Holding Down the Fort

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)

With only a few days before the Holiday Break, gear shops big and small are diligently trying to get important projects completed. People with travel plans are studying weather reports and counting the hours until they can get going. Other employees have “drawn the short straw” and will be holding down the fort during the break.

My family moved around the country with my work, so when the children were young we alternated between cross-country trips to the grandparents and short visits by the grandparents to our home. Some road trips were more exciting than others; you never quite forget leaving home when it is -24F and not shutting the car off for 13 hours for fear it wouldn’t re-start.

But I have fond memories of the years I was “stuck” at the office with other people who had used up all their vacation days. We got some good work done, made friends we would otherwise have been too busy to make, and learned to do new things because there wasn’t anyone else around to do them. I appreciated the lack of supervision and the opportunity to get re-organized for the New Year. It was a wonderful chance to get busy on the quoting backlog too; empty IN baskets make for an interesting start to the year.

Younger employees shouldn’t consider “working the shutdown” to be a bad thing. Use the time wisely; try to make some new friends, and learn some new skills. Maybe read a good “gear” book or take an online AGMA course. You might enjoy being part of the skeleton crew more than you thought possible.

Recreating History

1912 fiat s76

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)


Thanks to the Internet we can enjoy a wide variety of “news” stories without leaving the comfort of our desks. For racing enthusiasts like me, the appearance of rare, “milestone” cars is likely to spark hours of discussion and bring out previously unknown photos and stories.

Recently, video surfaced of a giant 1914 vintage Fiat land-speed-record-car — known as “The Beast of Turin” — being fired up for the first time. The Type-S76 has a four-cylinder engine that displaces 1,729 cubic inches — or roughly ten times the size of the modern 3-liter automobile engine. The car was the result of decades of research and effort by enthusiasts working from original factory drawings and newspaper stories. The people involved were not easily discouraged and they have produced a wonderful example of automotive technology just before it abandoned the big and slow strategy of steam engines for the light and fast plan still followed today. (http://theoldmotor.com/?tag=the-beast-of-turin)

I have written before about the loss of historical artifacts from the gear industry. We haven’t been very sentimental about test pieces and equipment that were important in getting the trade to where it is today. It doesn’t help that our stuff tends to be big and bulky; the scrap drives of two world wars swept up every bit of metal not actively protected. Old computers and consumer electronics also get little collector respect; try to even give away a big cathode ray tube television set these days.

So I salute people who can muster the knowledge, energy, and discipline to pull off a project as big as The Beast of Turin. It is good to know there is a capability to start with little more than a newspaper story and scrap metal and end up with a functioning motor vehicle.

The “Friendly Skies” Rely Upon Friendly Passengers

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 haven’t flown much this year, so it was with some apprehension that I booked two trips in a single week recently. My wife warned me that I was overextending myself with an East Coast trip on Monday and Tuesday, followed up with a West Coast trip on Thursday and Friday. She was correct — of course — but not due to any fault of the air traffic system. (I could have caught this cold at the grocery store.)

It is easy to find fault with air travel; lots of little things can drive you crazy if you let them. A number of years ago I decided to lower my expectations and embrace an attitude of gratitude when I am in airports. That means putting a smile on my face — no matter how disappointing my seat assignment is; no matter how long the walk is to the gate; no matter how full the plane is.

I made this decision because nothing else would work. The system is too big, too complicated to respond to one upset passenger. Putting a smile on, thanking people for doing a decent job, and avoiding the vortex of anger that sometimes develops has not eliminated my travel problems.

But it has made the experience less stressful for me, which was the primary objective, after all. Occasionally it has gotten me a few perks, too; after volunteering my seat to a particularly boisterous travel diva on a weather-delayed LAX-to-ORD flight a few years ago, the counter agent sought me out for some free drink coupons and a first-class seat on the next plane.

That was a rare reward, though. Most of the time I have to settle for taking satisfaction in knowing that I’ve done my good turn for the day and maybe putting a smile on someone else’s face.

No — not as good as free drinks, perhaps; but worth the minimal effort required.

