All posts by Charles D. Schultz

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

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.

The Invisibles: People Who Keep Shops Running

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 happened to catch an interview with author David Zwieg about his new book, The Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Workers (www.davidzwieg.com/writing) right after visiting one of my old employers. Zwieg’s appreciation for “the little people” who keep most organizations humming along matches my own. Chatting recently with some former co-workers about the daily challenges of keeping machines running, sorting out problems with customer drawings, and finding new customers made me miss the old routine.

Not that I want to go back to commuting through Chicago traffic, mind you. But there is something comfortable about dealing with issues you understand well and are confident you can resolve without upsetting work flow. For his book Mr. Zwieg interviewed people with important jobs that go unnoticed — unless there is a big mistake. Consider structural engineers: whoever hears about a structural engineer — unless a building or bridge collapses?

Most gear shops have at least a handful of go-to guys and gals who keep the parts flowing smoothly. They, too, go unnoticed unless the momentum stops or a question remains unanswered too long. Most of them prefer to stay out of the spotlight and live in fear of letting the team down. Or, as songwriter Mac McAnally so nicely phrased it in his 1970 ballad, “It’s My Job”:

It’s my job to be cleaning up this mess
and that’s enough reason to go for me.
It’s my job to be better than the rest
and that makes the day for me.”

So let me thank the dozens of “invisibles” who have kept the places I worked running. Great things can happen when competent people put their skills together and don’t worry about being individual stars.

School’s Out for Summer?

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)

June has always been a favorite month for me because it signaled the start of summer vacation. In the many years since I graduated high school, it is apparent that the academic calendar has shifted to allow for an earlier end to classes. Yet June remains forever imprinted on me.

An insightful reader of this blog recently noted that you never finish your gear education, and summer is just as good a time as any to refresh your memory on a neglected topic, or to become enthused again about an old one. This prompts me to wonder whether your company took my unsolicited — but well-intentioned — advice and brought in an intern or two for the summer months. If so, instead of merely giving them a book to (hopefully) read on gears, why not prepare a short class on the topic and present it to the interns — and, even better — interested employees as well?

You never really understand a topic until you try to teach it. Example: to comply with ISO continuous improvement/training requirements, I prepared classes on cost estimating; part processing; heat treating; gear geometry; gear inspection; and a few other topics. And I’m glad I did.

Not everyone was receptive to sitting in a class an hour a week for several weeks; but overall, I think the program was a success based upon the questions I got for months afterward. This demonstrated that they had not only attended and paid attention — but later had also thought about what they had learned.

It is difficult to know what level of knowledge is “needed” to accomplish a specific task, so for best results you might as well provide more information than is generally thought necessary. Sometimes just teaching the “how” of something and skipping the “why” leads to the erroneous conclusion that any drone could do the job at hand. In truth, modern shop and office environments need engaged and enlightened people working at every task.

The Error of Hiding Failures

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 General Motors ignition switch fiasco remains in the headlines, having cost many lives, millions of dollars, and a number a careers. What seems to engineers as a relatively simple issue becomes very complicated in light of company politics, legal concerns, and accident settlements. As one colleague tersely put it: “Just tell people to stop hanging four pounds of junk on their key fob and the switches are just fine.”

The engineer in me wants to endorse this approach, but unfortunately the general public doesn’t see it so simply. We have a responsibility to anticipate misuse of our products and to do what we can to prevent misuse from harming people. This puts the engineer at odds with his employer’s need to limit liability and keep failures quiet.

We see this dynamic in action at AGMA technical committee meetings. A problem will come up in conversation and people will immediately start backpedaling on how they happen to be so well informed on it. It is an interesting bit of maneuvering — necessary for legal purposes but detrimental to solving the problem.

Closer to home, there are a number of ongoing issues bedeviling gear makers these days. One of them is grinding burn; despite claims to the contrary, gears occasionally get burned during tooth grinding. Instead of making a combined effort to identify the conditions that cause it and to develop methods of minimizing it, we pretend it only happens to “the other guy.”

A colleague has been trying to raise money for a test program on grinding burn, with an eye toward developing rework methods suitable for salvaging very expensive parts. Unfortunately he is not getting much support, because it is “the other guy’s” problem. Many potential funders are quite interested, however, in seeing his rework methods if and when they are developed. Without disclosure and evidence sharing, it is more difficult to solve problems.

Perhaps we need a South African-style “Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” where companies can get indemnification for previously undisclosed technical failures.

Regrets, I Have a Few

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)

Like many Baby Boomers, I have a strong attachment to the music of my youth. I don’t suppose many people under sixty remember folk singer Tom Rush, but his song “No Regrets” has been a favorite since I first heard it. Unfortunately, unlike Mr. Rush, I have plenty of regrets.

One of them is never having really learned to speak another language. I marvel at people who can seamlessly move from one language to another. My family apparently stopped speaking German when The Great War broke out. Prior to that conflict, Milwaukee had fourteen German newspapers. By the time it was over, only one survived. So intense was the anti-German campaign that even bakeries renamed their products.

I attempted to learn German while in middle school and college — to no avail. Sure, I can recite most of the first lesson, but once I’ve asked Louisa if she wants to go to the library I am completely lost. It doesn’t help that my hereditary tongue is so complicated. No less of an authority than Mark Twain noted:

“My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years.”

Still, it was embarrassing — the first time I visited Germany — for the passport clerk to consider my name and appearance and to begin instructing me in German. She displayed a mixture of horror and amusement when I replied, “Meine Deutsch is nicht seir gute.”

I mention this subject here as a continuation to previous posts on “failure.” All told, I am nowhere near 10,000 hours into my study of the German language, so perhaps I will lobby for a grade of “Incomplete.” Certain German words — such as schadenfreude and backpfeifengesicht — have a special appeal to me and I hope to visit the country again.

Until I gain a bit more fluency, however, I’ll share another of Mark Twain’s comments on the complicated language:

“How charmed I am when I overhear a German word which I understand!”