The Gear Technology gang wishes to congratulate Dr. Faydor L. Litvin of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) on celebrating his 100th birthday in January. We had hoped to interview this distinguished engineer, inventor and author for a more in-depth review of his contributions to our industry, but have just learned he no longer entertains such requests.
Dr. Litvin began his UIC tenure in 1979 at the age most men retire, following a noteworthy life in his native Russia. Besides teaching and supervising over 75 graduate students, he continued to develop his gear theories and to publish books and papers that are widely used today. In Development of Gear Technology and Theory of Gearing (1997, NASA RP-1406), Dr. Litvin offered the following testimony to the hundreds of people who contributed to our trade without recognition. We at the Gear Technology blog share this excerpt from that preface in honor of Dr. Litvin’s centennial:
The history of developments in any area, including gear technology and theory, is the history of creativity, which has often gone unrecognized during one’s lifetime. The aspiration to create is a passion that enriches the life but requires unconditional devotion. Usually, creativity is associated with the arts (music, literature, painting), possibly because they have the greatest influence on our emotions. However, we do not realize the extent to which this passion conquers the daily activities of many in all levels of society. The desire of gifted persons to create is the driving force in their lives, bringing them joy and suffering and often no fame. For Fame, a capricious goddess, does not award in the proper time and may not award at all. My sympathy is for those who failed to achieve recognition for their accomplishments, and I share Dostoyevsky’s philosophy that suffering is necessary for spiritual achievement, but the price to be paid is sometimes too high. However, an individual who gives his heart to create should not look for fame. This was expressed with great emotion by Pasternak (1960) in his famous verse, “To Be That Famous Is Hardly Handsome”:
Creation’s aim—yourself to give,
Not loud success, appreciation.
To mean round nothing—shames to live,
On all men’s lips an empty sermon.
I sympathize with the heroes of Pasternak’s verse.
We at Gear Technology are thankful that Professor Litvin has been recognized for his achievements within his lifetime and encourage readers to become familiar with his writings.
On Saturday I began my 44th year in the gear industry. I remember way too many details of my first day as a drafting apprentice at the Falk Corporation for it to have been that long ago, but the calendar doesn’t lie.
After expressing shock that I had no relatives working there, my new co-workers began the long, hard task of teaching me enough so I wouldn’t be “a hazard to navigation.” At least one old hand advised having a good back up plan since hydraulics were going to take over everything. There have certainly been many changes in our trade since 1971 but anyone who ever watched an episode of Junkyard Wars could tell you, the hydraulic revolution never happened.
In my opinion, the big changes that reshaped our industry:
Computer controlled machine tools. When I took my first shop tour at Falk it was wall- to-wall turret lathes in three buildings. Ten years later they were gone.
Personal computers. In 1971 we punched our own cards for the mainframe computer. At least once a week a box of cards got dropped on the way to the computer room. I could have built a house with my boxes of cards. Ten years later that mainframe was in a little box on every desk.
Computer Aided Drafting. I was a late adopter of CAD, as you might expect given my apprenticeship. By the mid 1980s, a single CAD station could out perform five or six draftsmen.
Ground gearing. Falk held on to through hardened gearing longer than most companies, but by 1990 most of the industry had transitioned to carburized and hardened gears with ground flanks.
Coated hobs and cutters. It took a while for everyone to believe the test results, but within a few years the benefits of extended tool life changed the economics of the business.
CNC Form Grinders. In 1971 there were two dominant gear grinding technologies: MAAGs for bigger, high-precision parts and Reishauers for smaller, high-volume parts. On MAAGs you talked “days per gear” and on Reishauers it was “minutes per gear” after a day of wheel prep. The advent of CNC form grinding reduced the cost of gear grinding and made the advanced micro-geometry required for high performance possible.
The Internet. Until the Internet came into our lives, you needed good library skills to research technical topics. Inquiries and purchase orders came in via the post office and might take days just to reach the appropriate desk. Responses went by “snail mail” too. Long distance phone calls were reserved for emergencies. For a short period of time, communication shifted to fax machines, but once the “dot com” boom started, we were on that slippery slope to instant communication.