A Day That Changed 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)

I didn’t start working in the gear business until 1971, but the events of 30 years earlier affected me from the moment I walked into the employment office. The people interviewing me and making decisions about my career were shaped by the Day That Will Live in Infamy. They looked at each potential employee as if they were someone they might have to go into battle with.

Once you got past the employment office and into the shop, most of the journeymen who trained you were also vets. They didn’t talk about it a lot; one or two asked where my father or uncles served in “the big one.” They typically only asked where — not if — because the shared experience was that universal.

Even our equipment had “served;” you could tell the “war vintage”-machines from the pre-war- and post-war-machines by the reduced concern for cosmetics. The castings were a bit rougher, for example, or the manufacturer’s logo had not been sharpened with a die grinder. Some of those machines are still making chips today.

This wasn’t just in Milwaukee. In Chicago, some buildings still have “Government Property” on display. Further evidence of the war can be found in the buildings themselves. Metal was in short supply both during and after the conflict, so roof trusses were made in wood — of the (pre-war) angle iron and (post-war) c-channel material — yet nevertheless beautifully and soundly made.

This morning the Internet has stories of the last official reunion of the USS Arizona Survivors Association. After 73 years, the youngest survivors are no longer able to travel without risking their health.

A grateful nation cannot forget their service and the sacrifices of countless others. No matter what our problems are today, and we have a lot of them, the men and women who fought The Big One set an example of service we would be wise to follow.

Overcoming Adversity

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 blog concerned project management and the problems of staying on schedule. I thought it only fair to pass on some techniques I learned along the way to get projects and parts moving again.

1.Be open to alternate materials.

Sometimes the start date of a component gets delayed because you can’t get the material required. It might be the size, chemistry, or pedigree that causes purchasing to come up empty. Can’t find “aircraft quality?” Read the specification; perhaps you can improve the rating of a commercial grade with extra testing or lab analysis. Blank size an issue? Re-examine those stock allowances or re-design the gearing to reduce the finish diameter enough to make what is available work. Chemistry limits are established to get core properties; sometimes an alternate grade will get the same results if you reduce the critical section with webs or a hole through the middle.

2.Be open to alternate processes.

We once had a project with such a tight deadline we couldn’t get hobs made in time. It was more expensive, but we learned wire EDM could cut the rough teeth just as well in a matter of hours — not weeks. Blew the budget, made the customer deadline, and got more business. Can’t get a fabrication in time? What about milling the part from a big chuck of steel or iron?

3.Be flexible with your design.

It isn’t as much of a problem today, thanks to CNC hobbers, but once upon a time we had a gear that none of our machines could cut due to change gear issues. An hour of playing with the geometry was all it took to develop an alternate tooth combination that we could cut. A similar situation often occurred with rolling element bearings before we wised up and located bearings earlier in our design process. That “alphabet soup” in a bearing number can blow up on you if aren’t careful.

4.Rework is your friend.

A wise boss once opined that “Anyone can make a good part the first time; it takes real craftsmanship to salvage one.” No matter how careful you and your crew are, parts will be damaged in manufacturing or come up short of acceptable at inspection. Good engineering can often get that “defective” item reworked into something better than the original requirements by chrome plating, repair welding, thread inserts, or re-heat treating. Remember that scene in Princess Bride about whether Wesley was “dead” or “dead-dead?” Don’t give up on critical components until you consider the rework options. Very few are “dead-dead.” Give your local Miracle Max a chance.

(We’re always looking for good project stories to share; the comments traffic has been light of late. CS)

Deadlines

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 have posted before about how much I enjoyed seeing my projects finally reach the shipping dock after months of sales negotiation, designing, manufacturing, assembly, and testing. With the calendar year ending soon, many of you are probably under a lot of pressure to get multiple projects across that “finish line.”

