Overcoming Adversity

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 blog concerned project management and the problems of staying on schedule. I thought it only fair to pass on some techniques I learned along the way to get projects and parts moving again.

1.Be open to alternate materials.

Sometimes the start date of a component gets delayed because you can’t get the material required. It might be the size, chemistry, or pedigree that causes purchasing to come up empty. Can’t find “aircraft quality?” Read the specification; perhaps you can improve the rating of a commercial grade with extra testing or lab analysis. Blank size an issue? Re-examine those stock allowances or re-design the gearing to reduce the finish diameter enough to make what is available work. Chemistry limits are established to get core properties; sometimes an alternate grade will get the same results if you reduce the critical section with webs or a hole through the middle.

2.Be open to alternate processes.

We once had a project with such a tight deadline we couldn’t get hobs made in time. It was more expensive, but we learned wire EDM could cut the rough teeth just as well in a matter of hours — not weeks. Blew the budget, made the customer deadline, and got more business. Can’t get a fabrication in time? What about milling the part from a big chuck of steel or iron?

3.Be flexible with your design.

It isn’t as much of a problem today, thanks to CNC hobbers, but once upon a time we had a gear that none of our machines could cut due to change gear issues. An hour of playing with the geometry was all it took to develop an alternate tooth combination that we could cut. A similar situation often occurred with rolling element bearings before we wised up and located bearings earlier in our design process. That “alphabet soup” in a bearing number can blow up on you if aren’t careful.

4.Rework is your friend.

A wise boss once opined that “Anyone can make a good part the first time; it takes real craftsmanship to salvage one.” No matter how careful you and your crew are, parts will be damaged in manufacturing or come up short of acceptable at inspection. Good engineering can often get that “defective” item reworked into something better than the original requirements by chrome plating, repair welding, thread inserts, or re-heat treating. Remember that scene in Princess Bride about whether Wesley was “dead” or “dead-dead?” Don’t give up on critical components until you consider the rework options. Very few are “dead-dead.” Give your local Miracle Max a chance.

(We’re always looking for good project stories to share; the comments traffic has been light of late. CS)

Deadlines

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 have posted before about how much I enjoyed seeing my projects finally reach the shipping dock after months of sales negotiation, designing, manufacturing, assembly, and testing. With the calendar year ending soon, many of you are probably under a lot of pressure to get multiple projects across that “finish line.”

Unlike the artificial deadlines on various home remodeling and car restoration shows, gear shop “required by” dates can have a big impact on future orders and career trajectories. Over the years, I have made and missed shipment dates, and some of the lessons that got burned into my backside were:

1. Nothing is impossible for the person who doesn’t have to do the work.

Sales and management folks will make promises without knowing all the facts. The best time to address this issue is Day One; any time after that and you will have — in their minds — “bought into” the promise. My frustrated boss once sent me to a seminar called “Managing Technical Operations” — unaware of its secret subtitle — “Malicious Obedience.” The chief lesson of the seminar was “Never say no to management, but be sure to spell out the resources needed for success.”

2. You don’t get months behind all at once.

The concept of spelling out resources is great. But have you ever tried to use MicroSoft Project on a complex machine? Linking operations, specifying start dates, and tracking resource availability becomes more than a full-time job. A little slip in material delivery, a key machine being booked solid, even deer hunting season might not seem that big of a pothole at the time, but suddenly they combine to put you in a big, deep hole. It pays to determine critical components early and make sure they stay on schedule.

3. Keep the lines of communication to the customer open.

My first trip to Europe was an exhausting 36 hour round trip to take a “beating” for my project being behind schedule. The meeting wasn’t as bad as I feared, because people do respect you for showing up to personally be disciplined. At the wine bar later, when the big boss went to the water closet, my counterpart put his arm around my shoulder and thanked me for taking the hit. His half of the machine was much further behind ours, and if we hadshipped on time he might have lost his job. Since then I have become a proponent of honest schedule updates to the customer; i.e. — the best surprise is no surprise.

 

What lessons have you learned about project management?

Thanksgiving

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)

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It remains one of our least marketable celebrations — unless you count the intrusion of Christmas shopping into a day formerly reserved for family, food, and football.