Cell phones. When I started traveling with sales people, the first thing that I noticed was how much of a hassle it was for them to communicate by phone. Most carried bags of “telephone change” and knew where every pay phone was on their turf. Being able to carry a cell phone, even at the outrageous rates of the early days, revolutionized the sales game.
Did I miss anything? Use the comments to let me know.
In my previous post I talked about the official ways an internship program benefited our company. Today I’d like to talk about a couple of unanticipated aspects of the program. Our shop, like most of yours, had many experienced employees, but few young people. The influx of inquisitive and personable students did annoy a few of the gruffer old hands, but far more of them were flattered by the kids asking them questions and soliciting their opinions on how things could be done better. You really can’t say you understand something until you try to explain it to someone completely unfamiliar with the topic. The very necessary interaction between our operators and interns gave us new insight into the ways we had always done things. In some cases it confirmed our process, in others it challenged our assumptions and allowed us to try new methods with less feather ruffling than if the changes came down from management.
The second thing I noticed was leadership is different from supervision. In some cases our foremen were not the “leaders” in their departments. Getting changes to “stick” was far more successful when the actual floor leader was convinced someone had finally listened to him. Your company, too, has some great leaders out on your shop floor; those leaders might have ideas you need to hear. Between the interns’ questions and our following up with the operators on the kids’ efforts, we learned many things we would not have without the program.
One of the things we made every intern do at the completion of a project was to prepare a presentation for anyone interested in attending. For most of the students this was by far the most stressful part of their tenure. It really informed management and their co-workers on what they had accomplished. And several reported afterwards that the experience helped them during job interviews upon graduation. You know the old joke about an extroverted engineer looking at your shoes when he talks to you? Mandatory public presentations gets their eyes raised a bit and increase their self- confidence for future assignments. That is a good thing for our industry.
The first question my boss asked me when I suggested we start an intern program was “What’s in it for us?” Fortunately I had done my homework and read the “instruction book” that a college placement office had e-mailed me: Starting and Maintaining a Quality Internship Program, compiled and edited by Michael True, director, Internship Center, Messiah College, Grantham, PA 17027; revised edition by MACIC (Milwaukee Area Internship Consortium 5/03), sponsored by www.tccp.org, Pittsburgh Technology Council and Messiah College.
It helped that our company was at that time growing rapidly and that he was looking for less expensive ways to recruit qualified employees. Among the benefits an employer enjoys from a well organized internship program are:
• Year-round source of highly motivated pre-professionals
• Students bring new perspectives to old problems
• Visibility of your organization is increased on campus and within your community
• Quality candidates for temporary or seasonal positions and projects
• Freedom for professional staff to pursue more creative projects
• Flexible, cost-effective workforce not requiring a long-term employer commitment
• Proven, cost-effective way to recruit and evaluate potential employees
Like many companies, we had a lot of projects that we never quite had the time to complete. Our list included finding a way to fit more cars in our parking lot, reorganizing our engineering files, inventorying gear cutting tools, converting CAD drawings to a different format, and improving material flow through the plant. All worthwhile projects that never got near the top of our priority lists. I’m sure we could have come up with even more projects had we asked the accounting, purchasing, or sales departments, but my list was sufficient to get an approval to hire a couple of engineering students for the summer months. Note I said “hire,” as we felt it was unfair to ask unpaid volunteers to perform “real work.” With input from the University’s internship advisor, we set an hourly rate based upon year in school and had plenty of well-qualified candidates to choose from. By the end of the summer our project backlog was eliminated, but my co-workers were already debating “what we should have the kids do next summer.”
With the extreme weather much of the country has been having it isn’t too surprising that many people are daydreaming about summer vacations and relaxing days far from the snow shovel. But another group of people is already thinking of summer for far less relaxing reasons; they are college students in need of summer employment. Ideally that employment would be in their field of study with a company who might be in need of their services after graduation.
