this blog. Reader X was considering making a job change, but worried that the new position wouldn’t help him towards his goal of becoming a gear consultant.

Very few of us currently in the consulting trade got here because of a long-term plan. More often than not, “consultancy” started as interim employment or a way to keep active following retirement from a long career. It is not as highly compensated or steady an activity as most of us hoped it would be, but there is pleasure in being your own boss and in helping people solve problems.

The type of consulting you want to do will dictate the preparation needed. One common project is wading into partially done designs and sorting them out without hurting too many peoples’ feelings. You are part emergency responder, part educator, and part diplomat. The need for tact and the art of diplomacy arise from the need to resolve differences between different groups at the client firm.

There are many ways to prepare for such projects. Often the “gear engineering” is the least complicated part of the deal. You can memorize the AGMA standards applicable to the product in far less time than it takes to learn about the competitive landscape for the equipment.

Learning to “handle” difficult people is by far the most challenging part of consulting — almost as challenging as keeping a steady flow of projects.

Adding it All Up

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)


So now you’ve seen my “20 Questions” method for employee performance reviews. I’ll make the spreadsheet available through this blog; please use responsibly and give proper credit. By “responsible” use I mean adopting a level of transparency with your employees as to what you value and how you are going to measure it. I have been told that one multinational corporation rates all of its people as A-, B-, C-, or D-level performers, but never discloses to those employees what grade they got. Don’t be that corporation.

I am not advocating self-esteem camp where everyone gets a gold star and a pat on the head either. My system assigns points to each answer for the 20 questions and totals those points up. I don’t hide behind letter grades or grade on a curve either. In the PEAC system, if you get 51 points or less I advocate discharge before more damage is done to the organization or the employee’s mental health. Such a low score indicates a person ill- suited to their assignment who will likely be much happier doing something else.

If you get below 60 points, I rate you as a “fix-or-fire” employee. Frequently these low scores are another sign of a poor job “fit” or, if a recent phenomenon, personal issues that have to be dealt with. Fix-or-fire people need a short leash and some tough love. A definite “action plan” has to be dictated and lack cooperation with that plan needs to result in discharge.

Moving up on the scale, 60 to 69 points makes for a “trainable” employee. There are signs of interest here that can be nurtured into better performance in the future. Another type of action plan is required for “trainable” employees. Instead of being dictated, it has to be negotiated and agreed upon between the supervisor, employee, and the company. Provided the company follows through on its role in the plan, the employee can acquire the skills needed to become a long term team member.

The 70 to 79 point cohort are “keepers” in my book. Not everyone has to love their job. Those who are reliable performers in the office or shop shouldn’t live in fear that their livelihood is in danger if they don’t change. Good supervision may make them want to improve; there is nothing wrong with asking if they would like additional training or a different assignment. Tying salary increases to improvement is very fair too.

I rate the 80 to 89 point group as star performers. Think of them as the stars on a sports team. Their actions on a daily basis have much to do with how well the organization handles its business. Not enough stars — projects fall behind. These are the people you know you can count on and their compensation should reflect their importance to the team.

Those 90 to 100 point employees are the superstars of your squad. As high achievers they may be subject to bullying by co-workers; they might be a bit thin-skinned. Either way, every company needs a few superstars and they have to be carefully handled. But no matter how talented, some superstars are not a good “fit” for some teams. These guys and gals may be the most difficult people on the team, but the place wouldn’t be the same without them. Occasionally you have to ask that classic question:

“Are we better off with — or without them?”

Download My Handy Excel Worksheet to Calculate Review Scores

Creativity Makes Us Human

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)


The final quarter of my performance review system measures the creativity a person brings to their job. Some might argue that many jobs don’t require creativity; they just involve repetitious activity which is to be done as efficiently as possible. I firmly believe that creativity is what makes us human; to freely engage in work or play we need ways to make it “our own.” We’ve all run into that waiter or other service provider who brings such energy to their task that you remember the encounter in great detail. Contrast that to sullen people who just go through the motions.

The difference, in my mind, is a desire to learn new skills and apply those skills in different ways. Other people don’t like to learn anything. I prefer to be surrounded by those who are hungry to learn; they get five points in my system. Learning as an adult hinges on problem analysis skills; you have to recognize a need to learn something and figure out where and how to acquire that knowledge. I want my co-workers to say “We’re having trouble with “x;” where do I learn more about “x” rather than have them just shrug their shoulders and expect a solution to be given them.

Knowledgeable and motivated employees enjoy developing solutions to problems. They take pride in solving problems on their own rather than just bringing everything to the boss. Often this requires that they remember similar problems from the past and how those situations were resolved.

The last piece of the “creativity” quadrant measures co-worker’s inventiveness. My high scorers demonstrate unique abilities to apply lessons learned and historical results to new problems. Low scorers are just waiting around for someone to tell them what to do; or for time to run out on the day.

The next blog posting sums all of this up.