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.

Gear Milestones Needed

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 American Gear Manufacturers Association (www.agma.org) will be celebrating its centennial in 2016. In preparation for the big party, they are developing a timeline of major milestones of our trade, both technical and commercial. They need your help in making sure that the people and events that shaped the business are accurately remembered.

We are lucky to have a number of people around who personally witnessed a lot of that 100 years. Hopefully they will assist in finding the reports or artifacts that predated them. Many companies that were “big” contributors no longer exist and the fate of their archives is not well known.

Just this week we learned of some research reports on the development of the allowable stress numbers we still use today. Since AGMA was founded, in part, to assure the public that gears would perform as advertised, the rating formulas and supporting science are “mission-critical.” We cannot lose sight of this duty; AGMA publications are used all around the world to design, build, and analyze geared products.

“New” gear concepts with claims of greatly improved capacity are announced every year; most are revamps of ideas previously examined and found lacking. A more accessible history of the trade, as promised by this timeline, would help sort things out. As always, Gear Technology offers free access to its on-line archives. We like to think of ourselves as the “journal of record” for the gear business.

The AGMA website has directions on how to submit your timeline information. Our magazine is also interested in hearing your stories on important people and events in the history of the trade. Please contact us via our website.

Time to Update Our Clichés?

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)

Evolving language and out-of-touch “seniors” not understanding it have been popular topics with stand-up comedians for many years. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I found their routines hilarious. Now that I am old I still find them amusing but worry that changes in lifestyle and technology are resulting in a generation that doesn’t understand some of our basic clichés and concepts.

This concern came to light with a story a friend told at a standards committee meeting. She was teaching a group of young women to sail and it wasn’t going well. To clarify things, she instructed one student to turn the winch handle “clockwise” — and was met with a blank stare. The girl claimed to have never seen an analog clock! Seems like a stretch to me but I suppose it is possible for a person under 20 to only see digital clocks; the same with rotary — or even push-button phones. Neither of my adult children have ever had a “land line” in their apartments. Lily Tomlin’s “Ernestine” routine is lost on them.

Aside from the obvious dangers of not understanding basic rotational direction, we run a risk of our children and grandchildren missing the meaning in common clichés. Can someone who has never gardened appreciate something being a “tough row to hoe?” How many times have you winced at it being pronounced a “tough ROAD to hoe?” Is some of the enjoyment lost from an old detective movie when you have to explain what it meant to “drop a dime” on someone who has never seen, much less used, a pay phone?

Much of the beauty in literature is the use of colorful analogies to draw the reader into familiarity with the characters and events. Every Sunday school or Shakespeare teacher knows how difficult it is to “translate” out-of-date analogies for a modern audience. In the same way, our ancestors would be baffled by the current reliance on sports references in other areas of life.

How many common sayings no longer make sense? Should there be a “sunset” rule for clichés? I plan to be a little more careful in assuming my audience will understand what I am saying.

Long Lasting Gear Designs

Charles D. Schultz

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

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

It is time to start preparing for the racing season so I have finally been spending some time in the garage. As a follow up to my last blog posting about designs staying in service for a long time, I offer the Model A Ford ring and pinion. First produced in 1927 for the 1928 Model A cars, this 9 x 34 spiral bevel set is still in production for use in midget race car quick change axles. That is 88 years and counting! Close behind is it successor, the ring and pinion set for the Ford Flathead V-8; used in current model quick change rear ends for street rods and sprint cars. The higher horsepower [60 at time of introduction in 1932] of the V-8 required a straddle mounted pinion or they might have just continued with the old “pumpkin” design. Considering that today’s midgets can have almost 400 horsepower and a sprint car double that, those gear engineers really did a fine job.

Today’s material, heat treat, and manufacturing capabilities are responsible for that extra capacity but our friends at Gleason still “work” the same geometry system. What was a highly sophisticated design almost 90 years ago may not be anything special today but you have to admire things that keep working long after the design life has passed.

It has been awhile since I read any news reports on the “infinity clock” being built with Silicon Valley money. A clock that will be self powered, run forever, and be working no matter what happens to us crazy humans. I rather suspect any future space visitors will be more interested in touring our old car museums than our feeble attempts at clock making.

I mean no offense to the Infinity Clock team. Beings capable of interstellar travel are just more likely to find the artifacts of our journey from walking barefoot to interstate highway travel to be more informative of our progress as tool making apes than a clock.

 

 

 

Paying it Forward

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)

Sometimes we cannot really anticipate the positive future effects of something we do today. This was illustrated to me this winter as it has been rather chilly in the house and I dug deep into the linen closet for something to put over me while watching television at night. My wife couldn’t believe what I found in there, a very warm but crude quilt made of pieces of old men’s suits. Something she couldn’t remember every buying or receiving as a gift during our 32 years together.

A call to the world’s greatest mother-in-law didn’t help much. She suspects it was made by her great grandmother during the Great Depression as part of a church fundraiser. All I know for sure is that it really keeps me warm on a cold winter night and that our cats seem to like it. I’m pretty sure Grandma Robertson had no idea it would still be in use 80 years down the road. After all, my mother-in-law was an infant at the time.

It makes you wonder what things we have had a hand in creating will long out live us. My first gearbox designs are now forty years old. The machinery I sketched up for that 4 lane lift bridge in Bay City Michigan is thirty; so are the lock and dam gate drives on the upper Mississippi.

But more important than the things are the people. I hope that I have carried on the legacy of the folks who schooled me in this trade. I know I take unwarranted pride in the accomplishments of the younger people I have had the opportunity to help train. And we all owe a big debt to the people who took the time to write the books, standards, and papers that made our trade what it is today.

Perhaps that 140 year life span they keep threatening us with will one day become reality. Until then it is our privilege to share this occupation we love with others through the things we make and the lessons we teach. Not a bad way to spend a life.

Where are Future Gear Guys and Gear Gals Coming From?

Charles D. Schultz

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

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Weapon: Checklists

Charles D. Schultz

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

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleeping on It?

Charles D. Schultz

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

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is this Stuff Still so Complicated?

Charles D. Schultz

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

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)


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

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

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

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

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

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