Asset or Liability?

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 encouraging young people to consider a career in engineering, I think it is important to be honest about the current “status” of engineers in the working world. There was a time when an engineer was as highly respected as a doctor or lawyer. Engineers frequently founded and lead companies from garage start-ups to industry dominance. Movies and TV shows were written about them. For the most part those days have passed.

Our politicians and news media talk a lot about the need for “investment” in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing) programs, but they seldom back it up. They decry the low numbers of Americans seeking advanced degrees and foolishly assume it is because of lack of tuition funding. American engineers still go to graduate school; they just make the very rational decision to invest their money in an MBA or JD degree.

Companies used to consider engineers a tremendous asset; the assumption was a good engineer saved his firm the equivalent of his or her salary every year. Essentially the engineers “paid their own way.” Somewhere along the way that opinion flipped and technology became a commodity you could buy or license instead of developing in-house. Processes were changed to conform to the latest business executive’s best seller. Passion for design excellence was replaced with quarterly profits above all else.

As logical actors, young engineers quickly grasp that high starting salaries are not enough for a satisfying career. They see college classmates who took far less demanding classes start to climb the corporate ladder and get better pay and more influence. They either learn to accept it and go back to enjoying the things that attracted them to engineering in the first place — or they switch career tracks.

Imagine a world where Henry Ford or Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs decided the only way to get ahead was to go to Law School. I don’t want to think about it either. So when advising youngsters on career choices it is important to be honest. As an engineer you’ll have to study hard while others party hard. You’ll get paid well to start and have to fight for every penny after that. You may have to change employers occasionally. In exchange, you’ll get to do really interesting things few people will understand. If that doesn’t sound like a great life plan, maybe an MBA or JD track is right for you. You can always exercise your killer math skills with Sudoko puzzles.

It Isn’t a Job. It’s a Passion

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)


February 22-28, 2015 is the 64th annual National Engineers’ Week — as established by the National Society of Professional Engineers. The week varies a bit from year to year, so as to always include the February 22nd birthday of George Washington, our first president — and one of our first engineers. While many of the stories taught to school children about this founding father are fiction, his enduring interest in engineering was not.

I have blogged before about my efforts to bring engineering into my children’s classrooms and I encourage those of you who can to continue this program. A recent conversation with a lifelong friend about the school system revives my worry that children are not being properly informed about what a career in engineering requires. Far too many boys are being pushed into engineering just because they are “good” at math and science. Sadly, the same pressure is not applied to girls with equal test scores.

Being an engineer requires more than just math and science skills. We have computers today that handle lots of the drudgery formerly involved in number crunching and equation balancing. What a good engineer needs is an insatiable interest in how things work and a desire to make them work better. He or she can’t be above getting their hands dirty.

It isn’t a job, it’s a passion. Over the years I have come to realize that I don’t want to be on a project with people who aren’t passionate about getting the best possible results. What makes engineering so great is that there is more than one right answer to most of the “problems.” Sure the math has to work out, but you get to decide how many cylinders that motor needs, how many teeth should be on that pinion, or what bearings to use. Designing a machine is a many-layered puzzle with lots of factors to consider. You can spend an entire career in one sector of the field and still learn something new each day.

For more information:

http://www.nspe.org/resources/partners-and-state-societies/national-engineers-week

https://www.facebook.com/EngineersWeek

Where is My Flying Car?

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 was great fun reading news stories on the Back to the Future anniversary, and which inventions actually happened. Sorry, but a Hover Board just isn’t going to answer my transportation needs. It must be almost 50 years since The Jetsons debuted with flying cars, and we are still stuck in terrestrial traffic for hours.

No mention was made of Spacely Sprockets or Cogswell Cogs making parts for those flying cars, but I chuckle just thinking about two gear companies still being around in such a high-tech world. When I started in the trade, in 1971, people predicted hydraulics and electronics would make mechanical power transmission obsolete. Forty four years later, the gear business is very different — but still very necessary.

The gears we can make today are much better, of course, and there have been big changes in how they are used. The shift to front-wheel drive cars cut hypoid gear product dramatically. Few cars or trucks use worm gears in the steering mechanisms. Commercial gearboxes have leveraged high-capacity, surface-hardened gears to become much smaller and longer lasting.

Other than the occasional prototype or home-built experimental, there are no flying cars in regular use. Judging by the way people handle the expressways around Chicago, this is probably a good thing. It might take all the gear technology we have developed to get the fleet fuel economy numbers in the current regulations. The thought of seven- or eight-speed transmissions in passenger cars would once have seemed as far out as flying cars. No one in the 1970s would have predicted all those gears having ground flanks either.

Hopefully, somewhere in the world, little boys and little girls are still watching The Jetsons and dreaming of a day when they can fly to work or school. I have no doubt that our industry will be ready to make the necessary gears when the kids’ design is ready for prototyping.

