Failures Need Not Be Permanent

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 mailman delivered some used books to my house this week, so I expect to be blogging a bit about their content in the coming weeks. Two are by longtime favorite Henry Petroski, a civil engineering professor at Duke University. Dr. Petroski has been writing about design engineering for many years and was one of the first people I can recall to talk about “failure” in a positive way.

Our national debate on educational standards has broadened this “failure” debate to include schools, administrators, and teachers. No one dares call children or parents or grandparents failures, however, so the discussion can seem a little ideological (rather than logical) at times.

All of us were failures at something for varying lengths of time. We all fell down a lot before we could walk. It took forever for anyone but close family members to understand a word we spoke. Most of us managed to learn to ride a bike before the pain of crashing became too much to bear. A sizeable group of people have not learned to swim because early failures were just too terrifying.

Why are we so impatient with our children over the pace of their intellectual knowledge acquisition? Some children take longer than others to learn a sport; some never get the hang of it. What gets the superstar to that level of accomplishment is not a lucky draw in the genetic lottery — although that clearly helps. What succeeds above all is persistence, good coaching, and a passion to succeed at whatever that activity is.

These same things apply in your work/school life. If you want to master any subject or task, you need to stick with it and find a more accomplished person to coach you. In our trade that “coach” is often a well-thumbed reference book; I am extremely grateful for the “founding fathers” putting pencil to paper. Writing about gears or most other topics does not pay well in a monetary sense, so our canon of gear books is truly a blessing from the past.

What Defines Success?

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 last of my uncles died this week. In my parents’ generation he was considered a successful man, despite not having a college degree. At the age he “should” have been in college, the U.S. Army had need of his services in a far off place named Korea. After that “police action” was concluded he returned home and became a tool and die maker.

Tool and die making is a demanding occupation that pays well by most people’s standards. Not Dow-Jones-500-CEO-well — but good enough that smart, hard-working youngsters of both genders still pursue the trade today. Growing up in Milwaukee, it was a respected position on a par with many white collar jobs.

As the years pass I have noticed a change in attitude towards the “skilled trades.” While there were always teachers who looked down on kids in “manual training” classes, most people had relatives or friends who worked in manufacturing and this tempered any elitist feelings they might have towards those who showered after work instead of beforehand.

I recall that — at a pre-school program for my now-28-year-old daughter — I was shocked to see how much things had changed. Two very junior attorneys and I were introduced to another young father. This man happened to be a journeyman tool and die maker at a client company of the other men’s law firm. They were rather incredulous over how much money the average tool and die maker had in the pension plan they were reviewing. How could a workman be earning as much as a junior associate?

This seemed a rude breach of decorum to me. So I asked them if they had any idea of what tool and die work involved. No clue. They never visited the plant or even looked at the client’s project showcase. Neither knew how much training a journeyman received or the financial risk his employer incurred if the worker made a mistake — that a single tool might involve $10,000 in raw material.

Just to drive home the point, I asked if they were writing the pension plan from scratch. Of course not — they were marking up another plan and having a paralegal type it and proof read it. They did not seem amused when I wondered if society needed good tools or more plagiarism to build a better world.

My uncle laughed when I told him that story a year or two later. “I guess all those dinner table arguments weren’t wasted after all” he concluded.

RIP, Uncle Dick. The world benefited from guys like you.

The Arsenal of Democracy

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 Memorial Day holiday means different things to different people. To some it is the official start of summer, although the erratic weather makes planning outdoor activities chancy. To others it is still a much older holiday, Decoration Day, with roots in the post-Civil War tradition of sprucing up cemeteries after winter has done its worst to trees, shrubs, and monuments.

I grew up the son a World War II sailor who didn’t want to talk much about “his” war. So later, when the country publicly fought about the then current war in Southeast Asia, I did not get much exposure to cemetery clean-ups, parades, or speeches. Schools taught plenty of history, though, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

A phrase that stuck with me from that period was “Arsenal of Democracy.” When called upon, American industry quickly converted from making consumer and industrial goods to weapons of war. The gear companies of the day were in the thick of it.

