As mentioned in my last posting, the AGMA Helical Gear Rating Committee ([HGRC)] was in Chicago this week for two days of work on the next edition of the basic gear rating standard and a discussion of our official American position on certain ISO methods. Eight gear engineers from around the country representing a variety of companies took time away from their busy schedules to participate. The HGRC meets in person three or four times a year and holds a like number of web-based meetings to keep the dialog going.
None of the industry participants gets paid for this effort. When they go back to their offices the work will have piled up; yet somehow they will find time to get their AGMA “homework” done too. Some of their employers will also be encouraging their participation in international standards work that requires overseas travel. There are many AGMA committees besides the HGRC where this scene is replayed with equal fervor. And amazingly enough, the AGMA has operated this way for 98 years.
I mention this because the AGMA has been a big influence on my development as a gear engineer. For those of you starting out in this trade I cannot emphasize enough how much value you will find in the standards that apply to your products. They are more current than any reference book and while they lack the cutting edge of technology found in our magazine’s articles, they represent the consensus “best practices” of our field’s experienced practitioners.
Committee membership is open to representatives from all member companies. The meeting calendar is kept current on the AGMA website and new members are always welcome. If you don’t have a travel budget, the web-exs are a great way to participate from your own workstation. In 1979 I was one of the new kids—now I am one of the old timers. The years really fly by when you are immersed in an activity you enjoy. If you are reading this blog you may be just the sort of person who will find AGMA committee work a great addition to your life in the gear trade.
PS: You also get to feel like an insider when you attend committee meetings. Today we got an early look at the list of papers for the Fall Technical Meeting. Somebody has some writing to do.
Today I have the pleasure of attending an AGMA Helical Gear Rating Committee meeting. On and off for the past 35 years I have been able to observe a great group of gear engineers debate the big issues and the minutia of helical and spur gear capacity. It isn’t always pretty, but it’s educational. Standards writing has been compared to sausage making; we all enjoy the results even if we don’t want to know the ingredients in great detail.
The same can be said for gear rating software. In a previous post I related my sudden promotion to “gear expert.” Part of the job description in 1979 was writing your own software; commercially available gear rating software didn’t exist. Large companies had custom software for use on mainframes via punch cards but for everyone else it was manual calculation according to the standards book or, if you were lucky and had a generous boss, a homemade program on one of the just emerging personal computers.
You learned a lot about standards when you wrote your own program. Like just how tough it was to calculate an accurate J factor for bending strength – especially if your geometry wasn’t completely “standard.” It was frustrating to labor for hours on your code and have the program fail for a single misplaced symbol. Eventually I got my programs to run and produce results I had confidence in.
As soon as commercial software became available, I stopped writing my own, but, mindful of the errors possible through programming defects, I validated the results against previous methods, both manual and computer. Each generation of software takes us further from those individually tested methods, however, and increases the risk of problems going undetected. All the sophisticated analysis routines in the world can’t make up for faulty reasoning or misapplied logic. Pretty output screens and lots of figures to the right of the decimal point do not absolve the engineer of his or her duty to verify the results against real-world experience.
The late Don McVittie was fond of saying “In God we trust; all others bring data.” Computer calculations are not “data” unless there are physical test results to back them up. Beware of software that promises to make testing unnecessary. Well-known aerospace projects have been publicly humiliated by glitches real-world testing would have caught.
Department of Corrections: An earlier posting incorrectly identified Al Swiglo as head of the AGMA metallurgy committee. While he admits to being a “senior” member in terms of years, Al is “only” the committee secretary. I apologize for the error.
It is that time of year when some of our favorite television shows are pre-empted by awards shows. Every facet of the entertainment business seems to need a couple of prime time hours to celebrate their accomplishments over the last 12 months. In the gear trade we tend to take a bit longer to judge success, and no one wants to see our folks walk the red carpet.
A feature on many of these shows is worth emulating, however. The Grammies had a nice tribute to musicians who “left us” in 2013. I recognized the kid from Glee and Pete Seeger, but not many of the others. Perhaps it is my age showing that others were unknown to me, but I am sure their fans, friends, families, and co-workers appreciated the gesture of respect.
AGMA has a number of awards for committee chairmen and association officers. The people who win these awards have often devoted 20 years or more to the association; nobody is an overnight sensation in our business. An earlier blog posting mentioned my ongoing research into the development of gear rating methods; I have been collecting documents and names to investigate further. A veritable Gear Guru Hall of Fame, and most of them devoted 40 or more years to the advancement of our trade.
Many excellent gear people never get near an AGMA gathering, however, and there ought to be a way to recognize their contributions to their company, shop, or academic institution. You know and work with these folks every day; they are the people who can be relied upon to make the difficult decisions. Ideally they would know they were appreciated while still alive to enjoy it. So if you have a favorite gear person you would like to salute, drop me an e-mail or post a comment.
The world’s first Porsche vehicle was recently discovered in a shed in Austria, where it’s been since 1902 (photo courtesy of Porsche).