Uncertain Times

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)


While the news media is heralding improved job and income growth, people in gear manufacturing are worried about the security of their jobs. Low mineral prices, the drop in oil prices, political opposition to fracking and wind turbines, and gridlock on infrastructure repairs have hurt our biggest customers. One perfect example: A 100+ year tradition of large gear manufacturing is coming to an end in the United States with the sale of Rexnord’s foundry.

It isn’t just in the United States, either. Thanks to the Internet I am able to stay in contact with an engineer who previously worked for a consulting client in Western Australia. He is with his third employer since our original project began four years ago, and has endured several months of unemployment along the way.

This gentleman has my admiration for the positive attitude he has maintained throughout this experience. From the family photos and comments online, you never would have guessed he was stressed out. Perhaps it is a better social safety net or just having his priorities right.

When people talk about the 1950s as a Golden Age for the American worker, I can’t help but wonder what data they are looking at. My father was a factory worker who never missed a day of work — when he wasn’t laid off. He took whatever work was available to keep a roof over our heads, and often worked two jobs. It took a toll on a young father; sapped him of his strength and took away his hopes for the future.

There are a few employment gaps in my resume. I remember the sleepless nights, the worry, fear of the neighbors finding out. For those of you going through this now, or facing the possibility of unemployment in the near future, I pray that you’ll maintain your dedication to family and friends. Don’t try to be Superman. Talk to your spouse and family and friends. Network when you can. Develop a plan. Our industry will recover, and reliable people will always be in demand.

Most of all — put those worries aside when you interact with your kids — they are only this age once. To quote one of my favorite musicians, Paul Thorn: “Don’t let nobody rob you of your joy.”

Alumni Groups

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 wrote last time about how the Internet has made it easier to reconnect with people you used to know. It has also been a boon to the formation of alumni groups for both schools and companies. Given the downsizing our industry has experienced, there are frequently more former employees than current employees.

Traditionally, alumni groups have preserved the traditions and “culture” of a school or military organization by holding reunions, attending “homecoming,” and connecting other alums with employment opportunities. Universities have long recognized the value of an enthusiastic alumni group.

Active companies might not see the value of former employees being part of a group. This is understandable but, in my view, rather shortsighted. I am eligible for several employer alumni groups and try to follow the University model on behavior, i.e. — if you can’t say something nice about the place/person, don’t say anything at all. When asked, I try to assist fellow alums make good career moves, but I don’t “recruit” the alumni ranks for third parties. When possible, it is my pleasure to send business opportunities to former employers.

A slightly different set of “rules” applies for alumni groups of companies that are no longer operating. I think it is a duty to keep these companies from being forgotten; just because they are no longer in business does not mean their ideas and products are without value. We lost some great organizations because of poor trade policies or financial fluctuations that were in no way their “fault.”

If you are an alum of one of those “ghost companies” you need to tout the things they did well, assist former customers in maintaining the legacy equipment, if you can, and, above all, celebrate the lessons you learned while working there. None of us became the people we are in a vacuum.

The Sage of the Sales Department

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 great things about our Internet Age is the ability to reconnect with old friends and associates.  Apparently I have left quite a trail along the way, because my telephone and e-mail boxes frequently are contacted for information on past projects. Just this past week a customer from 26 years and three employers ago called looking for ideas on where his patterns and fixtures wound up. What followed was an enjoyable five or six minutes trying to remember the people and parts involved. No miracle revelation on the fate of his tooling, but I think he got pointed in the right direction.

Unfortunately, the guy who would literally have had the answer at his fingertips has long since left this earth. Andy Riccardi, our salesman for government accounts, had encyclopedic recall of every project he had ever bid on, and backed up by the most detailed 3 x 5 index card record system I ever saw outside of a public library. I sometimes teased him that the Russians might kidnap him for his ability to predict when the Department of Defense would next requisition certain spare parts. He was the rare salesman who tracked the projects he didn’t book, and was ballsy enough to call competitors to try to sell them leftover parts or raw material.

The advent of personal computers and the decline of analog instruments made Andy a dinosaur in 1989. Economic turbulence prevented proper recognition of his many contributions to the company’s previous success. Sales is a “what have you done for me lately” activity, and before we knew it, the markets Andy served so well disappeared. I appreciate the things I learned from him — particularly the importance of treating everyone, including competitors, with respect. Although his record keeping system was almost indecipherable, I admired his dedication to knowing every nuance of his field.

If your organization is fortunate enough to have an “Andy,” I recommend getting them to record a few stories for posterity. A Rosetta stone for their filing system would be nice too.

Microgeometry

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 design work involves “math modeling” gearsets to determine the lowest-cost components which will meet the requirements. Over the years, a designer develops his or her own set of guidelines for what geometry is acceptable and what is objectionable. A group of gear experts may agree on eighty percent of a design and argue for hours over the remaining twenty percent. This is particularly so in the area of “microgeometry” — lead and involute modifications that help improve performance at the extremes of loading.

