Questioning New Techniques

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)

In my last blog I mentioned the great analysis tools available to today’s gear engineers. On a current project, we are eagerly awaiting the finite element analysis (FEA) of a critical part that was designed using far less-sophisticated methods, going back 40 years.

It would be a great surprise if the FEA reveals any hidden flaws. Without going “full-curmudgeon” on you, I have been disappointed in FEA many times, beginning with the first FEA course ever offered at my engineering school, back in 1974. Our instructor, a newly credentialed PhD, brought FEA technology with him. It had been the topic of his dissertation and he was an evangelist for this method of stress analysis.

Unfortunately, the computers of the day were far less user-friendly. They weren’t as powerful, either; and between that, the dial-up/phone cradle interface and monochrome 10-inch monitors, the class struggled to get simple homework assignments done. We wondered if the box of punch cards the professor had brought from his previous school had been scrambled at baggage claim. By semester’s end, we barely managed to get a tri-axial stress on a cube to run.

My plan to impress the supervisors who were paying my tuition by using FEA on some fabricated steel housings went up in error messages. It was up to Stress-coat and hydraulic jacks to back up the manual calculations derived from Omar Blodgett’s classic book, “Design of Weldments.”

Fast-forward 20 years and computers were finally up to the task of analyzing a full housing — in color and on a big monitor. We couldn’t afford our own installation, of course, but an important project had the budget to sub-contract the FEA to the local experts. It was almost engineering porn to watch the colors change as the housing model was checked for various loading conditions. The only drawback was that the FEA work took so long that the patterns had to be revised twice to incorporate the results.

But even this “improved” FEA experience turned out to be a disappointment, as the housings were later found to be cracking in areas that FEA said were “very low stress.” The usual finger-pointing took place on whether the FEA, design, or foundry practices were to blame.

But I came away skeptical of any design based upon colorful pictures.

Hopefully this latest incarnation of FEA will convince me to fully embrace the 21st century.

Studying the State of the Art

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 few years ago I presented a paper on reverse engineering at the AGMA Fall Technical Meeting. I heard through the grapevine that some folks were offended that “piracy” should be celebrated in such a prestigious forum. Reverse engineering is, and always has been, an important part of design engineering. In my opinion, to call it “piracy” is an insult to the great men and women who built the foundation of our trade.

While there are occasional instances where intellectual property rights have been violated, the majority of reverse engineering is done to keep old machines and process lines running. There is a huge amount of equipment for which parts and technical support simply does not exist in a timely manner. A sheet metal processing plant is not going to stop operating because an input shaft broke and the original equipment manufacturer wants 12 weeks to make a new one.

Another important aspect of reverse engineering is determining the “state of the art.” We are fortunate enough to live in a Golden Age of gear design. We have the machinery capable of routinely making parts which were once available only to front-line military equipment. Our computer capabilities are better than those that took us to the moon. Raw material quality and heat treat processing are better than ever. But if we don’t design our machines to fully utilize those capabilities we put our jobs, our companies, and our customers at risk.

When you consider the investments made to produce the material and equipment available, you have to be embarrassed when you make a crude or inelegant part. Every pound of material deserves to be made into a work of art; it is our job as designers and engineers to strive toward that goal. The first step, in my opinion, is to understand what is currently being done in your product area.

A side benefit to this situation is the pressure to make sure your own work will withstand study by your peers. There are no “gear cops” who will raid your plant for an aggressive interpretation of the rating formula, but your competitors will be happy to point it out to your customers. The American Gear Manufacturers Association was founded to rein in “outlaw” gear makers whose rating claims were putting the whole trade in a bad light. This “trust but verify” atmosphere has served our industry well because everyone benefits.

Do You Know Your Design DNA?

Design DNA

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 things I enjoyed about the gearbox repair business was the opportunity to study the design strategies of so many different companies, both foreign and domestic. Products made five, ten, even thirty years apart would have many similar design features. This proves the power of “design DNA” — of adopting a set of design rules to insure quality, performance, and manufacturability.

Features like bolt circle combinations, seal configurations, and minimum numbers of teeth may not seem important to the non-designer,but selecting them in a vacuum can really slow you down. Design is a lot like commuting in that every time one driver makes a decision it impacts every other person on that route. Quality decisions take time; this is why having some decisions “pre-programmed” is so important.

Sadly, some people adopt a set of design rules without even realizing it; as in building it into their computer programs and forgetting about it. Others stick with rules that are made obsolete by changing technology.

If you aren’t sure about your company’s “DNA,” ask around; read the project notes on product development, and, if needed, reverse engineer your own product.

What if you don’t have “company DNA”? That is where learning from others comes in. AGMA offers some outstanding seminars by well-known consulting engineers. Every issue of Gear Technology contains important articles on how other engineers make design decisions. If you have decisions to make, the Gear Technology data base is fully searchable and available 24/7 — all over the world. Make your own reference binder; you’ll be happy you did.