Until my own children started looking for “internships” I didn’t give much thought to this situation. Sure, I had seen “summer help” in action at various employers but it seemed like they were just being given manual labor tasks like cleaning out storage rooms and landscaping, with maybe a little painting thrown in for variety. I confess to drafting my son into some scut work when he had too long a winter break during his freshman year. The University of Cincinnati’s long tradition of co-op study preempted his need for further dirty work and his sister was wary of more assignments after one vacation of filing purchase orders.
My daughter became an advocate for internships after several dismal assignments early in her studies at the University of Illinois. At her urging I learned what made an internship “work” for both the student and the employer. Then I sold the idea to my bosses as a way of getting some long neglected tasks off the Engineering Department things-to-do list.
It took some effort on my part and some patience from my staff but that things-to-do list got whittled down by summer’s end. The students learned to apply some “book learning” to real world problems and to present their results before upper management. Several of the kids used their project reports in job interviews. Our company president was impressed enough to authorize another group of interns for winter break. That group got a rave review from him for presenting a unique solution to a capital spending problem worthy of a major consulting firm.
So despite the calendar, I encourage those of you who are in a position to offer summer employment to study your things-to-do lists for tasks you can delegate to eager young people. In my next posts I will give some tips on selecting projects, finding interns, and making the internship experience beneficial to everyone involved.
I have been finding lots of interesting information on the Internet while researching my Fall Technical Meeting paper. Whoever decided to scan old engineering books and trade magazines for online reference did a great service to coming generations. As is often the case in research, you set out looking for information on one topic only to be distracted by a fascinating trail leading somewhere else entirely.
My interest in the adoption of standard tooth forms lead to trade magazine, The Iron Age, Volume #110, reports on AGMA meetings in 1921 and 1922. If you just saw the topic list you might think you were in a contemporary gathering of the association or on a TV business talk show. The 1922 meeting, for example, had a spirited discussion of tariffs and trade policy [page 995] and whether they were good for the gear trade.
Another hot topic was the shortage of skilled labor, rising wages, and the need to improve training methods (page 995). Apprenticeships were debated with the same concerns about retention and cost sharing that we hear today. Even the technical topics seem contemporary, ranging from the hot rolling of gear teeth (page 862) to the study of gear noise (page 994).
If there is interest amongst our readers we might be able to reprint some of these reports. Let me know via the comments.
I have posted previously about the need for mentors and teachers in the gear trade. Once a year the National Society of Professional Engineers designates a National Engineers Week when they encourage members to put on programs in schools on science and engineering. We are right in the middle of the 2014 edition, and to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t have known it but for a helpful reminder from the Gear Technology staff.
When my children were in elementary school in the early 1990s, I took Engineers Week far more seriously and visited their classrooms to present some NSPE-produced experiments. My wonderful wife and I had a great time; our children were somewhat embarrassed, and hopefully some interest in engineering and science careers was created. We moved away shortly afterwards, so I can’t say for sure whether any of those children went on to technical careers.
I am pretty certain, however, that kids won’t get the engineering bug if they don’t get exposed to it at an early age. Not every child who tests well in math and science is cut out to be an engineer. Far too many get sent that way in high school by well-meaning guidance counselors who check the test scores and point out the good starting salaries. We also hear too much from politicians on our need for more advanced degrees in the sciences. Most of the engineers I respect entered the trade because it best fit their interests and aptitude; they honestly feel they were born to do this work and would not have been happy doing anything else. Tough classes in school, long hours at work, and even lagging appreciation from management couldn’t keep them from getting a twinkle in their eyes when discussing a technical challenge overcome.
So I don’t put on wind energy demonstrations for third graders anymore. Nor do I lead fifth graders through simulated oil spill cleanups. But I do take calls from college engineering students looking for guidance on their projects. And I try to answer e-mails looking for help understanding our sometimes baffling terminology. If you can, please visit those grade school classrooms and stir up some interest. At the very least, try to be patient with your younger colleagues and help them learn a little more each day.
Gear history is a passion of mine along with the history of mechanical transportation. Growing up in Milwaukee we got a big dose of local history and the many innovations of our Southeastern Wisconsin brethren. They were a proud bunch of mechanics and many were determined to find the next big thing that would make them rich and famous. A couple obviously succeeded on two wheels, but less well known is the development of the first commercially viable four-wheel drive truck around 1914. The Jeffery Company was doing a decent business building Nash cars when the U.S. Army visited looking for an all-weather truck to replace their mule teams. Apparently mules were becoming too hard to find and too expensive to feed.