Software packages include sub-routines to suggest values for these modifications. Unfortunately, microgeometry requires a very strong understanding of what loading conditions are. Many times we do not have adequate data to support the assumptions we have to make. Pushing buttons on software input is easy; modern grinders make it possible to produce whatever shape the program asks for.

Sadly, this mechanization can compound the problem. We once got FOUR different revisions to a lead chart during an eight-hour period. The machine’s operator could be forgiven for being slow to implement the second and third changes. The lesson we took away was to spend more time reviewing assumptions, and agreeing on them, before pushing the buttons for modification simulation.

Sometimes the charts just “don’t look right” to the experienced eye. If this happens on your project, don’t get angry. Instead take the time to review with the commentator why the assumed load conditions would result in the shape shown on the chart. If you can’t convince them, you might want to take another look at those assumptions.

The beauty of computer simulation is that you can consider many possible configurations in a short period of time without endangering the precious physical parts. The ugly side of computer simulation is that it is so easy to input faulty assumptions. The old adage — “garbage in, garbage out” — still applies. Spend the time needed to understand and verify load conditions before pushing those buttons.

Feedback and Comments

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)


We are starting our second year of this blog and are pleased that it was named one of the Top 50 Design and Development Blogs on the Internet. Only #48 on that list but it is a big Internet and we are the only gear-oriented blog mentioned. Most of the credit belongs to the magazine’s searchable archives, in my opinion. The blog is just the gateway in.

Our initial hope was for the blog to feature an active comment stream. Unfortunately this plan has been ruined by spammers posting inane remarks with links to their scams. We have had a few legitimate comments that I will respond to here.

Matt Poulter asked about Stress Coat. When he Googled it, all that came up was an additive for tropical fish tanks. Now sold under the name StressKote (one word), Stress Coat was/is a brittle spray-on coating for use in testing castings and fabrications. Back in the Dark Ages, before Finite Element Analysis (FEA), we had to apply Stress Coat, load the part up statically, and “read” the cracks in coating to properly orient the strain gages. If you are doing development work scientifically, you still need to do these things in parallel to your FEA work. Without real-world modeling to back it up, FEA might be just pretty pictures.

Robert B. Price noted that he uses reverse engineering to replace damaged or missing parts on 1901-vintage motors. Many restorers and modelers face this challenge — the older the machine, the bigger the challenge becomes. As noted in earlier postings, gear geometry didn’t even standardize on the involute tooth form until 1921. Mr. Price’s motor could have had cycloidal teeth in any number of “systems.” To the casual observer, once the restored machine is up and running, the use of “modern” gears would hardly be noticeable. To an expert like Mr. Price, however, it would be an irritant worse than squeaky chalk in the lecture hall. Oh, wait a minute; some of you may not have ever suffered through an actual chalk-on-blackboard lecture. Perhaps a better analogy would be wearing an Alabama Crimson Tide sweatshirt with an Auburn University hat. It just doesn’t work for high-end restorations.

Both commenters raised topics that might merit further coverage in the blog or the magazine. If you have comments, please don’t let the spammers scare you off. We read all the comments and will respond in the blog. Editorial suggestions and contributions are best handled via e-mail. We enjoy hearing from you.

Trust, but Verify

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)


Lest you come away from my last posting thinking I am completely trapped in the past, I’ve invested a fair amount in new software during the past few years, and have been trying hard to learn to use it. My “inner curmudgeon” has good reasons for being skeptical of change, so I have to do some things by both the old method and the new before completely letting go.

Sometimes my reluctance is informed by my own ‘horror stories” — as described in the previous blog. Other times it is based upon stories told to me by someone else. Our trade has a long memory, and it is important for those promoting “new things” to understand why certain “prejudices” are widely held.

Let’s start with some market sectors still skeptical of surface-hardened gears. It may come as a shock to those who have never built a device with “soft gears,” but few American suppliers offered carburized gears until the early 1990s. Europe fully embraced “hard gears” more than two decades earlier, and they saw the oil patch in particular as a market ready for change during the 1980 oil boom.

The classic “horse head” pump-jack gearbox had evolved into a commodity product with “soft” lower-quality herringbone gears and standardized interface dimensions. Converting to “hard” gears offered weight and cost savings; the resulting prototypes were way different from the existing drives. Where a herringbone box was the size of an office desk, the carburized box was the size of a suitcase — almost comic with big shaft extensions sticking out both sides. The rating calculations said it would work, and brave customers quickly put them into service — but not for long.

The horse head pump applies an impact load to the same teeth every cycle. The old herringbone units had the same durability rating as the carburized models, but the strength ratings were 50% higher. Teeth started popping off the “hard” gears within weeks of installation, and old oilfield hands have never again trusted “hard” gears.

Once the carburized gearboxes were redesigned to equal the herringbone strength ratings, they lost their cost advantage and much of the weight reduction. They are great pump-jack gearboxes, but still have to overcome those negative attitudes.

I would never want to go back to through-hardened gears; the advantages of modern, carburized designs are just too great when operating conditions are properly analyzed. As President Reagan was fond of saying: “Trust, but verify.”

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.