Leadership 101 — Commitment

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 what I believe about leadership I learned from the scouting program. I was a scout as a boy and when my children reached that age we enrolled them as scouts and took leadership training. The adult training programs are among the best I ever attended. Scouting gives you the opportunity to be a follower and a leader; you can learn a great deal about both in a single rainy weekend.

When NASA announced plans to go to the moon, the scouting movement saw a good way to interest boys in science. Life magazine published a big photo spread of astronauts in survival training and the next thing you knew, we were on a survival camp-out in homemade tents of thin plastic sheeting. Naturally, the sky opened up on us and we found ourselves in ankle deep mud wrapped in our tents and reflective survival blankets.

At least some of us did.

During the stormy night a few of our adult “leaders” extracted their sons from the quagmire and relocated them to regular tents or cabins. My old man, a World War II veteran, viewed the camp-out as a “character building” exercise and left his sons to sleep in the muck. In fact, he gave up his bunk in a cabin to join us in a plastic tent of his own construction that held up about as well as the kid-built ones. The “mudders” lost trust in the adult leaders who pulled their sons out of the mess and left them to get soaked. They respected my father for joining them. I know this because 25 years later they told me so at his funeral. Grown men remembered that soggy adventure like it was yesterday.

I have had the opportunity to work for both types of bosses over the years, and believe the first building block of a good leader is commitment. People want to know the boss is willing to sleep in the muck with them if that is what the mission requires. Giving the “team” an extensive task list for the weekend before leaving early on Friday simply doesn’t work. Involvement is much different than commitment. A chicken is involved in a ham and egg breakfast. A pig is committed to it.

Happiness is a Full Shipping Dock

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)


A young engineer I know broke new ground on Face Book today by posting photos of his most recent project on the shipping dock. Anyone who has taken a concept from a plain sheet of paper to a working machine understands why someone would celebrate such an occasion in a space normally devoted to baby or pet photos. Those who are not engineers, designers, machinists, or fabricators might consider it a bit strange though.

Back in the 20th Century we suffered through new management theories every year or so. There was Management by Objectives, Management by Exceptions, and several others whose names I have long forgotten. My favorite was Management by Walking Around; it may have had a more scientific name, but the thing I latched on to was touring the shop several times a day to observe what was going on and to be available for questions from co-workers.

It was a habit that served me — and my waistline — well over the years. Very quickly I developed an appreciation for the shipping dock. A full shipping dock was usually a sign of a happy shop and full order books. An empty shipping dock at the start of the month wasn’t a big concern, but at week three it could be an indication of impending disaster. Product that stalled on the shipping dock could be a sign of botched paperwork or — worse — credit trouble.

The shipping dock was never my responsibility, but sharing my observations with others in the company helped me learn about operations, sales, and accounting. For colleagues who tended to avoid the shop floor, my casual questions often served as early warnings; as the saying goes, People want to know that you care before they care about how much you know.

My young friend has certainly demonstrated to his co-workers that he cares about seeing projects through to the very end. That is a life-skill that always pays dividends.

Reader Outreach

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 objectives of this — or any — blog is to encourage two-way communication with its readers. Which reminds that Gear Technology Magazine has now been around longer (30 years) than some of those very same readers have been alive. So it is especially important that we engineers and the many other industry contributors learn what the editors want in terms of reader interest (technical articles, case studies, application tutorials, etc.). The magazine is constantly looking for submissions from its readership. In turn, the magazine has a presence at most industry events, seminars, and trade shows through a booth with staff attendance. These venues provide additional exposure for your — and in many cases your employer-sponsored — published work as it appears in the magazine.

Amongst the older hands in the gear trade, concern is often expressed about the relative lack of young people afflicted with a passion for gears and machinery. A major contributor to this “problem” is the contraction the industry has gone through (as discussed in a previous posting), but we can’t ignore the tremendous increase in productivity over the same period — reducing the number of people required to prepare routings, calculate change gears, run machines, deburr parts, and inspect finished goods. Simply put, you can get a lot more parts out of a smaller workforce.

It is always a treat for me to meet a “gear person” away from their natural environment. While sheltering inside the race team’s trailer during a recent downpour, I got into a conversation with a young man who had just finished restoring a 1920s steam tractor. Turns out he is one of our readers but didn’t connect my name with the publication. The curse of a common name strikes again.

