Standards of Excellence

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)

Cadillac once proclaimed itself the “Standard of the World” and did its level best to back that claim up with high levels of product quality and cutting-edge design. Other companies have occupied that peak of reputation in the automotive field, but we still talk about something being the “Cadillac” of this or the “Cadillac” of that. In recent years there has been less emphasis on excellence and more effort at consistency. I can’t argue that the change hasn’t paid off as even the cheapest car built today is safer and lasts longer than the best marques did in the past.

On another level, however, I wonder if we are missing something by aiming for consistency as opposed to excellence. While there is nothing wrong with standardizing methods and insuring that “quality” is always a “given” in the design and manufacture of our products, I miss the days when companies were determined to offer gears and gearboxes that were superior to the competitions’.

Never before have the raw materials and equipment available to the “average” gear maker been better. Purchased components such as bearings and seals are of better quality than those used to reach the moon. Our design and analysis capabilities are vastly superior to those available even ten years ago.

Yet our allowable stresses are based upon values negotiated thirty years ago from tests performed sixty and seventy years ago. Some research continues in niche areas and on influence factors but we lack the financial support that came from privately held gear companies. There is apparently “no return” on basic gear research and little interest in trying to develop better rather than cheaper products.

I don’t see conditions changing in the foreseeable future. Thankfully there are still a few firms that are willing to go the extra mile to build the products that others can be measured against. Somehow, the really tough projects will still find their way to those firms.

Play Through, Old Friend

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 consequences of growing older is saying good bye to friends you have made along the way. Word reached me this week that one of the best salesmen I ever worked with had booked a “tee time on the other side.” Over the years the sales side of our industry has changed as much as the technical side; unfortunately many people don’t appreciate the dedication of the veteran salespeople in the days before the Internet and E-mail made customer contact so much more immediate.

I’ve blogged before about the sales manager at Quaker City Gearworks and his amazing card catalog of government part numbers. My late friend, Paul E. Seipel, and his contemporaries combined that attention to record keeping with sincere personal relationships to secure business at dozens of mines, mills, and machine builders over careers that lasted forty or fifty years.

That was forty or fifty years of waiting in lobbies, supporting golf outings and holiday parties, helping customers manage spare inventories, tracking the movement of people, technology, and equipment from location to location. Forty and fifty years of knowing who was next in line to make purchasing decisions. Forty and fifty years of sending birthday cards, sympathy cards, retirement cards, and maintaining personal contacts despite late deliveries, cancelled purchase orders, late payments, bankruptcies, and plant closures.

Most of the “plant-based” workforce never saw the effort this marketing required. The long hours on the road, the nights away from home, the missed children’s events, and the lectures from unhappy customers were seldom discussed. Commission-based compensation often got reduced by jealous home office executives. Accounts that took years to develop got changed to “house accounts” just as they started to pay off. Yet these professionals soldiered on and our shops hummed with full order books.

So let me go on record as thanking Paul and his compatriots, living and dead, for securing the orders that kept me busy. A wise man once reminded that nothing really happens until somebody asks for the damn order. They can’t say “yes” unless you ask and without that “yes” we all starve.

Economic Priorities

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 occasionally buy a lottery ticket, you probably enjoy speculating on what you would do with the money. The only assured value of a ticket is the enjoyment that speculating brings you. We as a society engage in a similar daydreaming when we debate budgets, economic development, and other public “good” issues. Unfortunately, our daydreaming is often as logical as the lottery winners who end up broke a few years after the payout. We seem to spend a lot of energy debating ways to make sure no one gets a bigger piece of the public pie than we think they have earned.

My last blog grew into a bit of a rant on publicly financed sports complexes. Unfortunately, these are just the most visible of the poor priorities we set for ourselves. In my opinion the worst decisions we make are buried in a complex tax code that doesn’t encourage investments that create jobs over the long term. Thanks to the code, our suburbs are full of empty strip malls and vacant warehouses. Thanks to the code, resort communities gain mini-mansion developments that are only used a few months of the year.