It is Nagging Time Again

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 posts of this blog encouraged participation in AGMA’s Fall Technical Meeting (FTM) “paper” program. Our magazine reprints many AGMA papers and, increasingly, from other international technical conferences. Without people stepping up to write and present papers, we will run short of content.

For 2015, the FTM abstracts will only be accepted electronically. Applications for this year close on January 15. I am taking a year or two off after presenting my fourth paper last year. Through this blog I offer coaching services to anyone who wants to submit an abstract this year or for 2016. We as an industry need new people up at that podium. It isn’t as difficult as you think and the long-term benefits to your career will be worth the effort.

Your topic doesn’t have to be groundbreaking; for example, new approaches to common problems are welcome. Proprietary information and “sales pitches” are not. If you’ve worked hard on understanding a particular area of gear technology or manufacturing, this is a great way to share the wealth. Has your company invested in new machinery, such as water jet cutting or wire EDM, and applied it to gearing in a unique way? Why not use FTM to alert potential customers? Have some advice on material selection or lab results you can share? This is the way to get the discussion started.

The AGMA website (www.agma.org) has instructions on submitting an abstract. For those not in a position to present a paper there is an ongoing need for people to help with peer reviews.

If you’d like some coaching on your paper, please contact me via e-mail (gearmanx52@gmail.com). There is no charge for this service, although I do expect you to “pay it forward” in the coming years. We all benefit from an engaged and well-informed gear community. Gear Technology has been dedicated to that goal for over 30 years.

It’s All About Context

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 was one of those kids that loved reading the dictionary to learn new words, and that interest has continued into my golden years. The gear trade has its own unique lexicon of terms, as does engineering in general. One of the cool things is the different meanings words take on due to their context.

This came to mind in church Sunday morning when we sang a hymn about being “free from sin’s alloy.” Like most of you, I am a big fan of alloys since we learned over the centuries that “pure” metals are weaker than those with the proper recipe of additives. While theologians and jewelers might think purity is a desirable goal, we mechanical engineers prefer the higher strength of a well-tested alloy.

Another word that needs context is “stress.” It can be just a point of emphasis or a deadly combination of events in your personal life. We engineers realize it is everywhere there is a “load” and work hard to quantify it, measure it, and make sure it is less than the “allowable.”

No wonder our “civilian” associates think we are a strange breed; we do speak a different language and have a much different view of the world. The smarter ones appreciate that without inquisitive tinkers, scientists, and engineers they’d still be beating their clothes against rocks in a stream.

At Marquette University, where I attended, there was a longstanding but good-natured joke war between the engineering and business administration schools. Several times a semester, mimeographed (boy, am I dating myself with that) “newspapers” would appear in the school’s lobbies with humorous shots at the other group. I have kept some of them for over 40 years and still find them funny.

Any of you have a favorite engineer/accountant/salesman or even lawyer joke you want to share? Send it to us and I’ll see that it gets into a blog posting.

Another Year Passes

2015 Happy New Year Strands Line Glow Dark Background

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 a child, I was usually disappointed with New Year’s. Even if I managed to stay awake until Midnight, it was still the same old life, the same lousy winter weather, and the same re-start of school at 12:01 AM as it was two minutes earlier. I am slightly less disillusioned these days as I realize the “magic” of New Year’s depends upon how much effort you put into it — much like New Year’s resolutions, I guess.

If you just go through the motions, don’t really commit yourself to the effort, no real change can or will take place. Last year, about this time, the idea of writing a Gear Technology blog was proposed to me. It seemed like a good way to get some name recognition, so I quickly agreed. We’ve been at it two or three times a week since then.

Not every posting has been memorable, but overall I am proud of the first year’s effort. It is difficult to come up with something topical twice a week; even tougher if you want it to be witty and of interest to the gear community. The second year won’t be any easier, but I look forward to the challenge.

What does any of this have to do with you? You probably aren’t writing a blog, but you, too, will go back to work after the New Year with challenges. Whatever your assigned duties are, I’d like you to stretch a bit. Work on your “name recognition” within your firm — and outside it too. Pick some task or activity where you think you can contribute just a bit more. Pick up a new skill. Volunteer for some training. Whether it is learning to estimate, mastering a new order entry system, or becoming a Scout leader, make a change in 2015. You’ll be glad 365 days from now.

Anticipation

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 lasting memory from childhood is how long it took for future events to occur. We started looking forward to Christmas when the Sears catalog arrived in late October, and it seemed like forever until the Big Day finally arrived. The same thing happened with summer vacation, except there was no catalog to moon over.

Time seems to speed up as we age; now the months fly by like some 1940s movie technique to alert the viewer to a change in time. Our family does not have any youngsters around at the moment, so the year-end holidays have been somewhat dull of late.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t enjoying the holiday decorations and celebrations, though. Instead of an early start on gift opening we’re sleeping in and watching favorite movies late into the night.

I prefer to think of it as recharging our batteries for a big 2015. Hopefully you have enjoyed 2014 and are already full of plans for a better new year. Holiday “down time” is a wonderful opportunity to anticipate the exciting days ahead. As Momma used to warn, “Anticipation is greater than realization.”

Or is it?

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.