First Steps

What works and what doesn't work about existing gear products?

As mentioned in my last posting, blank sheets of paper present a huge challenge to any machinery designer. For the beginner, it is even a higher hurdle. We all have to start somewhere and I strongly recommend putting an effort into studying “prior art” – a polite way of saying “reverse engineering.”

So I was especially pleased with the announcement that Ray Drago, one of our industry’s true treasures, will be presenting an online seminar on Reverse Engineering for AGMA. This is long overdue attention to the topic by someone with both the knowledge and gravitas to elevate it to its proper place in the design process.

By “proper”, I mean right at the beginning. Before you can decide what your device will look like, you have to understand what works and does not work about existing and competing products. Specifically, you have to ask yourself the following questions:

What is most successful and why?

Don’t be distracted by flashy marking gimmicks. In automobiles, for example, you won’t update a ten year old design just by putting racing stripes and bigger wheels on it. You have to dig deeper than that and truly understand the performance, proportions, and materials used to produce a successful entry in that market segment.

What are the cost drivers?

Designing to a “price point” is never easy. Do not lose sight of sound engineering principles in an effort to just “save” money. Clever arrangements that reduce assembly time while putting reliable operation or long service life are no solution to a “cost problem.”

What needs improving?

No matter how popular a product is, there is room for improvement. The obvious areas like capacity and serviceability might not be easy to “attack” but should never be taken for granted, especially on newly introduced models. The wind turbine market, for example, has been hurt by overlooked design flaws finding their way into the next generation just because there was no time for field experience to be studied. When possible, talk to the end users to understand where to put your energy.

Is there a patent problem?

Based upon the course outline, this will be one of the areas that Ray’s seminar will cover. Our trade seldom sees truly “new” designs; if you study the history of products in a particular application and then look at other uses of that “breakthough” design, you frequently find adaptation, not invention. When in doubt do a patent search. Thanks to the internet, patent information has never been more accessible.

I will be posting on other “steps” in my personal design procedure in the coming weeks. Smart engineers and designers learn from the “mistakes” of others rather than make their own.


About Charles D. Schultz 678 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.