If my new friend is any indication of the folks working their way up the ranks, our industry will be just fine. Hard work, a passion for machinery, and an appreciation for history will take you to some interesting places — if you let it. Gear Technology exists to help you on your climb up the industry’s ladder. Between its on-line archive, the Ask the Expert column, and the great technical articles, we try to give you the information needed to do your job.

Don’t see what you are looking for in the magazine? Let us know via e-mail or blog comment. Better yet — come see us at IMTS! (Booth No. N-7214)

Our “Common” Language?

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)

Watching the World Cup final reminds me of that old adage about Americans and the English being divided by a common language. For example, you can’t get much more divided than two completely different games — both claiming the name “football.” Soccer was not widely played here when I was in school, although Milwaukee had (and has) an active adult league with teams from many ethnic groups.

Fast forward to the early 1990s; the Milwaukee Kickers youth soccer club boasted 10,000 members and applied for a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. Count me among the legion of indulgent suburban parents who had to learn the sport so our children could play it. It was almost like acquiring a second language — and not just to placate the “futball” snobs who insisted upon scheduling “matches” for the local “pitch” at 8 AM of a Sunday.

(On the plus side: while viewing the recent World Cup final, my decades-ago “training” enabled me to detect those crucial offside violations before they were belatedly called by game officials.)

In some ways, we have the same problem in gear nomenclature. I spent a few minutes on the phone with a client recently, trying to resolve some geometry problems he ran into. Things took much longer than expected because he was working in module, and my old brain needs things converted into diametral pitch.

Eventually we got the trouble sorted out, but it reminded me of the need to avoid over- reliance on jargon when explaining gear design. Years ago someone gave me a “Rosetta Stone” file with gear terms in English, German, French, and Russian. It has come in handy on occasion, but doesn’t really bridge the Imperial/metric divide, or overcome the use of homegrown terminology for various gear features.

For example, saying a part is “long addendum” makes some people assume the whole depth is larger than “standard.” AGMA considers “fine pitch” to begin at 20 NDP (1.27 module), despite those teeth seeming to be “huge” to the instrument gear makers. AGMA and ISO have put a great deal of effort into maintaining detailed gear nomenclature standards. We owe it to each other to adhere to these standards as much as possible.

Confucius put it this way: “The beginning of wisdom — after all — is calling things by their proper name.”

If You Are Going to Make Buggy Whips…

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)

If you are going to make buggy whips, they better be good ones. That is the lesson I took away from reading about hundred-year-old Wisconsin company Walsh Products (http://www.walshharness.com/walsh/Products).

Back in 1971 — on my very first day in the gear trade — I was warned that hydraulics and electronics were going to take over power transmission. Gears would be obsolete in my lifetime, they warned. Figuring I’d never be eligible for the very exclusive 100 Club, I took notice.

A few times since that day I thought maybe those naysayers were right. During the late 1980s we “lost” many gear companies; an even greater number either downsized or merged with other firms. Gears are clearly a necessary product, but there is no assurance the marketplace will continue to buy them in the same type or from the same sources (I wonder if Amazon Prime also includes two-day free gears delivery).

There’s no question some gear makers waited too long to adopt “hard gear” technology. Some companies did indeed implement that technology — but in an inefficient or clumsy manner — such as just putting ground gears in old products without improving the rest of the device. The marketplace is cruel to such missteps.

Others, much like our buggy whip maker, found a profitable niche product and “right-sized” their operations to service it. There is certainly money to be made servicing legacy equipment; but the marketplace insists that you be really good at it.

I recently saw a review of the brand new 3-wheelers Morgan is exporting from the United Kingdom to a nostalgia-embracing world; but instead of leak-prone British V twins, they now start with a Wisconsin-built S&S motor. This tells us we want classic design, but without the hassles of unreliability or short service life.

There is no reason modern equipment can’t build on the pedigree of great machines from the past. Just what makes a Morgan 3-wheeler desirable, anyway? It isn’t great gas mileage or a 100,000-mile warranty. Our buggy whip maker might still use 1880s sewing machines, but he doesn’t ship via Wells Fargo wagon or go after markets with low-cost competitors.

What technology and the marketplace are trying to teach us should be lessons learned for all engineers and businessmen — both of which are becoming increasingly interchangeable in a world economy.

Have to go now. Going to Google the demand for blinders these days.