Among the things I like about Thanksgiving are its being scheduled on a Thursday in a month that tends towards grey and depressing. An otherwise “regular” day is transformed into an opportunity to reflect on life and enjoy the company of those close to you.

2014 has been a challenging year for some people, a great year for others. I hope all of you can take some time and remember at least three things that occurred that made you happy.

I got to spend some time with my family during a short trip out East. My consulting business keeps me busy enough, but still allows time for other activities — like writing this blog. Most importantly, my family enjoys good health and has interesting professional challenges.

Could things be better? Of course; but we dare not spend too much time in fantasy land, lest we miss the very real pleasures of every day.

Unknown Heroes of Engineering

bazooka

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 am a big fan of team players — the guys and gals who put forth that extra something that pushes a good team to greatness. Some have been co-workers of mine, and you’d only hear about their achievements at their retirement party. The modern world rewards self-promoters; we have people “blowing up the Internet” who have no other marketable skills than their willingness to do things in public that normal people only do in private.

Engineers live in a world where facts and science rule. We like orderly development but admire the occasional “big breakthrough” — especially if it comes with a great story. These “eureka” moments aren’t common, but we remember them for the change in direction they cause in our otherwise plodding efforts. The very expression “eureka” will bring to mind Archimedes’ discovery of the displacement method of verifying the purity of gold.

Thanks to an old issue of World War II magazine (Nov/Dec 2010), I now have a “eureka” story to attach to that favorite weapon of infantrymen, i.e. — the bazooka. The U.S. Army had been researching anti-tank weapons since the end of WW I, but it took a young officer walking by the scrap pile at the research center to solve the problem. A five-foot-long piece of tubing caught his eye; its inside diameter happened to match the outside diameter of the projectiles they were making. It was just long enough to allow for a 1-fiftieth-of-a-second burn while keeping the flame away from the shooter.

A month later the brass was touring the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and heard the research team firing the weapon. The project manager impulsively let the general fire it himself. He hit the target on his first attempt and ordered the weapon into production that very day. General Electric was given 30 days to build 5,000 launchers and completed the order with 89 hours to spare. By the end of the war (3 years later) 440,000 had reached the field. The name Bazooka was attached to it by GIs who remembered a joke musical instrument on comedian Bob Burns’ radio shows.

Edward Uhl, the young army officer, went on to become chairman of Fairchild Industries, the giant defense contractor. He would later comment: “We have gotten into the bad habit of heaping people onto projects. The trap we’ve fallen into is to believe that a thousand incompetents — properly organized — can do the job of a few dozen outstanding people.” I completely agree.

One Man’s Treasure

book

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)

This week’s estate sale treasure is a nice copy of A History of the Machine, by Sigvard Strandh (A&W Publishers Inc., Swedish & Worldwide Copyright, 1979). I have posted before about some of the things found at these sales, but this $2 “coffee table” tome needed rescue from a table-full of science fiction paperbacks.

Mr. Strandh’s book has hundreds of drawings of tools and machines, including many types of gears. The drawings are probably what got it purchased; even if you don’t have an interest in machines, there is beauty in the patent drawings and scenes of early installations. Not to take anything away from modern 3D models, but they just don’t have the artistic look of pen and ink drawings.

AHOTM2

Thankfully, this artistic value has kept some of our technological history alive, while the actual machinery has been melted down, the buildings demolished or repurposed, and their history largely forgotten. Some artifacts are just too big to keep, and all we have left are these drawings and patent models.

A few communities have preserved a remnant for future generations; I visited the Civil War-era shot tower in Dubuque once, and like what Pittsburgh has done with the old Homestead Steel Works. I’d like to hear from you readers on industrial heritage sites that you have visited or your ideas for other, deserving designations.

I am not sure this particular book was purchased for its content or as a work of art. It will be looked at frequently here at Beyta Gear Service world headquarters. You can tell a lot about a person by the things left behind at their estate sales. Mine will have more tools, books, and car parts than my wife will want to deal with, but that is her lot as the spouse of an engineer. I predict the tools will sell on the first day for full price. Most of the books will be around at half-off the last day

In Praise of Tinkering

 

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 most recent post told of less than optimum gear making under extreme conditions. It reminded me of the incident that got me involved with auto racing in a hands-on way. I was already a fan and tinkered with my own car in the driveway. Our neighborhood friends shared a love for motorsports, and one of them took the plunge and bought a 25-year-old midget race car.