Years later, fortunate to apprentice at The Falk Corporation in Milwaukee, I was privileged to hear the wonderful stories about the thousands of gearboxes made for U.S. Navy ships. Supposedly, they employed a troop of ex-circus “little people” to crawl into the giant boxes and file off any bumps likely to make them fail noise testing.

Later, I worked for Brad Foote. The Cicero Avenue plant still has signs on the building identifying it as a security zone due to its military work. Much of the building was constructed under wartime steel restrictions; the beautiful wooden roof trusses were an engineering marvel. Thousands of people worked in that building during the war, a building that had parking problems for a hundred people in modern times.

We stumbled on to a Navy “E” flag once while cleaning a storeroom at the Quaker City Gear Works. Despite its name, this family-owned firm got the majority of its work from defense contracts. Unfortunately, it didn’t survive the transition from analog to digital instruments and that framed “E” is now in some collector’s game room. I hope, via this blog entry, to make at least a few of you remember the contributions our industry has made that allow us to worry more about ball games than bomb sights.

Failing Boldly

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)

Aside from the pure mechanical beauty of it, my favorite thing about the Indy 500 is the tradition. What’s more, few events can match it in terms of size or spectacle; you can’t really appreciate it on television.

Many longtime fans boast of never missing the race and can expound for hours on race strategies, heroic drivers, and genius builders. My own special memories are more engineering-oriented. I am a student of the spectacular failures that have shaped the results over the years. Some of my pals think I have applied that history of failure to my own midget racing team. But that is a topic for another day.

The first 500 radio broadcast I can recall was the 1963 event. I was a fan of the new rear-engine Lotus Fords and thought the officials robbed Jimmy Clark of the win by not black-flagging the leaking Watson-Offy of eventual winner Parnelli Jones. The start of the 1964 race was marred by a fatal wreck, and after the long, sad delay, Lotus fans were disappointed as the Dunlop tires the Lotus team used were shedding big chunks of tread.

Almost every year since there has been a very public and expensive failure to talk about. Lloyd Ruby’s car ripped apart by a fuel hose; the STP turbine car forced out due to a $6 ball bearing in its gearbox.

Things weren’t much better the next year for the cheese wedge Lotus-turbine when it lost a fuel pump. It was almost like the curse of the Novi stuck to the STP brand.

Ignore how much money or engineering know-how has been thrown at it — “The Brickyard” has a way of humbling even the most experienced racers. Historians recall the 1935 entry of ten Ford V-8-powered Miller race cars and their weak point — a steering box too close to the exhaust pipes. 1920’s genius Harry Miller continued to bring advanced technology to the event, only to see his reputation tattered by their failure.

The lesson I take from this is that bold engineering breakthroughs seldom succeed without lots of testing and careful development. This is true on the race track and in the gear shop. I wonder what failure will be remembered from the 2014 race.

Ideas Ahead of Their Time

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 magazine is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and many special features will be published about technological breakthroughs that occurred during that time. I’ve been a subscriber from the first issue and look forward to having my memory jogged with the next few issues.

One of my favorite features in the early years was the sequence of Leonardo Da Vinci sketches on the cover. The artist/engineer/inventor was way ahead of his time in many areas and has inspired several books, movies, and television shows. (Indeed, if Hollywood, Cable TV and the New York Times Best Seller List are any indication, he’s hotter than ever.) Only now can some of his inventions be made operational.

Research into gear technology at the turn of the previous century revealed that all of the manufacturing methods we currently enjoy were already in use. The machines were slower and less accurate. The tooling was softer and less capable. Even slide rules weren’t readily available until the 1880s.

Yes, they were grinding gears in 1900 — by several different methods, too. The logo of the Citroen automobile company is a reflection of the herringbone gear type the firm pioneered. As mentioned here in previous blogs, there were many different tooth forms in use. It was a time of great experimentation in all forms of mechanics. Not everything worked, of course. The tools and materials were often not up to the task. We see this most frequently today in measuring instruments, but our predecessors had little need to measure in microns when the process capability was in thousandths.

The Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana has preserved a 1930s design studio complete with clay models and an analog coordinate measuring machine (CMM) that was used to develop full-scale car bodies. Beautiful boat tail speedsters were sketched, modeled in clay, and scaled up to full size using a device made from scraps of wood and sections of dowels. It functioned like a modern CMM, but required someone to write down the results and proportion them to “full size” — a clever, low-tech solution to a problem that vexed designers for years. A friend used a homemade version of the device to scale up a model car; he had a commission to construct a version large enough to mount on an adult go-kart and the 1930s technology did not let him down.

I fully expect to see more of Leonardo’s inventions brought to life in the years ahead. Great ideas are timeless. Some are only awaiting our ability to implement them.

The Journey or the Destination?

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 belong to a number of online technical forums besides contributing to the occasional “Ask the Expert” column here at Gear Technology. Lately I have noticed a disturbing (at least to me) trend of questioners just wanting to be directed to an app or given the specific answer, rather than wade through an explanation or a reference book/paper. At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon — or your old math teacher — sometimes you have to experience the trials of the journey to appreciate the wonders of the destination. To be perfectly blunt — there should be no helicopter rides to the mountain top.

Early on I posted about the dangers of using computer software without understanding what was going on inside that “black box.” I am not saying everyone needs to write their own code; just that you have to understand the process and the influence factors before you can really know the answer provided is what you are looking for.

The incident that inspired this particular rant concerned microgeometry modifications. I have no idea what kind of gears the inquirer was working on. The loads and duty cycle were as unknown to me as were his part quality. My friend Ray Drago (www.gear-doc.com) says the best answer for a consulting engineer always begins with “It depends.”

So I guess “it depends” upon whether you want to understand why you are doing something, or just want to put numbers down on the drawing. I appreciate the pressure of deadlines and the desire to impress a supervisor, but over the span of a career you will never regret the time spent studying good references.

Shortcuts are tempting, but often result in “answers” that don’t fit your particular problem. Going on a journey involves certain risks. So does copying answers without understanding how they were arrived at.

The gear world needs more mountain climbers and fewer helicopter passengers.

A Sure Sign of Spring

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)

Over the years, some of the luster has come off the Indianapolis 500, but it remains a major cultural influence. I caught the racing bug as a kid growing up in Milwaukee, and looked forward to the start of practice at the Brickyard much more than the baseball opener. And given what we do for a living, I have since learned that many of my friends in the gear trade feel the same way.

During the 1960s there were no specified chassis or crate motors; each May was a motorized science experiment in front of the cameras and large crowds. There were some wild cars that bombed; remember the Smokey Yunick “Sidecar Offy” with the driver positioned out in a pod? Or the twin engine Porsche car? There were other radical vehicles that came ever so close to changing the course of racing history. What if the STP turbine car’s $6 ball bearing hadn’t failed? Or the Novi’s tremendous power had somehow been tamed?

There was always something to be learned from these “experiments.” For example: hard work sometimes paid off for small-budget teams; organizations with great histories and big budgets sometimes couldn’t even make “the show;” technical overreach could explode before a worldwide audience; careful reading of the rules could pay off (that infamous, one-year-only, push-rod Mercedes-Benz) — or be slapped down in court; and refusal to settle for less than perfection produced some cars that can only be classified as “jewelry on wheels.”

So what does any of this have to do with gears?

True, only rarely have gears themselves figured into the larger drama on the track. But good engineering practices were on display and the event made mechanical design front page news.

Count me as one of those kids with his face pressed against the fence who was inspired to a career in engineering because of the Indy 500.

Treasured Gear Books

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 Helical Gear Rating Committee meetings included a much hoped for improvement: a new member! Not only that, a new member under 40 years old. I won’t embarrass this young engineer by mentioning his name, but I thank his employer on behalf of the committee for sending us a new recruit.

Although “Engineer X” has a good bit of experience in the trade, he left a big company with lots of support structures for a smaller firm. There is no longer a gear summary expert or a hobbing specialist. He no longer has access to a huge engineering library, either.

We had an enjoyable conversation over lunch advising him on which books he should buy, to have available in the future. As mentioned previously on this blog, I have a suggested bibliography listed in my book, An Introduction to Gear Design, which is available for free download at www.Beytagear.com.