Better to be Lucky than Smart

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 special 30th Anniversary Issue of Gear Technology magazine represents a lot of extra work on the part of the staff. I enjoyed contributing to it and thought I’d add a favorite story to the same issue’s “30 Years of Calculation” article.

As KISSsoft AG’s Dr. Stefan Beermann notes, companies used to write their own software and run it on huge mainframe computers. I am sure the total computing power of these monsters is laughable by today’s standards, but in the 1970s it was the weapon of choice in gear design. At Falk (where loyal readers of this Blog know I was happily employed for a number of years) there was a team of really smart people charged with developing and improving the gear rating program.

Unfortunately, a lesser team (I should know, I was on it) was assigned to use the program. We were not very well informed on what was going on inside the black box, and so we merely concentrated on getting our cards punched accurately. That’s right — our group of two-fingered hunt-and-peckers was expected to type its own punch cards with the program input screens, keep them in proper order, and submit them at the end of every day for overnight computation.

I had four sizes of gearbox to design, and maybe 30 total ratios-per-size, with four or five catalog speeds. It was a lot of problem sets.

My work area was a desk and drawing board amidst stacks of punch card boxes. Just one incorrectly punched or out-of-place card got you a bunch of error messages — and no data to analyze.

We spent a lot of time checking our cards and coming up with schemes to keep them in order —schemes that were easily thwarted by the courier dropping the box of cards, or by “hanging chads (see 2000 U.S. Presidential Election recount)” interfering with data reading. Plus, we had target ratings from marketing that were unrealistic. On my four units I had probably twenty or thirty targets that I wasn’t sure I could ever eliminate.

Then one day — out of the blue — I had a problem rating go away. I couldn’t remember making any changes to that set and double-checked the punch card. Sure enough — I had transposed a digit on the pinion outside diameter and got a big strength increase.

Off to the “family recipe book” I went, trying to determine why a thirty-thousandth-of-an-inch-increase in the outside diameter would result in such a rating bump. It was the first I had ever heard of long and short addendum gear geometry. I therefore decided to conduct a few experiments on my other problem ratios — without authorization and right under the collective noses of my completely unaware superiors.

When, a few weeks later, the team presented its interim results to the bosses, I was the only guy without “deficient rating points.” Naturally a full-scale inquisition ensued and my “secret” was dissected by those really smart people in programming. After slapping my hands for messing with the old family recipe, they admitted the deviant gears would work properly and that the improved ratings were legit. A few transposed digits inadvertently opened the door to strength balancing on carburized, hardened, and ground gears.

Indeed, it is often better to be lucky than smart. But do you know what’s best?

Being lucky and smart.

Rework or Scrap?

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 last posting on surface temper inspection prompts me to think about the problem of non conforming components. It is never fun to throw valuable parts into the scrap hopper but often it is the only decision that makes sense. Reputations that took years to make can be destroyed instantly if defective parts are knowingly put into service.

An old boss was fond of reminding that “anyone can make a part right the first time but it takes a real craftsman to fix a reject.” When your business is custom, high value components it pays to have many craftsmen on your team. It also influences your part designs and process planning when individual parts cost thousands of dollars and making replacements can take months.

Those making high volume low cost components face a different decision tree. Rather than worry about the fate of individual parts or even a batch of parts, volume producers have to use non-conforming reports to diagnose material, heat treat, or process problems and to develop ways to fix those problems quickly without shutting the line down.

I am an advocate of getting many team members involved in the non-conforming part evaluation process. No one department made the defects and no one department can fix them. Sometimes problems are created by team members not understanding how their actions or inaction effects subsequent operations. Chips not removed from tapped holes before carburizing come to mind; as an apprentice I spent a day with a die grinder removing 60 Rockwell chips that could have been removed in ten minutes while soft.

Getting a cross section of the team involved in part triage helps educate the workers on defect causes and gives them an opportunity create process improvements. Sometimes just changing the sequence of operations will improve overall yield. Design changes may also be indicated by the frequency of defects.

Quality Assurance is part of every team member’s job. Just doing your job right may not be enough to produce “good” parts so it is your best interest to understand how your work influences other operations and the final product that reaches the customer.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

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)

If ever a situation cried out for a short, texting-friendly acronym it is the unavoidable problem of “You don’t know what you don’t know — until it is too late to matter.”

I was reminded of this recently while making a presentation on surface temper inspection for a client.