For the uninitiated, a “midget” is a traditional type of oval track race car that first came to prominence in 1933. Our Aussie and Kiwi friends know them as “speed cars.” The midget name was applied to them because they were smaller than the similar appearing “big cars” that ran at Indianapolis, and the one-mile fairgrounds ovals. “Sprint” cars, or in those days three-quarter cars, were n between the other two classes. The formula has changed a bit over the years, but we still have midgets with 72-inch wheelbases, sprint cars with 84-inch wheelbases, and big cars with 96-in wheelbases.

As you might expect, a 25-year-old race car has a few problems. This one broke ring and pinion set the second time our friend raced it. Since I worked at a gear company, my brother figured that I would know how to fix it.

Fix it? — We needed a day to just get it out of the car. None of us knew that open u-joints were a recent innovation and that enclosed drivelines were once standard. After the axle was out we saw that the pinion was missing a few teeth and the ring gear bolts were safety wired to the open tube tapered axle. How hard could a few bolts be to remove?

Several hours, a trip to Sears to replace the shattered ratchet handle, and a few band aides later, we had the axle ready for its new gear. Does a four-foot length of pipe as a helper constitute tool abuse? Fortunately we had called a few experienced racers for advice by now and had learned that the gears were from a Model A Ford.

As the aluminum housing had been shattered, we needed an entire Model A “pumpkin.” One was located at a fair price and we proceeded to take it apart. More band aides and another trip to Sears later, reassembly started. Progress was slowed when we discovered the Model A side plates weren’t the same bore as our seals. Fortunately the Chicago Rawhide catalog in my office yielded some part numbers that would work and the bearing headquarters counterman didn’t scare us off.

Next came making some seal retainers out of aluminum siding scraps, resetting a 45 year old set of spiral bevels, and installing the axle in the car. The operation was a complete success, with the cobbled up rear axle lasting almost two more racing seasons.

The lessons learned on perseverance, networking, and finding solutions within your skill-set were important then and are still used today. Modern “midget” axles are still based on Model A Ford geometry.

A Good Waste of Time

organic

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)

Spending too much time on your computer? I’m guilty of that too, but I use the occasional educational content as an excuse. One of my favorite Facebook pages is “Thrust Me, I’m a mechanical engineer.” In recent days they posted a video on gear grinding and another on making “Organic Gears at Home.”

I was puzzled about “organic gears” too, but couldn’t resist clicking on the link:  (https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=475345352607073&set=vb.173678916107053&type=3&theater.)

When it comes to teaching newbies about gears I usually skip the entire involute curve, string unrolling from the base circle thing, as I find it makes people’s eyes glaze over. This organic gear explanation may become my go-to replacement lesson. It reminds me of a great lesson I learned from one of our Polish maintenance men. His father ran an underground car repair shop back home in the pre-Solidarity years. Parts were not available for most vehicles in their little farming town. But not to worry, the old man had a lathe, a welder, and a pile of scrap steel.

Many times they would just weld up a broken tooth and file or die grind it to shape, sometimes without taking the gear out of the gearbox. Feel free to cringe; I sure did. But for more serious damage, when multiple teeth were gone, a suitable blank was cobbled up from stuff in the scrap pile. Then the broken part was tack welded to it. An apprentice then spent a morning at the drill press putting a hole thru to match each root. Followed by an afternoon on the band saw doing whatever flanks they could, tack welds were broken if needed and the other flanks sawed. A bit of filing and grinding and the gear was ready to go. What about splines, you ask? Turn the teeth off the damaged gear, tap the spline up into place, and weld. Heat treat? A torch and a bucket of oil are all you need.

This is truly “organic” gear making! I wonder if someone can post a video of the process before the improving Polish economy renders the skillset obsolete.

The War to End All Wars

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 the son of a World War II sailor, I was raised with an honest respect for our nation’s veterans. The massive size of WW II and its reshaping of society made World War I — its predecessor — appear less interesting. In history class — this was during the Vietnam years — we found referring to the earlier conflict as “The Great War” rather ironic in our overly serious, teenaged analysis.