Unlike the artificial deadlines on various home remodeling and car restoration shows, gear shop “required by” dates can have a big impact on future orders and career trajectories. Over the years, I have made and missed shipment dates, and some of the lessons that got burned into my backside were:

1. Nothing is impossible for the person who doesn’t have to do the work.

Sales and management folks will make promises without knowing all the facts. The best time to address this issue is Day One; any time after that and you will have — in their minds — “bought into” the promise. My frustrated boss once sent me to a seminar called “Managing Technical Operations” — unaware of its secret subtitle — “Malicious Obedience.” The chief lesson of the seminar was “Never say no to management, but be sure to spell out the resources needed for success.”

2. You don’t get months behind all at once.

The concept of spelling out resources is great. But have you ever tried to use MicroSoft Project on a complex machine? Linking operations, specifying start dates, and tracking resource availability becomes more than a full-time job. A little slip in material delivery, a key machine being booked solid, even deer hunting season might not seem that big of a pothole at the time, but suddenly they combine to put you in a big, deep hole. It pays to determine critical components early and make sure they stay on schedule.

3. Keep the lines of communication to the customer open.

My first trip to Europe was an exhausting 36 hour round trip to take a “beating” for my project being behind schedule. The meeting wasn’t as bad as I feared, because people do respect you for showing up to personally be disciplined. At the wine bar later, when the big boss went to the water closet, my counterpart put his arm around my shoulder and thanked me for taking the hit. His half of the machine was much further behind ours, and if we hadshipped on time he might have lost his job. Since then I have become a proponent of honest schedule updates to the customer; i.e. — the best surprise is no surprise.

 

What lessons have you learned about project management?

Thanksgiving

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)

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It remains one of our least marketable celebrations — unless you count the intrusion of Christmas shopping into a day formerly reserved for family, food, and football.

Among the things I like about Thanksgiving are its being scheduled on a Thursday in a month that tends towards grey and depressing. An otherwise “regular” day is transformed into an opportunity to reflect on life and enjoy the company of those close to you.

2014 has been a challenging year for some people, a great year for others. I hope all of you can take some time and remember at least three things that occurred that made you happy.

I got to spend some time with my family during a short trip out East. My consulting business keeps me busy enough, but still allows time for other activities — like writing this blog. Most importantly, my family enjoys good health and has interesting professional challenges.

Could things be better? Of course; but we dare not spend too much time in fantasy land, lest we miss the very real pleasures of every day.

Unknown Heroes of Engineering

bazooka

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 am a big fan of team players — the guys and gals who put forth that extra something that pushes a good team to greatness. Some have been co-workers of mine, and you’d only hear about their achievements at their retirement party. The modern world rewards self-promoters; we have people “blowing up the Internet” who have no other marketable skills than their willingness to do things in public that normal people only do in private.

Engineers live in a world where facts and science rule. We like orderly development but admire the occasional “big breakthrough” — especially if it comes with a great story. These “eureka” moments aren’t common, but we remember them for the change in direction they cause in our otherwise plodding efforts. The very expression “eureka” will bring to mind Archimedes’ discovery of the displacement method of verifying the purity of gold.

Thanks to an old issue of World War II magazine (Nov/Dec 2010), I now have a “eureka” story to attach to that favorite weapon of infantrymen, i.e. — the bazooka. The U.S. Army had been researching anti-tank weapons since the end of WW I, but it took a young officer walking by the scrap pile at the research center to solve the problem. A five-foot-long piece of tubing caught his eye; its inside diameter happened to match the outside diameter of the projectiles they were making. It was just long enough to allow for a 1-fiftieth-of-a-second burn while keeping the flame away from the shooter.

A month later the brass was touring the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and heard the research team firing the weapon. The project manager impulsively let the general fire it himself. He hit the target on his first attempt and ordered the weapon into production that very day. General Electric was given 30 days to build 5,000 launchers and completed the order with 89 hours to spare. By the end of the war (3 years later) 440,000 had reached the field. The name Bazooka was attached to it by GIs who remembered a joke musical instrument on comedian Bob Burns’ radio shows.