For those who do not make carburized, hardened, and ground gears, surface temper inspection is a process to detect tooth surfaces that have been damaged during tooth flank grinding. Gear makers have been grinding gears for over 100 years, but surface temper inspection is a fairly recent development that gained traction following massive warranty claims in the wind energy market.

This is hardly the forum to discuss a highly technical topic, so I refer those of you with a need to know more on this subject to the reference books and standards. My intent in this posting is simply to get you thinking of areas in your operations where ignorance will result in the opposite of bliss.

When first asked about surface temper inspection, many manufacturers insist that it isn’t a concern as, “We never burn our gears.” If only that were true; the only people who “never” burn a gear are those who never check for grinding burn! The same can be said for claims that “We never have a heat treat problem.”

Unless you are diligently checking your process you cannot be certain you aren’t putting defects into service — defects that can ultimately cost you much more than a reliable inspection process.

It is typically very difficult to justify capital expenditures for non-revenue producing operations; but it is even more difficult to explain to customers, supervisors, and stakeholders how something you didn’t think was a potential problem could create such a big mess.

No one can anticipate every problem coming down the road. Nevertheless, we owe it to our team members to understand the potential risks of every operation and to make sure the proper safeguards are in place. This requires staying current on industry news via technical magazines such as Gear Technology, educational seminars, technical meetings, and trade shows.

The Lure of Nostalgia

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 love old cars but have no desire to drive one on a daily basis.

The appeal of a powerful muscle car or winged 1950s convertible is understandable, but the hassles of ownership outweigh it for me. Sometimes it seems like half the content on cable TV is related to finding, restoring, and reselling old cars and other memorabilia. It is amazing how much some things are worth and how much people will pay to have them “restored.”

Perhaps my opinion is influenced by the cars I could afford as a young driver. There was no tricked out GTO in the driveway when I finally got my license. Instead, my father won a 1953 Pontiac straight-eight in a VFW Post card game. The 55,000 mile “creampuff” was valued at $25 and required a battery of equal cost to get it running.

A 17-year-old car with only 55,000 miles on it would be worth much more than $50 today — and this is at the heart of my opinion on old cars. Frankly, they were not very reliable, cost a lot to operate, lacked safety equipment, handled like farm wagons, and rusted while you watched.

It is easy at my age to remember just the excitement of having your own wheels and being able to go where you wanted. Deeper reflection brings the breakdowns, clouds of blue smoke, and the constant need for gas/oil/tires/exhaust pipes/shocks to mind. Maybe it was a different experience for other guys; in my working class high school the parking lot had plenty of oil spots. (I remember a friend having to put his always-at-the-ready roasting pan under his 1955 Chevy while he picked up his prom date, lest it leave a quart on her father’s pristine driveway.)

So I will confine my appreciation for old cars to watching TV shows and reading enthusiast magazines. For me, the good memories cannot be separated from the not-so-good ones. When guys say “They don’t make them like that anymore,” I for one say, “Thankfully.”

Learning from the Past, Looking to the Future

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)

There is a new commercial airing that shows flashbacks of a young girl enjoying a family road trip from the rear facing seat in their Volvo station wagon. While a familiar perch to we Baby Boomers — probably not so much to our post-minivan generations. But my kids used to squabble over who got the “way-back” in our 1991 Mercury Sable station wagon, so I’d guess the rearward perspective popularity extends — and ends — to those in their late 20s.

While many of my blog posts celebrate the past, I resist becoming a full-time curmudgeon. Yes, history and my experiences in the gear trade are important to me, and I hope you enjoy reading about my reflections. But the future is even more interesting, as we are all going to be spending the rest of our lives there.

And what a future it can be as advances in metallurgy, heat treating, and machining enable designers to create power transmission products with greater precision, higher efficiency, and longer service life. And even now, commercial software puts NASA-level stress analysis in the hands of even the smallest company.

But none of this can be successful without an appreciation and understanding of where the gear trade has come from. You can buy all the woodworking books you want; surround yourself with top-quality cabinet making equipment and lay in a big supply of exotic hardwoods. But your projects will be only expensive firewood if you haven’t developed your mechanical skills and design sense.

As a hitter doesn’t blame his bat when he strikes out, a craftsman doesn’t blame his tools for botching a job. We have no excuses for making poorly designed or roughly machined products. Learn what worked or didn’t work from studying prior art. Understand and apply emerging technology to improve on classic designs. We loved our 1991 Mercury, but wouldn’t want to drive one today. The same can be said for a good many classic power transmission products.