Meanwhile, potentially industry altering ideas struggle to raise the $50 million a Wall Street power broker spends on that new beach house. The same money that could result in 500 family-supporting careers goes into 50 temporary construction jobs and the minimum wage household staff of six.

We have reality TV shows where the idea is people have to beg the money people for a helping hand! Can you imagine Henry Ford or Thomas Edison appearing on camera to plead for start-up cash from the shady financiers of the day? Neither can I.

It has been an honor to know some of founding families in the gear trade. These men had a vision and endured some hard times seeing that vision to reality. With AGMA’s centennial celebration starting I would enjoy reading about the history of current and past gear companies. I might even be more interested in the stories of firms that no longer exist. If you have such a story to share let us know.

The Importance of Follow-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)

Job creation has been a popular platform for politicians for as long as I can remember. What seems to be lacking is any sort of “after action report” on the effectiveness of public and private “investment” strategies. As I write this a few of our remaining newspapers are trying to determine what happened to the stimulus money of 2009. (http://www.thestarpress.com/story/money/2015/04/11/brevini-wind-failure-millions-vat-streetlights/25571319).

If only we followed these projects as closely as we do the salary cap of our favorite NFL franchise! Without transparency during the process, and proper accounting afterwards, we are unlikely to get the needed employment opportunities and so are doomed to repeat the failures of the past. From what I can tell, the only people assured of paying work are the public relations staff, builders, realtors, and financiers who push them.

My beloved home town is presently debating a plan for a new sports arena. This debate started when I was an infant when Milwaukee County Stadium was built with public money to lure the Braves from Boston. It resumed in 1964 when the Braves decided Atlanta’s new government-financed stadium offered better returns. As a high school student I entered a model in the sports arena contest that resulted in MECCA being built; as difficult as it is to believe, they managed to build something even uglier than I built!

Milwaukee’s Bradley Center was a “gift” to the public; part of a tax negotiation on the Rockwell International purchase of Allen Bradley. After less time than it took to debate its construction it needs to come down and be replaced with an even larger, more palatial temple to sports. Even small-government advocates seem resigned to spending HALF A BILLION DOLLARS on it with the promise that another $500 million in private investment will follow.

I love sports too, but wonder if that is the best use of precious resources. Shouldn’t we check on how our previous investments in sports infrastructure work out before going “all in” once again? Miller Park is a great place to watch a ball game, but was it a good investment? The original plan called for spending $142 million; the final bill to FIX THE ROOF was more than that. Not to mention the tragic loss of workers’ lives trying to get back on schedule.

financed stadium offered better returns. As a high school student I entered a model in the sports arena contest that resulted in MECCA being built; as difficult as it is to believe, they managed to build something even uglier than I built!

 

How Much is Too Much?

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 inner curmudgeon got loose in the last blog and I want to assure you that I, too, love big horsepower. My concern is that it be applied safely. Since the first crazy kid took to hopping up a 20 horsepower Model T Ford, right through today’s “tuners” deciding to put both turbos and nitrous oxide on their Civic, Americans have craved more power and performance. Hot-rodding is popular around the world but often under restrictive laws that require getting a registered engineer to inspect and approve the changes made.

We prefer a less-regulated approach and this is reflected in our tax laws. Other countries tax based upon engine size or estimated power rating. You get the results you encourage and those countries tend to make cars that just squeak in under the legal limits. Modifying those cars is discouraged so that hot-rodders must be discreet — or pay the fines if caught. Thanks to the Internet we get to see hot rods from around the world, and it is interesting to see what they drive.

American hot-rodding started before World War II and blossomed during the new car shortage that followed that global conflict. Many trace the start to the introduction of the Ford flathead V-8 in 1932, but there were “go jobs” 10 or 15 years earlier. The flathead V-8 barely made it to 100 horsepower before the conflict started; to get 200 horsepower you needed to buy a Marmon V-16. One is currently available on E-Bay; it weighs over 900 pounds despite its aluminum block.

Ingenious mechanics figured out ways to get 200 horsepower out of lesser power plants and they raced them on fairgrounds ovals, street courses, and dry lake beds all over the country. It isn’t unreasonable to credit that hot-rodding mentality with the rapid improvement of American armaments during the war. Racers were everywhere in the war effort, questioning how things were being done, and pushing the limits.