But certainly one lasting impact that ghastly war had was the establishment worldwide of November 11th as Veterans Day. Originally known as Armistice Day, it was intended as a time for reflection on just how close the slogan had come to becoming true — not because human beings evolved to resolve political conflict through negotiation, but because the combatants were running out of military age men.

The statistics are frightening: nineteenth century tactics combined with 20th century weapons and primitive living conditions killed over 9 million soldiers and wounded another 21 million. That’s approaching 2% of the total population of the countries originally involved, including an even larger percentage of the male population — from ages 16 to 49.

World War II statistics are even grimmer, as they include significant numbers of civilian deaths. Our Vietnam losses were intolerably high for the politicians at around 50,000 men over 10+ years. Imagine modern media coverage of a single battle — e.g., The Somme — that killed a million soldiers!

But today’s world places a much higher premium on life than theirs’ did, and for that we owe them great thanks for getting that evolution started. Indeed, my point in writing this is to honor the effort made by our ancestors to, in the cant of the 1970s, “Give peace a chance.” It didn’t last long; its resolution was even bloodier.

But the sacrifice was sincere.

So to all our veterans: THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.

The Importance of Perseverance

GF01  Glide Flight- 1st test flight of SpaceShip2

 

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 tragic loss of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two prompted some comments on whether the program should continue. Loss of life should require an examination of the procedures and decision making process. Independent experts should be asked to look things over in great detail, not to find scapegoats but to make thing better in the future.

It has been pointed out that this is not the first fatal accident in the history of space exploration. Going into space may never be as safe as our television programs and movies make it seem. Bert Rutan, aviation expert, predicts that safety levels might eventually approach those of 1920s vintage passenger planes. It might not ever be possible to have statistics even close to modern commercial jets.

Everything in life has a risk/reward ratio to consider. Fortunately we no longer have to risk our lives just to eat dinner or get a tooth pulled. Driving across the continent is still adventurous, but not dangerous. Occasionally some of us have had to risk our jobs on a technical matter; sometimes those decisions don’t work out so well. I remember having to explain to my-then ten-year-old daughter that our need to relocate was primarily the result of poor decisions on my part.

Gambling is part of human nature. Games of chance have been found in archaeology digs; they are described in ancient texts. Part of our love of sports is that the outcome is not a sure thing. As engineers we do our best to make our projects “sure things,” but there is always going to be some element of risk remaining.

Every test program sees statistical variation; allowable stresses are compromises. Formulas have rounding in them. Materials have defects that may not be fully accounted for in the allowables.

My point is this: You can manage risk but you can’t eliminate it. If something is worth doing, it is worth failing at. And failing more than once.

Catalog Season

catalog

The holiday gift catalogs have started to arrive at my house. Over the years our gift list has been pared down, but we occasionally see something unique that is just perfect for someone on the list. In our family we have plenty of book readers, gardeners, and nick knack collectors. I am the only car nut (it only takes one!), but we get lots of catalogs full of car-related things.

What I haven’t seen is a catalog full of gearing-related collectables for the office or man cave. Exposed gear train clocks might suffice for some people, but I’d like a cut-away manual transmission or perhaps a replica of that ancient astrolabe thingie shown in Darle Dudley’s book, Evolution of the Gear Art.

I have various gears and bits of gears in my office, but nothing that meshes or rotates. There is something about a toy that moves. The next time you are at a trade show, look at how people are attracted to cut-a-ways that rotate — especially ones that are filled with a colorful lubricant to squish between the teeth.

If you have interesting display gearboxes, consider putting them in your lobby for visitors to play with or taking them to schools. I first saw gears in action in a cut-a-way car transmission in seventh grade science class. It was never really part of the curriculum, yet students couldn’t keep their hands off it.

Posters, etchings, and photographs have their place, but they don’t satisfy the tactile needs of the observer the way a cracked gear from a 1990s Indy car transmission does. Neither comes close to the patent model I was once caretaker for — working proof that you could have a one-tooth helical pinion. A small model of a differential or worm drive would be fun.

Anyone know if there is a catalog of gearing-elated dust collectors?