Unfortunately, many of the great gear books are out of print. Let’s face it — the market for technical books is rather small and probably getting smaller. I was thrilled to discover through Amazon that some publishing-on-demand vendors will provide “obsolete” titles if they have been scanned into a library somewhere. I hope our young friend is able to track down used copies or get new ones made up.

Over the years, I have become very protective of my personal library, as a few treasured volumes were never returned after being lent out. Online archives for technical magazines such as Gear Technology can never quite replace the feeling of a familiar book in your hands.

That said, no one else in my family shares my affection for gear books. We go to enough estate sales to realize my precious references may end up in a landfill if I don’t recruit their next caretaker. That is a worry for another day, as retirement is many years in the future for me.

What reference book would you recommend to our new committee member?

The Peer Review Process

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 began this blog with an appeal for abstracts for the 2014 AGMA Fall Technical Meeting. For those of you who had an abstract accepted, this is a gentle reminder that your final draft is due May 15th. Based on previous experience, I forced myself to complete this year’s paper a bit early. Not to gloat, but the formatted version is already at AGMA headquarters and ready for peer review.

The peer review process has been in place for many years as an aid to both the association and the authors. AGMA and its members are protected from overly commercial or technically inaccurate presentations. The author(s) get a couple of experienced sets of eyes on their paper — eyes that can catch those copy gremlins, grammatical errors, and miss-marked graphs.

The reviewers are volunteers from the AGMA ranks, many of whom have presented papers at past meetings. It is similar to the assignments given technical editors here at Gear Technology; the reviewers look for things that might lead to misunderstanding amongst the audience and some reviewers can be rather direct in their criticism.

You don’t submit a paper for peer review if you have a thin skin. This is my fourth time through the gauntlet and not every review has been completely positive. Some questioned my choice of topics and one didn’t think reverse engineering should be mentioned in a public meeting — much less be the topic of a paper. I am happy to say the audience disagreed. That paper was very popular and caused much discussion, as I had hoped.

This year’s submission may get criticized for being written in the first person rather than the “editorial we.” I feel very strongly about the topic; much of the paper is an account of how I learned about high contact ratio gears over the past 35 years. During my research I read some early papers and reference books that were obviously written before this unwritten, third-person narrator rule somehow gained currency.

Our gearing forefathers could be very passionate about their trade, and I think that is a good thing. There is no need to disguise personal experience in a detached and dispassionate voice.

Rather, our industry needs more passion, more opinion.

So How Much is This Going to Cost?

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)

Estimating is a necessary evil in every shop. Nobody wants to do it, but if it doesn’t get done there is no business. Fortunately, we have better estimating tools available today than ever before. Several automated computer programs are offered to assist in calculating the time it takes to perform various machine operations. Computer-controlled machines make cycle times consistent and reduce scrap risk.

It wasn’t always this “easy.” Shortly after I became an “instant” gear expert (see previous posting), I was expected to weigh in on how much our new product line should cost. Long time D.O. James estimator Dick Kunkle welcomed me into the cloud of cigarette smoke that engulfed his cubicle and shared his shelves of reference books, computer printouts, and charts.

To this veteran estimator every drawing got expanded into a full-fledged process routing. In the absence of detail drawings, each item on a cross-sectional layout got “processed” through his system and its results were added to a summary form. No shortcuts were taken, so purchasing had to get lots of prices on forgings, bearings, seals, and other hardware.

Fabricated housings had to be exploded into dozens of burned out pieces and the total number of weld inches calculated. It didn’t matter what the finished weight was; if you needed a triangular piece you paid for a square in Mr. Kunkle’s system.

To me the real beauty was in the many charts and nomographs he had developed over the years for “special” parts like bevel gear blanks. The man had committed the capabilities of every machine in the shop to memory and was seldom proven wrong. If he told you the hobber couldn’t take a 3 DP hob, you could take it to the bank.

Even with this much “science” applied to it, estimating is a risky occupation. If the estimator listens to every complaint from the sales department — profits decline. If he or she sides with the shop incoming — orders fall. And everyone in the company thinks it takes too long to get a quote finished.

You no longer have to risk your health from the secondhand smoke to get involved in estimating, so why not see if you can help speed things up?