We need to maintain that attitude in our schools, garages, and shops. No sane person needs 800 horsepower to go to the grocery story. They need that questioning attitude — that desire for more — at work. People once questioned why anyone would want to cut bevel gears on a milling machine when there were highly developed special machines for that purpose.

There can never be enough desire to test limits, and once in a while things will break during those tests. Our job is to make sure we learn from our failures. And keep people safe in the process.

Horsepower Race

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)

As the Tool Time host used to say, “The answer is more power.” My little lathe/mill combo has a whopping .75 horsepower and I’ve managed to stall it a few times. The newest machine tools have much more power and speed than their predecessors, so as to have more flexibility with the feeds and speeds of the incredible cutting tools currently available. We’ve come a long way from hand-ground, high-speed-steel tooling, and our machines reflect that progress.

A more noticeable horsepower race is going on in new car showrooms. When I was a boy, during the infamous muscle car era, the factories and insurance companies were wary of letting so much as 400 horsepower get into the hands of the average consumer. Dodge, touting their 100th anniversary with rather odd commercials starring the long-deceased founding brothers, has stopped taking orders for their 808 horsepower Hellcat because they can’t get enough parts. Other companies will be happy to sell you 400, 500, 600, or even 700 horsepower street-legal cars.

How much trouble will the average driver get into with 808 horsepower? The speed limit is now 70 in many states, but even an 80 horsepower econobox can exceed that. Cable TV shows feature street races with home-built 1,000-plus horsepower cars and include footage of the inevitable crashes. Porsche and other legendary makers require special training before they will hand a driver the keys to some of their products. This may be an over-reaction to our litigious society or a wise way to keep a well-heeled client alive so they can buy more toys.

Much like a machine tool builder or cutting tool supplier, including training and support into the price of a new machine, they want you to be successful and buy more of their products. With much power comes much responsibility; more about that next time.

Evolving Equipment

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)

How long should gear manufacturing equipment last? I posted before about some very “veteran” gear cutting machines that are still earning their keep on a regular basis. It occurs to me that we might be holding our shops back by sticking with machines that are no longer capable of producing quality parts in a competitive cycle time.

Some industries replace equipment much more frequently, their decisions made by the pure economics of their product. You no longer see glass containers in most departments at the grocery store. The shift to plastics is almost complete outside the adult beverage department, spurred by reduced breakage and lower transport costs. Of late I have noticed that even the shape of the containers is changing to reduce the amount of “dead air” in bulk shipments. Lighter products have load sizes determined by volume, not weight.

My interest was piqued by a client’s questions on gear shaping machines. They have lost confidence in their 1950s vintage shaper and asked for advice on what manufacturers and models they should look at. Fortunately, I know people who know people in the machine tool business and ought to be able to point them in the right direction quickly.

Over the years my employers bought lots of new and used equipment. Most of the new stuff was related to gear grinding where only the “latest” was deemed worthy of consideration. The improvement in productivity was so dramatic you hardly needed MBA level analysis skills to make a decision. Also, all of the newer machines were so much better than the old ones you couldn’t make a bad decision.

We made lots of bad decisions on used equipment though. Early NC machines often had electrical bits that were no longer supported. Many had insufficient power to “pull” modern chip loads. Some were just not reliable enough for use in “cellular” arrangements. We learned the hard way that making great ground tooth gears required excellence at each step in the process. You cannot “fix” a bad blank at gear grinding and hope to be competitive.

Care to share your experience with replacing gear machines?