Close-up of the wheel from the world’s first Porsche (photo courtesy of Porsche).
Among old car fans few things stir interest more than the announcement that a valuable car has been found in some storage facility. Just this week we learned that the world’s first Porsche had been found in Austria. The 1898 vintage electric car had been missing and presumed lost since its victory in an early race for electric vehicles. Looking more like a horse drawn farm wagon than a 911 sportscar, the “P1” will no doubt become the centerpiece of a museum’s collection.
So what does this have to do with gears? It got me wondering how many historic gears and gearboxes are languishing in storage sheds or rusting away outside our factories? While not as fondly remembered as old cars and trucks, don’t these objects deserve to be preserved and celebrated?
Last year I started collecting material for an article on the history of gear rating methods. The AGMA was organized to standardize calculation methods lest some snake oil salesman ruin the business for everyone else by making outrageous claims for his products. One of the items I collected is a 1912 engineering magazine with an article by Percy C. Day on the advantages of herringbone gears. A short while later I visited Falk’s Renew facility for a client and on display in the lobby was a 1914 herringbone gearbox Mr. Day designed after he went to work for Falk in 1913.
I was involved with making parts for some 1894 vintage Hullet loaders a number of years ago and have read that the machines are still on display in Duluth Minnesota and Cleveland Ohio. Some very old gear drives continue to power the inclines in Pittsburgh. We are making history every day and someday today’s new product will be just another curiosity.
So what do you have in your lobbies, museums, and storage areas? How about your production line? I am sure we can get your stories up here on the blog and maybe into the magazine itself.
Is there a better time to salute metallurgists than when much of the country is in the midst of a massive cryogenic experiment? It is -15°F without wind chill as I write this, so I am reminded of the unique challenges of selecting materials and heat treatments for extreme conditions. I’ve been through worse cold snaps than this, including a Boy Scout Klondike Derby outing where -28°F proved to be close enough to the brittle state of plastic pipe to destroy some competitors’ sleds. Traditional sled materials such as wood, leather, and rope proved immune to the conditions; much like well bundled kids without thermometers handy. Their mothers gave us an earful about irresponsibility when we returned home, but the boys were pretty proud of themselves for overcoming the brutal temperatures without damage. Thanks to ever-present modern communication, today’s scouts would never consider setting out in a weather emergency.
My first recollection of “metallurgy” was seeing a photo of a Liberty ship with the bow broken off from the cold ocean water. I survived the required classes in engineering school but never really appreciated this important field until decisions had to be made about materials and thermal processing for wind turbine components that might end up in very cold conditions. We even had to build and test lube systems in a deep freezer; -40°F is very hard on pumps. Since then I have learned a great deal about materials selection, heat treating, deep freezing, and the various test methods used to insure proper performance at extreme temperatures.
The most important thing I learned is to have good reference materials on hand and the contact information for expert metallurgists at the ready. As always, AGMA standards are an excellent place to start. My friend Al Swiglo heads up the Metallurgy Committee, which is always working to keep the standards current with this rapidly advancing field. Many metallurgy papers are presented at the AGMA Fall Technical Meeting and other materials symposiums. You can count on Gear Technology to publish the papers which are most valuable to the gear trade.
Here are some links to past articles that might be of interest:
Some months ago I got a call from a young engineer asking how he could get into the consulting business. It was a flattering call but a rather tough question to answer. As mentioned in a previous post, the American gear industry does not require a doctorate to be a consultant. While we have a professional engineer licensing system — I am a licensed PE in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — it is more concerned with keeping civil engineers and surveyors compliant with the appropriate statutes. We have relatively few academics active in our trade compared to other countries. Those we have, of course, are greatly appreciated.
So how do you become a gear expert? If you look at the backgrounds of Gear Technology’s volunteer technical editors, you’ll find that all of them have been active in the trade for many years, have served on AGMA committees, and continue to participate in solving gear problems. I was invited to join this group in 2004 after 33 years in the gear industry.
On a humorous note, I can remember the first time I was referred to as a “gear expert.” In January of 1979 I found myself working for Cone Drive/D.O. James in Traverse City, Michigan after eight wonderful years at Falk. The second Monday on the job I arrived at the office to discover that the remaining D.O. James engineers had left the company on Saturday. I got this news when a shop foreman showed up at my desk with a problem. He had been told by the shop supervisor to “go see the new gear expert.”
I had never been involved in figuring change gears before but could hardly admit it in front of my new co-workers, Fortunately I was able to find an operator’s manual for that particular hobbing machine and a battered copy of the MAAG change gear tables. It was the first of many “problems” I couldn’t delegate and it set the pattern for my growth as a gear engineer. You don’t become an expert dodging trouble; you have to wade into it and reason your way out of the swamp.
My co-workers and mentors were very supportive of the process. They were great about asking lots of questions and testing the answers. The first answer wasn’t always the best answer and I have a few scars to prove it. At Gear Technology our “Ask the Expert” feature is designed to minimize the number of scars you collect, too. We want you to succeed in your effort to be a gear expert, too.
