Every once in a while you need a reminder of why you enjoy your work. This week I got to witness final testing of a very complex gearbox that my client began working on exactly a year earlier. All FIFTY-SIX speeds of shiftable components had to be compatible with the sixty-five- year-old gearbox it was replacing. It was one of the most complex reverse engineering/upgrade projects in my career, but seeing it on the test stand made all those head scratching hours worthwhile.
When I first started designing gearbox parts back in 1973 I used to wander around the shipping dock during lunch hour just to see if any of my projects had been completed. I suspect many of my fellow design engineers do the same; seeing your idea move from a concept in your head to a physical object is a big part of why this is a great job.
This particular multi-speed gearbox is the key component in a high-volume processing plant. If the gearbox does not run, everyone goes home until it does. The original equipment manufacturer has long since stopped supporting oddball, one-off products. Modern technology could probably develop a more compact device, but where would the time and money come from?
So with the help of the plant maintenance staff we set about translating the faded drawings in the files into drawings suitable for making a new gearbox. The fabricated housing required five D-size sheets. Over one hundred detail drawings had to be made. Dozens of sub-assembly and tooling drawings were needed before the team could start requisitioning raw material and purchased items. Besides my client’s staff, we needed the help of a fabricator, a machine shop, and two other gear shops to complete all those pieces on time, to spec, and on budget.
It is exhausting to recall how much effort went into it, but the smiles after it flawlessly performed its tests made it all a happy memory. We are already looking for another big project to keep this great team busy. Got any ugly critical gearboxes you need replaced?