Fighting 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)

My computer repair people advised tossing one of my computers in the trash recently. This loyal travel companion had become so “buggy” from public WiFi networks that repairing it would exceed its replacement cost. Of course, buying a replacement means buying new software and relearning to use it.
I don’t begrudge the software companies the income but I wonder how many of these changes are really product improvements and how many are just to make us buy new licenses. It reminds me of the old days when car companies did major external redesigns every year while flogging the same old mechanical parts for decades. A 1958 Chevy had the same chassis as a 1964 model; they used the same basic 6six cylinder motor fro 1929 to 1962.
My IT vendor based the “trash it” decision in part on the lack of support for the laptop’s operating system. You’d think that by the sixth or seventh year of a system they would have identified or fixed all of the bugs. Even the car companies back in the “bad old days” eventually got their products to run well without constant intervention.
There was a story once of some Silicon Valley visionary saying that if they built cars we would be getting 200 miles per gallon and paying half as much for our transportation. This was countered with a hilarious rant of your Silicon Valley car needed to be replaced every time the lines on the road got painted or needing an elaborate “re-boot” sequence at random intervals when it would just stop running for no reason.
The curmudgeon in me looks forward to the rumored “self driving” cars from the high tech start ups. In a big city like Chicago it is easy to see how traffic flow could improve if cars just got in their lane and drove home without the constant jockeying for position we suffer through today. Then I consider the possible mayhem that will result from GPS glitches and software “upgrades.” If they can’t make a trustworthy spelling and grammar checker what makes them think they are ready for the Illinois Toll Road? Anyone interested in “auto complete” sending you to the wrong address?

March Madness

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)

At my height basketball was never going to be a major part of my life. During the Al McGuire years at Marquette it was hard not to become a fan, though, and I have followed the sport closely since then. In March almost everyone is a college basketball fan.

One of the things I miss about not being in a shop full time is the fun of filling out a bracket and trash talking with my coworkers for most of the month. A few took it very seriously, others not so much, and the pool winners were usually people who relied on team colors or mascot names.

Some might take a dim view of this “distraction” interfering with production. I believe that it is a much better “team building” activity than dragging the office staff out for a wilderness retreat. Let’s face it, we spend a lot of the work day watching machines run and waiting for phone calls or e-mails. The “office pool” gives us something to talk about and has a way of introducing people to co-workers outside their immediate department.

Personal relationships are the most important factor in reaching high manufacturing performance. People want to be part of a winning team and they want to impress their teammates when the “game” is on the line. That isn’t a sports cliché, it is real life. No one reads a book or watches a movie hoping the hero fails. We watch sports the same way, like pulling for “our team” to beat a higher-seeded team in front of the big crowd.

In the gear business it isn’t a matter of your height or your ball handling skills that gets you the win. It can be the way your team works together to make certain hand-offs are efficiently made and priorities are clearly communicated. Everyday tasks can have a way of becoming game-winning shots. Make sure your top performers know how proud you are of them.

What Gear Trade Milestones Have You Witnessed?

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)

Last week’s blog on the Century of AGMA Timeline brought to mind a humorous story of our now adult daughter’s first “play store” set. If you’ve had children you are probably familiar with these cardboard miniature checkout counters. I thought three was a bit young for indoctrination into the retail trade, and pointed out that she was completely ignoring the cardboard cash register and play money. My spouse just laughed and suggested I watch more closely. Sure enough, Samantha was employing up-to-date check out technology; each item crossing in front of her generated a “beep” and she only accepted debit cards from her playmates.

The AGMA timeline will no doubt be filled with product introductions and memorable standard adaptations. I think this misses some very transformative moments in the gear trade. By “transformative” I mean changes that permanently changed the way we do business.

A good example is the pocket calculator. We went from slide rules and logarithms to pocket calculators in less than two years. My first calculator cost more than my first car! $495 was almost a month’s pay for an apprentice in 1972 but you just couldn’t keep up without one. Calculator features changed monthly and we were all envious of the person with the latest and greatest model.

The advent of the personal computer and general purpose spreadsheets made even high-end calculators passé. If you ever had to figure out change gears for a hobbing machine manually, with a reference book of four and six “gear ratios,” you quickly became a fan of calculators and later personal computers.

Another “game changer” on the production side of our trade was the coating of cutting tools. Many of us were skeptical that a “gold” layer on a hob or shaper cutter could permit doubling the machines productivity. In less than 18 months it was impossible to deny the improvement; hob order quantities plummeted at high-production shops and lower-volume firms struggled with how to factor the “cost savings” into their prices.