Here are some links to recent “Ask the Expert” columns that have appeared in the magazine:
Here in the Midwest we are going through a nasty winter. Between the relentless snow and bone-numbing cold, it has been a challenge keeping sidewalks and roadways clear for safe travel. Today I’d like to thank the people who made it possible for the average homeowner to have a snowblower. Before 1951 snowblowers and snowthrowers were only found in railroad yards and highway departments. Everyone else was stuck moving snow with a plow or a shovel.
Then Toro introduced the Snowhound in 1951 and the snowblower became a suburban necessity. The transition from JW Elliot’s 1869 locomotive mounted machine to Arthur Sicard’s 1925 truck mounted model was tough enough, but the breakthroughs needed to make a walk-behind model required lots of clever engineering.
Many of those clever engineers were in the gear trade. Every time I operate my self-propelled MTD, I marvel at the 6 forward speed/2 reverse speed transmission being cost effective. Not to mention the neat crossed helical gearbox that drives the blade itself. Coming from a world of large industrial gears, I couldn’t believe they could be made and sold so inexpensively the first time I saw one being made at Peerless Gear in 1978.
So from a guy who clears his own driveway, I salute my fellow gear people for their inventiveness and diligence. Without that snowblower, I would be moving south as soon as possible.
I am happy to report that I survived my first Skype teleconference today. This amazing technology may be old hat to some of you but as a non-grandparent I had to call my daughter, the internet expert, for a quick lesson in how far to sit from the screen, how loud to speak, and how to position the screen.
Things went well and it was far better than spending a day in the airport traveling to and from an out of town meeting. Travel budgets have been tight for years now; so much so that many AGMA committees are having more teleconferences than face-to-face meetings. The ones I have participated did not have a video component and I’m not sure they need it. It isn’t like there are incredibly cute grandchildren running around.
One thing that came up in the Skype meeting was how ubiquitous 3-D models are at these gatherings. Everyone expects there to be pretty colored pictures. I admire the speed and skill of our younger engineers at rendering designs in this medium. Maybe it isn’t too late for me to learn a new CAD program.
When discussing influential books on gears, I like to start with the venerable Machinery’s Handbook. No matter where you go in the industrial world you’ll find well thumbed copies of this handy reference book. My long time friend and noted gear engineer Ed Hahlbeck was fond of saying that if he was ever ship wrecked on a desert island he hoped his Machinery’s Handbook washed ashore too. I have a 21st century copy in my library right along side the 1928 edition I bought for a dollar at an estate sale.
The gear trade and general industry owe a big thank you to Franklin D. Jones and Erik Oberg for first publishing this reference in 1914 and for updating it every few years. Mr. Jones died in 1967 at the age of 88 but even the latest electronic versions still carry his name. He was a prolific writer/editor and I am a fan of two of his other books as well. Gear Design Simplified is a great guide for beginning gear people. The three volume Ingenious Mechanisms for Engineers and Designers is at the opposite end of the complexity scale but certainly shows the creativity of the people who worked in our trade before slide rules, calculators, and computer aided design.
I wonder if the publishers will have a special 100th Anniversary edition? Are there any other scientific or engineering reference books that have been in continuous use for that long? At one point I had a complete set of Gear Technology back issues but unfortunately they got damaged in one of my many moves. On line access to the contents diminishes that loss but I tend to agree with Ed; finding a Machinery’s Handbook is a good first step in resolving many shop problems.
Blogging about gear training brings to mind the widely attended Illinois Tool Works Gear School that Bob Moderow operated on behalf of his employer. When I attended in 1979, ITW was one of the largest suppliers of gear cutting tools and gear inspection machines in the world. Times and technology have changed since then and most of ITW’s gearing assets are disbursed to other firms now. Coatings on hobs and shaper cutters greatly increased their useful life so the volume needed by industry declined. New computer assisted gear inspection machines displaced the analog devices ITW made while providing more accurate and reliable inspections.
The ITW Gear School provided the first industry-wide instruction in gear theory, manufacturing, and inspection. We owe a big debt to Bob Moderow and his co-workers for standardizing the terminology used. Thousands of engineers, foremen, and operators “graduated” from the school with an understanding of what a “good” chart looked like on a lead or a profile. Perhaps more importantly, they also knew how to adjust the process to make a bad chart become a good chart. The training materials developed for the course are still being used in shops all over the world. With modern gear grinding equipment we don’t often have to know how a mis-sharpened hob changes the involute shape but I keep the diagrams in my personal “book of knowledge.”
AGMA has picked up the torch on industry-wide gear training in recent years. Ray Drago and Bob Errichello provide top-notch courses in a wide variety of areas. Do yourself and your company a favor by attending an AGMA seminar soon. Both instructors are unsurpassed in their understanding of gear technology and are wonderful teachers as well. Those two attributes are not often found in the same person and their willingness to conduct these classes several times a year is laudable. I count myself lucky to have learned from them in the classroom. If you can’t attend a seminar in person you can find many contributions from these legends in the Gear Technology archives.