The result was the Jeffery Quad, later renamed the Nash Quad after the company was sold to Charles Nash. Over 40,000 of these unique vehicles were made during the 15 year production run. They were sold all over the world and, for all we know, one is still exercising its 315 cubic inch gasoline motor, four-speed transmission, automatic locking differentials, and four-wheel steering. Amazing specifications for 100 years ago, and a reminder that although the old gear guys were hampered by poor metallurgy and relatively inaccurate machines, they had a great understanding of basic engineering principles and how to apply them. For example, Jeffery had, in his early days, patented the pneumatic “clincher” bicycle tire and sold the patent to Dunlop. He surrounded himself with smart people like John North Willys, who later founded a car company of his own that had a future in four-wheel drive.
While researching a gear ratings history story I am discovering a similar linkage between well-known gear people. Particularly in areas like Chicago, creative people were introduced to the trade at one firm and over the course of their career they took that knowledge and developed new products, started new companies, and improved upon the things they saw others doing. It is still possible to do these things today. Just something to ponder as we wait for our SUV’s to warm up for another commute through this challenging winter.
I am not much of a professional basketball fan; to me the college game is more interesting than the NBA. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament may be the perfect sporting event that doesn’t involve internal combustion engines. Recently there has been a lot of chatter about an NBA Mount Rushmore and which faces should be on it; certainly a worthy topic to debate at the local sports bar.
What about a Mount Rushmore for the gear business? My last posting talked about finding a book by Professor Faydor L. Litvin in my electronic files. In the preface to the book, professor Litvin laments that many of the personages he wrote about were not recognized for their contributions during their lifetimes. Some of them remained unknown long after their deaths. We still don’t know who first accomplished many important feats in our trade.
Those who wrote books, filed for patents, taught at prominent universities, or founded companies have a better chance of being remembered. But how would you rank achievers in a field with a history going back several thousand years? Does an innovator, inventor, and founder of several still existing companies like George Grant get more consideration than an Iron Age mill builder?
The same problem exists in the NBA Mount Rushmore debate. For some talking heads the “history” begins when they were personally able to watch the nominees for immortality. For them Bob Cousy, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, George Mikan and dozens of other stars are lost in pre-history.
So who goes on a gear industry Mount Rushmore? I can’t imagine cutting the list of nominees anywhere near four or five but would enjoy hearing your thoughts on the subject.
Writing a technical paper sometimes requires digging deep in your files for that obscure reference you just know you kept a copy of somewhere. I’ve been collecting books, papers, and magazine clippings for 43 years and remembering where things are after that amount of time and multiple job changes and relocations can be frustrating.
Even more frustrating is finding the sought after clipping and discovering it lacks the information needed to reference it in a peer reviewed paper. Contacting living authors is one thing; getting out the Ouija Board to contact others seems like a long shot.
An unexpected pleasure of this process is finding things I didn’t know I had. Such as a wonderful book (Development of Gear Technology and Theory of Gearing, NASA Ref. Publication 1406) by Prof. Faydor L. Litvin that included short biographies on people he thought were important to the development of gears. There is some impressive mathematical development early in the work that probably accounts for my forgetting that it was in my computer files. Included on that list of luminaries was the author of a book I had open on my desk at that moment, Prof. Earle Buckingham.
I have been a frequent user of Prof. Buckingham’s three volume master work, Manual of Gear Design. If you deal with epicyclic or planetary drives you too probably have pages 126-136 of Section Two memorized. I never bothered to look at other chapters in the book until prompted by another reference. It was a real shock to find that the Professor had taken the time to work out an entire system of high contact ratio gears back in 1935! While I had no illusions that I was breaking new ground with my Fall Technical Meeting paper, knowing that one of the giants of gear engineering had worked on the topic makes me sharpen my outline a little bit.
Have any of you had a similar experience in researching a new topic only to find that some of the hard work has already been done?