Edward Uhl, the young army officer, went on to become chairman of Fairchild Industries, the giant defense contractor. He would later comment: “We have gotten into the bad habit of heaping people onto projects. The trap we’ve fallen into is to believe that a thousand incompetents — properly organized — can do the job of a few dozen outstanding people.” I completely agree.

One Man’s Treasure

book

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 week’s estate sale treasure is a nice copy of A History of the Machine, by Sigvard Strandh (A&W Publishers Inc., Swedish & Worldwide Copyright, 1979). I have posted before about some of the things found at these sales, but this $2 “coffee table” tome needed rescue from a table-full of science fiction paperbacks.

Mr. Strandh’s book has hundreds of drawings of tools and machines, including many types of gears. The drawings are probably what got it purchased; even if you don’t have an interest in machines, there is beauty in the patent drawings and scenes of early installations. Not to take anything away from modern 3D models, but they just don’t have the artistic look of pen and ink drawings.

AHOTM2

Thankfully, this artistic value has kept some of our technological history alive, while the actual machinery has been melted down, the buildings demolished or repurposed, and their history largely forgotten. Some artifacts are just too big to keep, and all we have left are these drawings and patent models.

A few communities have preserved a remnant for future generations; I visited the Civil War-era shot tower in Dubuque once, and like what Pittsburgh has done with the old Homestead Steel Works. I’d like to hear from you readers on industrial heritage sites that you have visited or your ideas for other, deserving designations.

I am not sure this particular book was purchased for its content or as a work of art. It will be looked at frequently here at Beyta Gear Service world headquarters. You can tell a lot about a person by the things left behind at their estate sales. Mine will have more tools, books, and car parts than my wife will want to deal with, but that is her lot as the spouse of an engineer. I predict the tools will sell on the first day for full price. Most of the books will be around at half-off the last day

In Praise of Tinkering

 

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 most recent post told of less than optimum gear making under extreme conditions. It reminded me of the incident that got me involved with auto racing in a hands-on way. I was already a fan and tinkered with my own car in the driveway. Our neighborhood friends shared a love for motorsports, and one of them took the plunge and bought a 25-year-old midget race car.

For the uninitiated, a “midget” is a traditional type of oval track race car that first came to prominence in 1933. Our Aussie and Kiwi friends know them as “speed cars.” The midget name was applied to them because they were smaller than the similar appearing “big cars” that ran at Indianapolis, and the one-mile fairgrounds ovals. “Sprint” cars, or in those days three-quarter cars, were n between the other two classes. The formula has changed a bit over the years, but we still have midgets with 72-inch wheelbases, sprint cars with 84-inch wheelbases, and big cars with 96-in wheelbases.

As you might expect, a 25-year-old race car has a few problems. This one broke ring and pinion set the second time our friend raced it. Since I worked at a gear company, my brother figured that I would know how to fix it.

Fix it? — We needed a day to just get it out of the car. None of us knew that open u-joints were a recent innovation and that enclosed drivelines were once standard. After the axle was out we saw that the pinion was missing a few teeth and the ring gear bolts were safety wired to the open tube tapered axle. How hard could a few bolts be to remove?

Several hours, a trip to Sears to replace the shattered ratchet handle, and a few band aides later, we had the axle ready for its new gear. Does a four-foot length of pipe as a helper constitute tool abuse? Fortunately we had called a few experienced racers for advice by now and had learned that the gears were from a Model A Ford.

As the aluminum housing had been shattered, we needed an entire Model A “pumpkin.” One was located at a fair price and we proceeded to take it apart. More band aides and another trip to Sears later, reassembly started. Progress was slowed when we discovered the Model A side plates weren’t the same bore as our seals. Fortunately the Chicago Rawhide catalog in my office yielded some part numbers that would work and the bearing headquarters counterman didn’t scare us off.

Next came making some seal retainers out of aluminum siding scraps, resetting a 45 year old set of spiral bevels, and installing the axle in the car. The operation was a complete success, with the cobbled up rear axle lasting almost two more racing seasons.

The lessons learned on perseverance, networking, and finding solutions within your skill-set were important then and are still used today. Modern “midget” axles are still based on Model A Ford geometry.